By Rick VanSickle
BLOOMFIELD — When you think of breakfast, a tray of various gins and vodkas doesn’t immediately come to mind, or, at least, it shouldn’t!
But there we were, basked in sunshine on an otherwise blustery and cool morning, sitting outside at a heritage farm in Bloomfield, with tray after tray of white and brown spirits samples arriving at a shocking pace. Breakfast never tasted this good and felt so wrong.
Note: This is Part II in our series on Prince Edward County, an exploration of wine, food, cider, beer and spirits, featuring Kinsip distillery, the County Cider Company, Midtown Brewing and Rosehall Run winery. You can read Part I here featuring Hubbs Creek, Closson Chase, Exultet and Strange Brew.
We are starting our final day bright and early at the Kinsip House of Fine Spirits, The County’s only distillery, owned by Jeremiah Soucie and his wife Sarah Waterson, along with her brother, Michael, and his partner, Maria Hristova. The two couples took over 66 Gilead Distillery, an 80-acre farm in Bloomfield, and rebranded it Kinsip House of Fine Spirits. It’s primarily a craft distillery producing grain-based spirits such as vodka, gin, whisky, rum and liqueurs, but also crafts an ever-expanding line of bitters, those wonderful botanically infused flavouring agents.
The handcrafted spirits are produced entirely on site in small batches using a custom made copper still and feature an array of local botanicals, herbs and hops.
After your sampling experience, you can visit the retail facility (if COVID rules allow) in the historic Cooper-Norton house, an ornate second empire home that was built in 1874 by wealthy hops grower, Bert Cooper, during the County’s Barley Days, according to a local media report. The Hops Barn next to the house remains intact with its drying floors and brick ovens. Or you can simply relax outside on cosy chairs while various breeds of chickens run roughshod beneath your feet.
Our group, made up of past executives of the Ontario Wine Society (I was a guest of Bruce Barber, former president of the Toronto chapter, who appears in far too many photos in this post), was treated to dozens of samples of white and brown spirits that tasted spectacular when made into a trademark Kinsip cocktail, or in the case of the brown spirits, perfect on their own.
Many of the spirits are limited production and you have to grab them quickly before they run out. But here is what I enjoyed from the tasting.
Dark Waters Rum ($60)
This is one of the only brown spirits where the ingredients are not entirely sourced locally due to the demerara-sourced sugar. It’s aged in American oak for four years and bottled at 45%. They use “Barbados-style” molasses and demerara sugar, which is low fermented and single-distilled. It’s more of an amber style, as you can see in the photo of the Dark & Stormy below, which isn’t really that dark or stormy, but bursts with flavour. On its own, look for caramel and butterscotch notes, toasted vanilla and not too boozy on the palate. There is a woodsy note on the finish and a hint of orange zest.
Here’s the recipe for a Kinsip Dark & Stormy:
• 1.5 oz Dark Waters Rum
• 3 oz ginger beer
How to make it
• In a tall glass, pour 3 oz of ginger beer over ice. Add 1.5 oz Dark Waters Rum. Stir and add lime for garnish.
Juniper’s Wit Old Tom Gin ($60)
This interesting gin is made with sumac indigenous to Prince Edward County and lightly sweetened in the traditional Old Tom style (my friend Bruce purchased this bottle, above, for a friend of ours whose name is Tom and he’s old, so quite appropriate!). The story goes that local Chef Jamie Kennedy came to distillery’s opening night years ago and said “you should make something with all the sumac that grows here.” It took Kinsip countless test batches to get to something that they loved. It has lovely juniper and botantical notes with a bit of earthiness, spice and sweetness on the finish. Try it in a Tom Collins, spiked lemonade or simply on the rocks for maximum flavour.
Kinsip Maple Whisky ($33 for 375 mL)
This handcrafted barrel aged whisky is finished in barrels that have been used to age maple syrup. There are smoky undertones on the nose and hints of maple and burnt brown sugar. It has a kick on the palate with some sweetness and a smooth finish. Nice all on its own.
Saffron Liqueur ($35)
This liquid gold is made with local saffron grown in the area by the folks at True Saffron. It’s a potent liqueur at 18% abv and has lovely citrus, honey and, of course, saffron notes with a smooth finish. Drink neat or mix with sparkling wine for what Kinsip calls “liquid creme brulee.”
County Cider Company
After gorging on the best burgers in Prince Edward County at the local hotspot Midtown Brewery Co. in the quaint town of Wellington, oh, and yes, a fine selection of craft beer that Bruce seems to be enjoying, it was off to Waupoos to visit a dear friend and taste some of the finest ciders in Canada with definitely the best views on the island.
Grant Howes, above in one of my favourite photos of him at a boys golf weekend, a long-time friend of both Bruce and I, turned the family orchard in Waupoos into what was then the beginning of the cider revolution in Ontario. He named it The County Cider Company and built it, along with his partner in life and business, Jenifer Dean, into a working cidery with retail store and pizza patio that is one of the toughest tickets in town to get a seat. But it was the ciders, made with a full range of estate cider apples never seen before in Ontario, that put this pretty property on the map and set the template for the explosion of cideries to follow.
Howes was known at the “Grandfather of Cider” long before he passed away suddenly in 2017. Bruce and I lost a dear friend, while Dean, a wine and cidermaker by trade, lost much more than that — her love, her partner in the business and was left with decisions to make on the future of The County Cider Company. She chose to build on what Howes had started and through the grief, a pandemic, building a great team and hard work, County Cider has become exactly what Howes dreamed of — a go-to hotspot with a killer portfolio of local ciders made from estate apples that is unmatched in Ontario. And that view! Is there another one better in The County? Sorry, rhetorical question.
Dean, above, is quite proud of what she and her team has accomplished and has never forgotten the founder and his place in the history of cider in Canada. To our great surprise, we were able to purchase the first bottles of the flagship Waupoos Premium Cider that feature a portrait of Howes on the label. “We are proud to continue the incredible work he started over 25 years ago.” You should start seeing these bottles showing up at LCBO stores across Ontario, in the bottle shop, and online here.
Our group tasted through most of the vast majority of the ciders in the portfolio as Dean gave us a rundown of what we were tasting, how it was made, and a bit of history of the estate. Here are some of my favourites.
Interesting fact: Almost the entire key staff at the cidery is made up of women, led by general manager/owner Dean and cidermaker/production manager Dannielle Davidson.
Waupoos Premium Apple Cider ($82 for a case of 24 341 mL bottles, 94 points)
This has been the top selling draft product at the estate for over 20 years. For me, it’s the most perfectly fresh, quaffable and tasty every day cider made in Ontario (that, along with West Avenue’s Heritage Dry). It has an enticing nose of fresh and tangy apples and touch of citrus. It lights up the palate in a refreshing, dry style that amplifies the crisp apple flavours, subtle lemon accents and zesty finish. Pair this with those delicious wood-fired pizzas on the patio and you are in heaven.
County Cider Legacy Series MCMXCV ($30, sold out, 93 points)
County Cider has released two of the new “Legacy” labelled ciders to date with more to come. They are sought after and sell quickly and come packaged in gorgeously adorned 750 mL bottles.
“The Legacy Series (pays) homage to Grant and his spirit of collaboration in the County and beyond,” Dean tells me. The year 1995 (in Roman numerals, MCMXCV) was when County Cider got its winery license and last year the cidery celebrated its 25th anniversary in business. Due to COVID, “the big celebration we had planned has been put on hold for now.”
The MCMXCV Cider Verde is made from Geisenheim grapes grown in 2020 at the estate. Neighbour Pat Del-Gatto (from Del-Gatto Estate Winery) made it into wine and then County Cider blended it with their cider using Ida Red, Russet and Northern Spy apples. Both wine and cider were fermented separately to retain the characteristics of fresh fruit, then blended to balance each fruit in synchronization. A nod to the Vhino Verde style of Portuguese wine.
This particular version is sold out, but a bit of Del-Gatto’s Baco Noir and County Cider blend, also part of the Legacy Series, is still available. “Not sure what will be next, but the Cider Verde was so well received I think we may make more this year,” says Dean.
It shows a bright gold colour in the glass and has a nose of mulled apples, lifted peach, apricot and lemon tart. It has soft effervescence on the palate ripe apple, peachy/pear, citrus and apricot flavours with a touch of sweetness on a lifted, fresh finish. It’s delightful style of cider-wine that straddles the line between both elixirs. I’m betting it will evolve with a bit of time in the bottle.
A Tortured Path Apple Cider ($8 for a 500 mL bottle, 94 points)
This delicious cider was inspired by traditional Somerset ciders. Made with estate grown bittersharp and bittersweet apple varieties, it was blended with estate Golden Russets to create a dry crisp taste and complexity for the true cider lover. I know this was Howes’ favourite cider and I can see why; it’s simply what seasoned cider lovers crave when they want something a little more cerebral. It has a funky/earthy nose with baked apple notes, subtle spice and ginger. It’s perfectly dry and shows complexity on the palate with creamy apple, depth of flavour, spice notes, some tannins and brilliant acidity to give it freshness through the finish. A delightful, multi-dimensional artisanal cider.
Rosehall Run Vineyards
Our trip with the Ontario Wine Society gang did not include Rosehall Run this time around, but I recently tasted through some new releases from this top-notch County winery located in Wellington. Dan, above, and Lynn Sullivan, with support from Cam Reston, founded Rosehall Run in 2000. The 150-acre farm was selected due to its proximity to Lake Ontario (1-2 kms on three sides) and the remarkable clay soil scattered with rock and shale fragments on a calcareous limestone base. All the wines are made by Sullivan. Here is what I liked:
Rosehall Run JCR Chardonnay 2019 ($36, 93 points) — 2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the estate’s flagship Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the JCR Vineyard named after co-founder John Campbell Reston. These are always some of the most coveted wines made in The County with prices that are well below other top Chards and Pinots in the region. This vintage marks a move to less sulphites in the processing — with only SO2 added sparingly during elevage and just enough at bottling to protect the wine from oxidation post bottling. It shows a nice golden glow in the glass with a nose of ripe pear, golden apples, lemon blossom, integrated spice notes and stony/saline minerality. It’s a beauty on the palate; rich and elegant with lovely summer pear/apple quince, an enticing vein of flinty minerality, integrated spices and a lifted, long and finessed finish. Can cellar a few years, but attractive right now.
Rosehall Run JCR Pinot Noir 2019 ($42, 92 points) — The Pinot was aged in French oak (38% new barrels) for 17 months. The nose shows dark cherries, cloves, brambly raspberries, crunchy cranberries, spice rack and summer strawberries. It’s an elegant Pinot on the palate with ripe red berries, a touch of cassis, cedar, spice, silky tannins, integrated spice notes, length and finesse through the finish. Can cellar 5+ years.
Rosehall Run Small Lots UV 2019 ($36, 90 points) — A new wine from Rosehall with an intriguing name that is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (65%) and Merlot (35%) sourced from the Nedelko Vineyard on the Twenty Mile Bench in Niagara. The blend spent 17 months aging in seasoned French and American barrels, with approximately 20% of the lot aging in new French oak. It possesses a fairly robust nose of blackberries, black currants, brambly raspberries and cherries with rich spice notes and persistence. It’s punchy on the palate with lifted dark and red berries, anise, medium+ tannic structure, toasted oak spices and plenty of zip on the finish to hold it all together. Good aging potential here, say 7+ years. Sullivan owes me an explanation for the meaning of UV. I suspect it is directly tied to some obscure reference from him eclectic taste in music.
Rosehall Run Hungry Point Pinot Gris 2020 ($26, 90 points) — Both the Gris and Savvy grown at the estate’s Hungry Point Vineyard are takes on these varieties that are distinctly Prince Edward County with both showing pristine fruit and interesting minerality. The Pinot Gris nose is all about quince, melon, lemon zest, peach skin and pure salinity. It’s a bit more rounded on the palate with orchard fruits, some lemon, leesy notes, persistence and freshness through the lively finish.
Rosehall Run Hungry Point Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($28, 90 points) — The fruit is barrel fermented in old, large-format barrels and aged for six months in oak and acacia barrels. It’s a rich and tantalizing Savvy with a nose of ripe pear, grapefruit, guava, fresh herbs, mineral notes and light spice. There’s plenty of lemon-citrus zing on the palate with pear skin, green apple, guava, stony minerality and spice with a vibrant, tangy finish.
Rosehall Run Small Lots Gewürztraminer 2020 ($28, 90 points) — Sullivan pays homage this style of Gew with the “best traditions and characteristics of the spiritual and still de facto home, Alsace, and am committed to maximum ripeness, opulence and varietal expression in our Small Lots Gewürztraminer,” he says. He sources the fruit from the Nedelko Vineyard on Niagara’s Twenty Mile Bench and ferments the juice in old, neutral wood. It has a spicy, perfumed nose of apricot, grapefruit, lychee, ginger and rich pear notes. It’s bold and fleshy on the palate with a whole lot of spicy/gingery things going on. It has wonderful texture in support of ripe pear, apricot tart, citrus zing, floral and lychee notes with just enough acidity to maintain the style and keep it juicy through the luscious finish.