6 ways to experience Ontario’s craft cider boom

By Nicole Gottselig

Move over craft beer, Ontario craft cider is staking its claim at bar taps, restaurants and farmers markets across the city. No longer just a summer sipper, more than 43 cider producing operations and 230 apple growers in the province are quenching Toronto’s insatiable year-long thirst for fermented fruit-infused brews. [Photo credit: Courtesy of Ontario Craft Cider Week]

6 ways to experience Ontario’s craft cider boom

Know your types

Tariq Ahmed, founder of Revel Cider Co. gives an overview of the four main categories of ciders:

Old world

These are ciders made using the old traditions of European producers. There are three big ones: English, French (the Normandy region as it seems to be one of the few places in France not ideal for grapes) and the Basque region of Spain. Each region has its own signature style and uses different apple varieties in their process. It's important to note that, like the wine industry, traditional European cider producers have had a lot longer than the rest of the world to develop their orchards and processes.

New world

New world ciders are often made with heritage or dessert apples. Some producers make them dry, and some make them sweet. The flavour tends to be more of a clean acidity.

Hopped and herbal

There are also other categories finding their feet like hopped/herbal ciders, which use hops and whatever botanicals cideries can get their hands on. Some producers use different spices to flavour their products, and lately some are ageing them in old spirit barrels to pick up spirit character.

Ice cider

Ice cider is similar to ice wine, but the production is often different in a big way. Some apple varieties will stay on the tree in the winter like grapes do, but most fall, so producers use a technique called Cryoconcentration, which was invented in Quebec. It’s basically just pressing apples into juice in the winter time and allowing the naturally cold temperatures to freeze the water out of the juice, leaving behind a syrupy sweet concentrate. This concentrated juice is then fermented.

Hit a new cider-centric bar

Within the last year, two cider-focused bars have opened in Toronto. The first is Her Father’s Cider Bar + Kitchen, boasting 12 lines of cider on tap: 11 are Ontario craft, one is a Blush cider from Cornwall, United Kingdom and there are 130 other options from around the world. This cozy farmhouse-inspired bar in Harbord Village also offers a local seasonal food menu, perfect for pairing with a handpicked flight or cider-infused cocktail. If you’re new to the world of cider, don’t let the number of varieties here deter you, and ask for plenty of recommendations. “Our staff are subjected to a lot of tasting and training,” says owner Joshua Mott.

The second is Cider House. This Roncy strip newcomer carries more than 35 ciders (mostly from Ontario) along with the classic hard hitting players. Nosh on an uncomplicated menu of pub comfort food against a backdrop of reclaimed wood and soft overhead lighting. That is, between sips of Colborne Ontario’s 401 pear apple cider or a tall can of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Shiny Apple Cider.

Savour sips at local favourites with impressive lists

While Danforth dive favourite The Only Cafe may be best known for its hidden back patio and 25 local craft beers on tap, its craft cider selection is impressive. Between four and five Ontario ciders are on tap, along with six varieties of cans from Ontario cideries such as West Avenue and Spirit Tree.

Duck fat fries and cider, anyone? The WVRST beer and cider hall on King West has six taps pouring Ontario craft ciders and more than 20 bottles, including lower alcohol brands like Caledon’s Spirit Tree Estate’s Appelager apple cider and West Avenue C2 (Communal 2), a 20-month bourbon barrel-aged cider from Carlisle, Ontario.

The Rebel House, Rosedale’s beloved neighbourhood gastropub, has been serving Ontario’s Waupoos craft cider on tap for close to 20 years. And for the past year, another Ontario favourite has been added to the taps: the coveted KW strawberry cider, making The Rebel House one of the only bars in the city to have it on draft year-round. With patio season around the corner, be sure to savour a pint of this light fruity cider on the courtyard patio with a Rebel Poutine.

Drink and sample at two late-spring events

Ontario Craft Cider Week: May 26 to June 4

Now in its fourth year, Ontario Craft Cider Week takes place at more than 75 bars across Ontario over 10 days. Past events have included a flight night, cider and cheese pairings, tap party and craft cider cruise. Check the website for event details at participating bars across the city.

Appleseed Cider Festival:  June 3

On June 3, Artscape Wynchwood Barns hosts 12 cider booths and a giant bar pouring dozens of Ontario ciders to a backdrop of live music at Toronto’s second Appleseed Cider Festival. Expect to try more than 25 different ciders throughout the day, mix and mingle with the makers, and more than 1,000 craft cider fans. Brands on-site include fan favourites such as West Avenue, known for its barrel aged ciders; Revel’s creative and innovative brews; and Ernest Cider’s sweetened with honey.

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Get outside and taste where it all comes from

Ditch the bar for fresh local handmade cider and country strolls with trees, birds and grass as your backdrop. Here are three cider destinations perfect for a day trip.

Somerset Orchards: In about 45 minutes from downtown Toronto (depending on traffic), you could be sipping ciders on a deck overlooking a 75-acre orchard near Carlisle, Ontario when the new tasting room opens in May. If that isn’t convincing enough, maybe a leisurely meander through the fields with 52 types of apples and pears, and a fresh baked apple pie from the bakery, will.

Twin Pines Orchards and Cider House: Located in Thedford, about a three-hour drive from Toronto, Twin Pines offers 50 acres of lush backdrops overflowing with apple, plum, peaches and nectarine trees. Stroll the winding gardens and trails, before hitting the tasting room in the Cider house, where cider makers take you through the origins of each sip. Twin Pines is open year-round and includes a store with homeware and gourmet foods.

Beaver Valley Orchard and Cidery: Nestled in the Niagara Escarpment’s Beaver Valley, this eight-acre orchard crushes and ferments the fruit on-site and is only a two-hour drive from Toronto. Stop in for a complimentary sample in the renovated barn, or purchase a glass with a cheese tray and relax outside at the tables by the stream. The season starts Victoria Day weekend with free tours on Sunday.

Three must-try take homes

No longer only available in specialty bars and cideries, the LCBO’s craft cider collection is steadily growing. In 2015-16 alone, LCBO sales of craft ciders totalled $5.1 million. Aaron Brown, the Appleseed Cider Festival organizer recommends three you can take home from your local LCBO.

Pommies Cider: Try this light-bodied and refreshing blend of Ontario heritage apples if you’re a fan of white wine or beer from Caledon, ON.

KW Craft Cider: Dry and clear, this signature brew combines five types of apples in small batches from  Kitchener-Waterloo.

Ernest Dry Cider: Light-bodied and sweetened with honey, this dry cider is made from seven varieties of Ontario apples from Aurora, ON.

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