St. George apple farm crowned top sweet cider maker

A St. George apple farm makes the best non-alcoholic cider in the province.

Brantview Farms was crowned Ontario’s sweet apple cider champion at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Niagara Falls on Wednesday.

“It’s a huge honour,” said farmer Dan Howell, who celebrated the award — which comes with bragging rights and a medal — at the family farm after his father, Jay, relayed the good news from the convention.

“It’s awesome to be chosen, especially with it being quite a legitimate taste test.”

Brantview’s was the last cider standing after several rounds of judging at the agricultural research station in Simcoe late last month.

Howell would not divulge the precise blend of apples that went into the award-winning cider, but he said the base is a combination of Empire, Courtland and Honeycrisp.

Mixing apple types varies the sugar levels and results in a more complex flavour, he explained.

“You have the initial, top-of-the-tongue sweetness on the palate, and then you have the remaining aftertaste, which is a little further back in the throat,” Howell said, noting “the more classic, less-acidic” apple varieties tend to perform better in cider, with modern options like Ambrosia and Honeycrisp added in smaller quantities.

The apples used in the winning cider were pressed at Bennett’s Apples and Ciders in Ancaster, with the juice sent back to Brantview, where the Howells also make several varieties of hard cider using apples grown in their orchard.

“We’re always selling out (of fresh cider), even in the winter, which is nice,” Howell said.

This is not the first accolades for Brantview’s sweet cider. The family farm — which has been growing apples for more than 200 years — also won the OFVC competition in 2015.

“Within the community of apples growers in Ontario, there’s some really great farmers and producers,” Howell said.

“So just to be one of the ones that get highlighted this year is a huge honour.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator