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The Ontario In-Cider Report: Reviews for Twin Pines, Sulker’s Cider, West Avenue and an apple tree giveaway from Pommies

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It may seem a tad surreal, but it was inevitable; driving down old Highway 8 (King Street, if you must) with the top down along the Niagara wine route from the Beamsville Bench heading toward the Twenty Mile Bench, my wife and I took a quick pit stop at the Red Stone Winery.

We sat at the bar where she ordered a Red Stone Chardonnay and I couldn’t resist the fresh and sparkling Tawse Cider on tap. It was a beautiful spring day, sunshine beating down, and cider seemed the logical choice to me — even with an array of Red Stone and Tawse (both owned by Moray Tawse) Rieslings, Chards and Gamays by the glass, on tap or by the bottle.

This isn’t just a Beamsville Bench thing. Very soon (announcement pending), you can take the York Road wine route to St. Davids and make a stop at Ravine Vineyard and order Marty Werner’s new bone-dry apple cider by the glass at the winery restaurant. Or head down Lakeshore in Niagara-on-the-Lake and make a stop at Sunnybrook Winery and load up by the growler or the can with their Ironwood Hard Cider, and just a couple kilometres past that, Small Talk has made a huge foray into the world of cider with a range of Shiny Apple Ciders, again, by the growler or can.

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Cider has become a part of the Niagara tapestry as much as craft beer, distillates, and a wide range of culinary delights from some of Ontario’s best chefs.

But it is the pace at which cider has exploded on the scene that cannot be ignored. From a sprinkling of pioneering cideries in far-flung places in Ontario, to one of the fastest growing beverage segments in the province with new players popping up every month, cider is a bona fide superstar riding a wave of excitement that shows no signs of abating.

What I love about cider is the fact that it is complementary to Ontario VQA wine and craft beer and even the small local craft distillery industry. Each beverage has a time and place and the world is big enough for them all — at least a lot of people are betting the farm that there is.

I have some notes on three different cideries from samples I have tried recently: Twin Pines Cider, West Avenue Cider and Sulker’s Cider, which is still in the experimental phase of their operation. And also some news from Pommies and their tree giveaway promotion. Read on!

Twin Pines Orchards and Cider House

Twin Pines is a 50-acre property in Thedford with approximately 40 acres planted to fruit. Currently, the farm produces well over one million pounds of apples from 25 commercial varieties as well as approximately 15 heritage and specialty cider varieties.

The cidery takes particular pride in their efforts to grow heritage apple varieties. Some of the varieties would have been popular for eating and cidermaking in the 1800s while others are the newest flavours that boast increased shelf life, hardness and incredible flavour. All of the trees on the property are of the dwarf variety.

Twin Pines also grows myriad pesticide-free vine crops such as squash, pumpkins, and gourds. In season, you will find tomatoes, leeks, peppers, plums, peaches and nectarines. Of course, all of the preserves and pies in the retail store are made from the gardens at Twin Pines … raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries, currants as well as Concord and Niagara white grapes.

The craft ciders are sold to bars and restaurants or at the retail store mostly in distinctive litre bottles with a resealable topper and made under the Hammer Bent label. The apple ciders sell for $9.95 with the pear ciders at $10.95 and the ice cider $19.95 for 375 ml. Here’s what I liked from a recent tasting of Twin Pines ciders:

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Twin Pines Hammer Bent Original Cider (90 points) — Made from Northern spy, Ida red, golden Russett and Jona gold apples and finished at 6.3% abv, the nose shows mellow apple and subtle spice notes to go with a spritz that pours vigorously but quickly dissipates. It has good weight on the palate with gentle effervescence, bright apple flavours, a touch of spice and a lingering finish. Quite refreshing.

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Twin Pines Hammer Bent Old World Cider (88 points) — Such a different profile from other Ontario craft ciders with an earthy, almost fortified apple note on the nose along with anise and spice. It’s crisp and super dry on the palate with mouth-puckering crunchy apple notes that are propped up by bright acidity.

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Twin Pines Hammer Bent Red (89 points) — Finished at 6.8% abv and made from a blend of red court Cortland, Northern spy, Ida red and golden Russett apples with a nose of apple skin and citrus with a gentle spritz that settles quickly into a subtle bead. It is rich on the palate with good apple flavours, slight sweetness and well balanced and refreshing through the finish.

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Twin Pines Hammer Bent Traditional Apple Pear (91 points) — Couldn’t find the blend of apple and pears or the abv, but I loved the nose of rich and layered poached pear, apple and wild honey notes. The palate reveals spiced apple, quince and touch of sweetness that is balanced with refreshing acidity. Simply delicious.

Twin Pines Hammer Bent Scrumpy (93 points) — Couldn’t find the abv, blend of apples or method of crafting this traditional style of cider that originated in the West Country of England. It is cloudy, suggesting no filtering and more naturally made, and has a wonderful nose of fresh apple, grapefruit and a mulled character. It has gentle effervescence, made perfectly dry and a textured, complex entry on the palate. The flavour is all about baked apple pie with a smidge of cinnamon that leads to a smooth and clean finish. Funky and scrumptious!

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Twin Pines Ice Cider 2013 (90 points) — A blend of Northern spy, ida red, golden Russett and finished at 10.1 abv. The nose shows wild honey and marmalade with rich, mature apple and nutmeg spice. The palate shows a rich broth of fortified citrus rind, baked apple pie, honeycomb and beeswax all delivered on a silky smooth and luxurious finish.

Sulker’s Cider

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“Small batch, dry craft ciders from 100% Ontario apples. Coming to a farmers market and bar near you.” This all the information you will find on the website of Sulker’s Cider, along with an invitation to get free samples of this mysterious new player in the Ontario craft cider business.

It appears the people behind Sulker’s are crowd-sourcing opinions on their small-batch ciders, taking notes and preparing to launch at some point soon when they have rine-tuned their recipes.

I received three samples recently and here are my thoughts (I did not rate these ciders as I have no idea if they ever will be available in this finished form).

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Sulker’s Cider Craft Series Hopped Tart Cherry (7.0% abv) — Fermented with 100% natural tart cherry nectare and dry hopped with Tettnanger, a noble German hop. It’s a blend of Ontario apples and Montmorency cherries and fermented with Nottingham ale yeast (that’s a lot of geekness!!). It’s cloudy and funky in the glass with a beautiful marriage of apple and cherry aromas to go with a certain earthiness. It’s perfectly dry on the palate and light and airy with flavours of tart cherries, rhubarb, red apple and earth with a nice, clean finish. I would like to see more concentration of flavour, but great start.

Sulker’s Cider Dry Hopped Series Nelson Sauvin (6.5% abv) — A dry cider with the addition of Nelson Sauvin hops from New Zealand and fermented with Nottingham ale yeast. It has a complex nose of expressive Bosc pear, crisp apple with grassy/herbal notes and a dash of spice. The hops shine through on the palate with subtle tannins, pear, a pleasant bitter note and made in an austere, bone-dry style that pops on the finish.

Sulker’s Cider Super Dry (6.5% abv) — This is the basis for the “flagship cider,” made from fresh-pressed Ontario apples and fermented with California ale yeast. It’s unpasteurized, unfiltered and made with no preservatives. The aromas are pure and fresh with notes of apple, ginger and citrus. In the mouth, it’s a bit short on the finish and hollow on the mid-palate. I’m not sure if it’s from shipping or it was rushed through the fermentation to get it out to people. Would like to retry a different batch.

West Avenue Cider

If you are not familiar with West Avenue, you don’t get out much. Owner and cider maker Chris Haworth is pumping out an array of Ontaro craft ciders that either play on regular rotation at all the cool bars in Ontario or are released as one-offs that just keep on coming.

No style is off-limits for West Avenue as Haworth uses a vast reservoir of yeasts, techniques, barrels and fruit to create an eclectic range of interesting ciders.

His newest batch of his flagship Heritage Dry Cider is bottled and heading to bars and restaurants as I write this. My review is below along with a new concoction that will head out soon to curious cider lovers.

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West Avenue Cider Heritage Dry — Crafted from 100% Ontario “heritage” apples this staple in the portfolio is described by Haworth as his “best” Heritage Dry yet. It has an expressive and bright nose of apples and a subtle floral note with a healthy spritz that’s sustained through finish. It’s perfectly dry on the palate with rich apple flavours and a smooth delivery that’s balanced from beginning to end. A perfectly crisp and refreshing year-round cider.

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West Avenue Lot F Legend of the Fall/Funk Cider (6.9% abv) — I know nothing about this cider, other than it was recently bottled and presumably heading out to bars and restaurants soon. I can tell you that it’s perfect for the hard-core cider geeks out there with its woodsy/earthy nose that combines apple, anise, starfruit and quince. It’s austere, fresh and bone-dry on the palate with sour funk, almost a citrus feel to go with apple skin, pear and subtle tannic notes. Very different and highly gulpable.

Pommies Cider

Just in time for their fourth annual apple tree giveaway, Pommies Cider Co. has announced that its flagship cider, known for its original 355 ml bottle, will now also be sold in a single serving 473 ml can.

The can will launch during Pommies’ annual apple tree giveaway, which takes place this April and May at select LCBO locations. Consumers who purchase 12 bottles or cans of Pommies Cider and/or Pommies Farmhouse Cider will leave the store with a gala apple tree.

PommiesCider 473ml L“We love this time of year and always look forward to our tree campaign. We love everything that it stands for, especially educating consumers about Ontario craft cider being made from 100 per cent Ontario apple juice and then putting an apple tree in their hands to plant,” said Nick Sutcliffe, owner, Pommies Cider Co. “To date we have given away over 450 apple trees during this campaign and we look forward to even more this year and for years to come.”

Pommies Cider tastings and tree giveaways will take place at the following LCBO locations:

Hamilton LCBO (657 Upper James Street) – Friday, April 29, 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Toronto LCBO (147 Laird Drive) – Saturday, April 30, 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Orangeville LCBO (510 Riddell Drive) – Friday, May 6, 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Waterloo LCBO (115 King Street S) – Saturday, May 7, 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Oakville LCBO (1527 Rebecca Street) – Friday, May 13, 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Guelph LCBO (378 Speedvale Avenue East) – Saturday, May 14, 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Bolton LCBO (30 McEwan Drive East) – Friday, May 20, 4 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Barrie LCBO (534 Bayfield Street) – Saturday, May 21, 11:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

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The heritage gala apple trees that will be given away at each location are approximately three feet tall and one year old. These dwarf variety trees will not exceed a height of eight-feet tall when fully grown. Detailed planting and growing instructions will be provided with each tree.

Pommies Cider and Pommies Farmhouse Cider are produced in Caledon and are made from the juice of 100 per cent Ontario apples. Like all of their ciders, Pommies and Pommies Farmhouse are gluten free, GMO free, vegan, and contain no artificial flavours or colours and are never made from concentrate.

Pommies Cider is sold in unique 355 ml bottles in packs of four for $12.95 and in 473 ml cans for $3.05. Pommies Farmhouse is sold in 473 ml cans for $3.05.