It doesn’t get any more grassroots or visceral than the craft cider industry in Ontario. The start-ups thrive on the fringes, working their asses off, taking no salary for a year or more, and pressing out one crazy concoction after another. Some work, some don’t, but they keep driving on.
They can only hope one tweet, one Facebook post catches fire and captures the imagination of drinks lovers in the hopes they will seek out the miniscule production of the latest one-off elixir on tap at some funky bar in downtown Toronto.
It’s called brand building, and the small, boutique craft cider makers have to do it one keg at a time, day after day after day, with no budget and little financial backing.
They rely on friends for everything: art for the labels, delivery at times to bars and restaurants, help at the cidery with bottling, kegging, cleaning, apple pickups, barrel sourcing — it’s a network of friends helping friends and no one, absolutely no one, is getting rich doing it.
It’s about passion, about being on the ground floor of a revolution that has only one way to go. It’s about artistry and innovation and more than anything, taste; a fresh, natural (gluten-free) drink that’s 100% locally crafted and sourced.
It’s a lot of fun to watch from the sidelines.
There is a warehouse on the outer edges of Hamilton where former executive chef turned cidery owner and farmer Chris Haworth spends his days crafting one of the finest lineups of craft ciders in Ontario.
West Avenue Cider has emerged as one of the pioneers of funky, innovative and stylistic craft ciders utilizing not only Ontario apples, but also other fruit (cherries are a specialty), wild yeast strains, oak barrels and whatever else he can get his hands on.
— Rick VanSickle (@rickwine) February 23, 2016
In his warehouse, young Tariq Ahmed has taken up residence to follow in Haworth’s footsteps with that same pioneering spirit. He saw that there was a lack of innovative, down-to-earth cider companies in Ontario, and even Canada.
As a lover of cider, he dreamt of breaking the rules — so he did. Working as an intern at Manorun Organic Farm gave him access to the best possible ingredients. Sharing the finished cider bolstered the best possible friendships.
After a few nights of revelling over a few delicious bottles, Revel Cider Co. was born.
Revel Cider uses only 100% Ontario apples, hops, and Canadian oak. And it’s only available at select bars and restaurants.
Ingredients are only half the story though at Revel. From the many farmers where they have sourced fruits to the people who’ve given their free time to pressing apples and bottling batch after batch, for Revel, it’s always been about bringing people together.
With the first anniversary in March of Revel’s first cider sale, Ahmed has decided to celebrate with four new cider creations to be released one at time over four weeks.
I caught up with Ahmed at the Hamilton warehouse and got a sneak peak at some of the ciders that will be poured at Ontario bars and restaurants beginning March 1.
He’s calling his four-chapter cider release Revelations.
“What is Revelations? It’s a cider celebration for our one-year anniversary of being in business,” he says.
“We wanted to do something special for all of the support we’ve received and so we’re doing a month of all new, limited run keg releases. It’s a fun way for us to flex our cider-making skills after a long winter.”
Bittersweet Freedom (7% abv.)
This is so cool. A blend of bittersweet crab apples and an organically-grown heritage apple variety called Freedom left over from before Prohibition and sourced from Goderich, Ont. It possesses a gorgeous nose of fresh apple, pith and citrus notes. You can feel the tannins on the palate with lush apple and contrasting sour/bitter notes that are bolstered by the high acidity and energetic effervescence. This is from an era when heritage apples ruled the roost.
Oud Blanc (9% abv.)
I saw some interesting banter on Twitter about the art, drawn by a friend of Ahmed’s, that accompanies this cider. You can be the judge. Oud Blanc is Revel’s version of the sour beer style Oud Bruin and is a blend of wild fermented Riesling and 100% Brett fermented cider made with 10 strains of Brett, which creates layers of “funky flavours.” Ahmed calls it his “funkiest” cider yet. The Riesling portion is barrel fermented and aged for 8 months in oak.
Wild Honeycrisp (6.5% abv.)
This single-varietal cider is made with only honeycrisp apples and back-sweetened with honey (25 g/l of sweetness). It has a nose of ripe pineapple and soft apple notes with quince and sweet honey. There is wonderful creamy texture on the palate with grilled pineapple, sweet apple and honey and a spicy note on the finish. Totally wild and unique.
Revelry (7.5% abv.)
This cider, scheduled to coincide with the actual anniversary date on March 26 in the last week of the month, is made with Vinho Verde yeast to add a fruity backbone. It’s back-sweetened with juice cryo-concentrated in the Canadian winter for caramel and baked apple nuances, according to Ahmed (the cider wasn’t ready when I visited). “We’ve taken the North American pioneer method for making potent Apple-Jack and used it to create this warm, complex creation.”
The ciders will be served at partner bars across the province. See list below.
Revelations: Partner Bars and Restaurants
Wvrst – wvrst.com– 609 King St W
Trinity Common – trinitycommon.com– 303 Augusta Ave
Pharmacy Bar – 1318 King St
The 47 – 1211 Bloor St W
Lansdowne Brewery – lansdownebrewery.com – 303 Lansdowne Ave
The Only Cafe – theonlycafe.com – 972 Danforth Ave
BeerBistro – beerbistro.com – 18 King St E
Tequila Bookworm – tequilabookworm.ca – 512 Queen St W
The Grover Pub – thegrover.ca – 676 Kingston Rd
The Paddock – thepaddock.ca – 178 Bathurst St
Milo’s Craft Beer Emporium – pubmilos.com– 420 Talbot St
2016 OFVC Cider Competition Results
The third annual Craft Cider Competition was held Feb. 17 at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention in Niagara Falls. There were three categories: Sweet, common and speciality ciders.
As mentioned in a previous post about this topic, there were only seven “specialty” ciders and nine “common” ciders entered in the competition, not a good representation from an industry that’s enjoying explosive growth at the moment.
For this competition to be viewed seriously there needs to be more representation from cideries and a concerted effort to completely revamp the judging process. Full disclosure: I was a judge on the speciality cider team.
For what it’s worth, here are the winners in the two hard cider categories: