Not exclusively a summer drink, serve apple cider as a refreshing alternative during the holidays.
BY HUGH KRUZEL
Beverage selection seems to be growing by the week. We are always hearing of some new product, an emerging country or a novel twist. Well, cider is old news renewed.
Around since medieval times, and as a drink by default in climates that may not have favoured grape growing, cider is no longer a piece of forgotten history. Fresh, modern, and flavourful, it really isn’t just an alternate to beer or wine; it is valid in its own right.
I am not talking about the sticky sweet concoctions boosted with corn syrup, nor the just pressed jug juice. No soft drink, this is hard; it boasts alcohols traditionally ranging from 1.2 to 8.5 percent. From time-to-time, watch for freeze-distilled “Jack” (sometimes called Jersey Lightening), which is rocket fuel approaching 40 percent plus. Handle with care!
Kristen Jordan of Sea Cider on Vancouver Island’s Saanich Peninsula reminds me that a century ago North America had a strong cider tradition.
“It is exciting to be part of resurgence of what was once the most popular beverage. With interest in the Slow Food movement, the go-local heritage of cider rides a bit of a wave.”
On a local fact-finding exploration at the Long Lake LCBO, product consultant Mike Hodgson filled my cart with over a dozen choices from the shelves.
“There is more interest than ever in this category, and it also gets more complicated,” he said.
Hodgson offered up “Perry” from Britain and Le Cidre St. Nicolas out of Quebec. The first is William’s Sir Perry while the latter is an apple and a strawberry mélange in a 750ml format presented like a rosé champagne.
Available in bottles but mostly cans, I expected European dominance, but found a surprising Canadian presence in the marketplace too. For example premium crafted Stutz is 100 percent Nova Scotian and boasts, “No Concentrate, No Gluten, No Kidding.”
They handpick this baby in the Annapolis Valley. With its seven different apple varieties, it has a winelike ripeness, Though nearly the palest transparent yellow, it is aggressively effervescent. In contrast William from Terrebonne, Que., though more colourful, is so quiet in the glass and displays a most delicate fruit perfume.
Growers 1927 is the West Coast entry into the collection. Listed as “dry” it has a pleasant spritz and a lemon zest-like refreshment over caramel. Molson Canadian Cider displays a balanced sweet tart tension, while Alexander Keith’s “Original” has that authentic orchard aroma with maybe just a kiss of mint and honey. Propriety recipes for house styles likely differentiate these into love it, like it, or dump it. Many customers will accept no substitute if their brand is out of stock.
Magners Irish Cider is one I almost can guarantee to be a crowd-pleaser. With a hint of golden duskiness, think rose petals and candied fruit. This one is so popular, you may not find it on Fridays or Saturdays.
Equally attention getting is Somersby with its vanilla and tropical notes. Coming from Denmark it is reminiscent of simple sparkling apple juice and so easy to quaff. Gala or Pink Lady often have the aromatics of this entry.
Two British players include Foundry and the hands -down best seller Strongbow. Both offer a nostalgic authenticity that cannot be denied. Certainly Strongbow, because it arrived early on our shores, has established itself as the industry leader. Its iconic label though is no match to hard to find and perhaps now delisted Stowford Press Export. Let’s just say that Stowford sets the bar fairly high for enjoyment. Sadly, I don’t believe they invested in advertising so gained a limited market share.
Chilled glasses and no ice is the recommended presentation. Cider is not exclusively a summer drink. I build it into fall harvest dinners or Christmas celebrations; I can assure you holiday turkey or ham work well with cider. You can splash some into sauces or mashed yam dishes for an interesting flavour boost. With low alcohol numbers, you can also be a responsible host.
Everything old is new again
Since 2005, sales of cider grew by 55 percent to 22 million litres, according to the Association of Canadian Distillers. Sales of cider at the LCBO have jumped by 47 percent.
Cider was the drink of choice for many of our ancestors where apples are plentiful. Apple cider had been popular with the people of Great Britain going back to the time of the Celts.
Beer became more popular in North America when German immigrants set up large sophisticated breweries. Apple cider production remained limited to the small farms.
Many farmers stopped making cider as the Temperance movement grew. Prohibition effectively killed production of cider by small producers. With the growing popularity of microbreweries in the 1990s, alcoholic apple cider is once again enjoying a resurgence in popularity.