SASKATOON — Saskatoon-born and raised Christian Singh never planned to work at a cidery as a full-time career. He was more interested in skateboarding and film making.
Like a lot of teenagers, skateboarding was a large part of his youth and impacted his beliefs and culture. Singh says, “It kind of relates to what I do now. You are kind of anti-everything. You’re not this and you are not that, you run against the grain.”
Singh comes from a family of medical professionals. His oldest sister is a nursing instructor at Saskatchewan Polytechnic. Singh adds, “My younger sister also went through the nursing program, and my other sister is a physiotherapist.” Singh’s grandparents were both doctors. "My uncle is a surgeon, and many of my cousins are in medical school. My mom suggested I become a teacher or a nurse, however, I was just not interested in health care.”
Singh is the head cider maker at Crossmount Cider Co. and has been with the Saskatoon company for over five years. He looks after a production team that includes a production assistant, cellar hand and casual production staff.
The path to Singh’s current career was not a straight line. “I was an independent kid, watched a lot of movies and re-watched movies. My original plan right after high school was to apply for film school. I wanted to work on movie sets,” says Singh. In his early 20’s Singh got involved with a skate shop as their film maker. He shares, “I filmed all of their riders, spliced the footage and sent the footage to sponsors and shoe companies.” He also produced the video content for the shop’s website. “There was a change in direction for the film industry and I began to get hurt more often while skateboarding. I needed to shift my focus and look at other options for post-secondary training.”
A conversation with his dad led Singh to the BioScience Technology diploma program. Singh says, “My dad is in the bioscience industry and knows research chair Blaine Chartrand who was program head at the time.” Singh admits, “I was a little intimidated, I was now 23 and had not taken calculus or chemistry since high school.”
Singh found the program to be intense and challenging in a good way. Singh says, “I had already done five years of university at the U of S in the archeology program. I was used to sitting in classes of 300, with no conversations with those students. It was a routine of an essay, mid-term and a final exam.” The Sask Polytech training was a relief for Singh, “It was nice to have the intensity and a social aspect with the group of students you work very closely with.” Singh had found his new passion. “If you are committed to it, you become very passionate and very interested in what is being taught. It was my new skateboarding. It becomes like a fuel source that drives your passion to do well at it.”
Singh worked as a summer student at the Saskatchewan Food Centre. There he learned the basics of managing food production. His first job after graduation was with an environmental remediation company doing DNA extractions on soil samples.
While in the program Singh worked on a project that was beer based. “I had proposed to the group to do a proof of concept in yeast similarly to what you would do for bacteria research, essentially manipulating the genes of yeast.” This idea stuck with Singh as he applied to the cidery. Just before leaving for a trip to Taiwan, Singh interviewed at Crossmount. “I didn’t know if I was going to get the job. While on my travels I made it a point to find breweries and get familiar with the production layout. I stopped at as many breweries and microbreweries as I could find. I sent a couple of emails back to the company of what I was doing and by the time I landed back in Canada I had a job.”
Singh was also taking business classes through the School of Business at night after graduation. “I found there was a bit of a gap between the science world and the business world and knew this would help in my career,” adds Singh. He started as the assistant to the head cider maker. “I knew very little about cider. It’s funny, on my first day I sprayed my face taking off the wrong nozzle on a hose.”
The BioScience Technology program gave Singh an edge. He says, “You do a lot of microbiology, surrounded by aseptic technique when working with bacteria. You need to be clean to avoid contamination and make accurate evaluations. It applies directly to what I do; 85 per cent of the job is cleaning and sanitizing.” Singh says having a solid foundation and intuition transfers well into cider making. “You can understand yeast metabolism, the pillars of what affects microorganisms, like temperature, PH and nutrients.”
Singh also credits the class on quality assurance and quality control. Singh says, “You can never have too much record keeping. We keep quality control binders, something I implemented from my program.”
Research was another important part of the program according to Singh. “I still research to this day. I‘ll pull up food science journals as there may be a fruit I’m working with that I need to understand its chemistry. One example is mango. It is very fibrous and full of pectin in juice form. That doesn’t work. So, I researched the different types of mangos, and how different pectinase enzymes affect different varieties of mangoes. Then I apply that to the blending process.”
He had recent success with a jalapeno pear cider that ended up being a popular summer drink. Singh adds, “It was tricky coming up with the right combination as you have to appeal to everyone’s spice tolerances. Then, scaling it up to 3000-litre batches becomes even more challenging in maintaining the flavour profile.” Singh says, “Being head cider maker I can experiment and continually adjust the flavours.”
All of the training and experience Singh gained along the way applies to what he does now. Singh shares being a manager brings a different level of responsibility. “I have to make sure the employees enjoy coming to work, ensure the product is going to make a profit for the business, and, if the production line breaks, that is on us to fix and get back up and running.”
As someone who likes to work with his hands, the Sask Polytech route was a perfect fit. “Polytechnics and universities serve two different purposes, depending on your career path. If you want to be a nutritionist, a doctor, a physiotherapist or a teacher go to university. Sask Polytech has the practicality that relates directly to industry.”
Singh says, “I really enjoy making cider and the business culture. It’s common for people now-a-days to have three or four different kinds of career paths. As long as the job fits and I’m having fun, that’s where I will be.”
Singh is also a member of the board of the Canadian Cider Association.
— Submitted by Sask Polytech Media Relations