FOREST HILL APPLE CIDER: WHAT COLLABORATION (AND HAPPINESS) TASTE LIKE
by Chris Tiessen
My six year old knows what he likes. Shoes that make him run faster. His bike. Any sort of digging utensil. And – ever since he got a taste of the sweet nectar at his Oma and Opa’s house – apple cider. Hot. Cold. Room temperature. It doesn’t matter much. Because, as he’s declared: ‘It just makes me happy.’ It certainly does.
Cider makes Doran Hoge happy, too. And, for the past year or so, Doran’s been making his own blend that’s spreading happiness throughout our region: Forest Hill Apple Cider. ‘We started doing this,’ Doran remarks over the hum of the commercial press at Bennett’s Apples & Cider in Ancaster, ‘to see whether it would be possible to create a sustainable cider business that supports local agricultural production, creates living-wage jobs, and provides something tasty and healthy for people to drink.’
‘It looks like you’re onto something,’ I remark as we watch Doran’s apples – a mixture of domesticated and heirloom Fuji, McIntosh, Empire, Macoun, Liberty, Melrose and Mutsu gathered from area small-scale farmers – ride the conveyor into the press. The highly-mechanized operation at Bennett’s is a far cry from the hand press (borrowed from the Guelph Tool Library) Doran and his partner Emma Tarbush used to use when they first started this enterprise. ‘At the beginning,’ he says, ‘we sold cider once a week at the Guelph Farmer’s Market. That was doable with a hand press. But since those early days our sustained growth has made it untenable to continue hand-pressing. And so here we are!
’Yes, here we are. It’s Friday – Doran’s weekly ‘production day’. And by the time we arrive at Bennett’s just past 11am to meet up with Doran for a photo shoot and a tour of the operation, he’s deep into his workday. Each Friday morning at around 8am, Doran picks up a rental U-Haul and drives to as many as seven local small-scale farms where he collects all the apples they have for him. Bushel by bushel, farm by farm, Doran fills the U-Haul until there’s enough apples to press for the following week’s (brisk) business. It’s a phenomenal model, really – a sort of collective movement in which the farms provide Doran with raw ingredients and Doran, in turn, takes excess apples off the farmers’ hands. ‘These farm orchards are our most important partners,’ Doran posits, ‘since they guarantee a high-quality product and fulfil our mandate to source apples as locally as possible.’ Which means cider that is preservative free. And oh so tasty.
During peak season, which spans September through March, Doran presses about 800 pounds of apples each week, making about 350 litres of cider, which he distributes to several area specialty shops, including Market Fresh and the Flour Barrel in Guelph, the Guelph Farmer’s Market, and the Real Food Market in Hamilton.
Henry David Thoreau declared that the apple is ‘the noblest of fruits’. I can’t comment on that. But I do know there are folks who find happiness in a glass of freshly-pressed local apple cider.