NC Research team at the core of unique ‘hard cider’ launch

(left) The research team at one of the many development tastings in the creation of Reinhart’s Red Apple Light Cider, now available at select LCBOs; (right) Ryan Monkman, former research associate at NC and student in the Wine and Viticulture Technician program. He describes the project as transforming him from “an average student into a world-ready professional.”

Apple cider project brings sweet success

On a sunny June afternoon Ryan Monkman pours himself a glass of Reinhart’s Red Apple Light Cider and reflects on his experience last year as part of a Research & Innovation project that helped bring the newly-introduced product from Niagara College’s labs to retail shelves.

As a former research associate and a student of the Wine and Viticulture Technician program, being able to now see the fruits of that work on sale to a welcoming public, is nothing short of exhilarating, says Monkman. “A couple days ago I stood in my local LCBO and watched as customers came up, grabbed cans, and headed for the till.

“A friend even asked if I’ve tried the new Reinhart’s cider!” Tried it? Monkman worked on the initial fermentation/trial in developing the first and only “light” beverage of its kind in the Canadian cider category. “Reinhart did an incredible job of scaling-up our small lot experiments … the final product is delicious.”

That final product – the first of its kind in the craft cider industry for its 3.8 percent alcohol – was the result of a close collaboration between the research team at the Canadian Food & Wine Institute (CFWI) Innovation Centre and Reinhart Foods Ltd., well known for its vinegars and baking ingredients.

Reinhart has significant experience in fermentation and capital-intensive, liquid-based manufacturing; however, they did not have the necessary experience or equipment to develop a world-class hard apple cider beverage, explains Innovation Centre project manager Kristine Canniff.

“The NC research team handled everything from product development, competitive and sensory analysis, and quality control to knowledge transfer in providing final recipe and process” for making the cider at Reinhart’s site in Stayner, Ontario, says Canniff, adding the 10-month project was funded by a College and Community Innovation Enhancement grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Reinhart decided to enter the craft market in the “light” cider category – and was set on providing a lower alcohol and “pure and natural” product and one made with a single ingredient: 100 percent Ontario apple cider, says Scott Singer, general manager and third-generation family member of Reinhart Foods.

“We are so proud that the quality of our product is to the highest degree we imagined: no artificial colours, flavours or additives,” he says.

A key benefit to the lower alcohol is being able to better showcase the pure apple taste, with ripe, fresh red and golden apple flavours, explains NC’s Gavin Robertson, the faculty research lead for the Reinhart project, and instructor with the NC Teaching Winery. Robertson is no stranger to the world of ciders: in 2015 he led a team of students at the Teaching Winery to develop the school’s first ever cider – called Cider 101 – a product currently for sale at the retail outlet.

It was this “seasoned expertise” that drew Reinhart to the College, explains Singer: “The program that Niagara College offered was the perfect fit: a team of academic professionals who were willing to work with a business on the start-up of a new venture,” he says. “There was a mix of faculty and students on the project, so it was always great to work with people of all levels; this provided great perspective to us.

For Robertson, he describes his excitement at the culmination of the research team’s effort being taken to major markets like the LCBO. “It’s a satisfying achievement for the whole team and an example of the ways in which NC’s Research & Innovation department is able to contribute to Ontario enterprise.”

Monkman agrees wholeheartedly: “Before joining the Reinhart project, I was an average student who dreamed of one day making cider,” recalls Monkman, adding his interest was unfocused, his path uncertain and his experience shallow. “By engaging with a dedicated industry partner and research institution, I developed the skills and drive necessary to excel in a competitive market.”

Indeed. Monkman is sipping on the fermented fruit drink he helped create in his new home of Prince Edward County – he’s now a consultant in the winemaking and cider industry – a future that he says seemed “unattainable” before gaining such real-world experience. “The whole R&I experience gave shape to my life after school … I gained the skills required to make a high quality, honest product and I developed connections to establish an industry foothold.

“I was transformed from an average student into a world-ready professional.”