The Beer Guy: Cider six-pack

by Peter Bailey

“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are,” wrote Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in The Physiology of Taste (1825). Or, in beer terms: you are what you drink.

Brillat-Savarin came to mind recently when the whole family, adult kids and all, sat down to watch High Fidelity on Netflix. John Cusack plays Rob, a record shop owner examining his failed romantic life, and Jack Black plays Barry, an epically obnoxious record store snob. For me the film is about taste; as Rob says, “What really matters is what you like, not what you are
like.” At one point, Barry sends a customer packing when he has the temerity to ask for a copy of I Just Called To Say I Love You. When Rob asks Barry, ‘What did he ever do to you,’ Barry responds, ‘he offended me with his terrible taste.’

As the credits rolled on High Fidelity, my kids agreed: Dad is Barry, the sneering record store snob. This stung, for years ago I consciously decided not to judge people for their taste in music or books or beer. Or at least, appear not to judge people. It’s not always easy and you don’t always fool people—clearly my kids are onto me. When people you love and respect enjoy things you do not, perhaps it is time to examine your aesthetic choices, or your life may prove to be a lonely one, my friend. So when my editor suggested I have a look at cider for this column, did I take my own advice? Eventually.

As tough as it is for me to imagine preferring a cider (aren’t they essentially alcopops?) over a beer, is it right for me to judge those rediscovering a traditional beverage?

Ask my wife—a long-time cider drinker (and sufferer of my snobbery).

Cider is the “it” beverage. Sherbrooke Liquor’s Stephen Bezan tells me cider is the hottest category at the store these days, with 30 new ciders added over the last six months to the dozens in Sherbrooke’s beer cave. Stephen suggests the cider surge is the result of the surge in gluten-free awareness and the artisan food movement, with people looking for unique hand-crafted and farm-fresh products. Stephen has seen a crossover from craft beer too, with beer geeks looking for a new taste and cider-makers using hops or beer yeasts. Even wine-lovers appreciate the terroir aspect of cider, with craft ciders tied to specific apple varieties grown in particular orchards in variable seasons.

My wife is chuffed to be ahead of the curve on this one. Why not outsource this cider column to the in-house expert? You guessed it: the beer snob in me. Having tried whatever ciders are on offer in pubs, restaurants and liquor stores from Montreal to Maui, my wife’s taste tends to fall on the sweeter, thus often more popular, side. And, reflexively, beer geeks (and music snobs) are suspicious of anything popular, like the record store clerk who sees his indie band become U2.

“Aren’t they too sweet?” I say of her choices, falling right into a rhetorical trap. Sweet, yes; too sweet—that, my wife reminds me, is a matter of taste. Why, she laments, is dry always valued over sweet? Quickly backpedalling, not wanting to end up like Barry in High Fidelity, listening alone to “sad old bastard music,” I agreed we should try some ciders together, with an open mind and an objective palate.

Cider is fermented apple juice, pure and simple. Commercial ciders like Magners or CM MY Strongbow are made of 10 to 30 per cent apple juice and often filled out with sugar and water while craft ciders are 80 to 100 per cent juice. We sampled a variety of CY ciders and chose to feature the six below—one French and five Canadian.

Domaine de la Minotiere

Domaine de la Minotiere

Domaine de la Minotiere Cidre Fermier Bio Brut, Normandy, France
A classic organic unfiltered Normandy cider from Calvados in the Loire Valley. This cider reveals its rural French terroir with its dirty gold colour, earthy aroma and dry, mellow, slightly beefy taste. Indeed, one taster remarked at first sip, “it tastes like bacon.”

Bulwark Traditional Craft Cider

Bulwark Traditional Craft Cider

Bulwark Traditional Craft Cider, Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia
A new world cider made from old world apples. People have been growing apples in the Annapolis Valley since the 1600s and they know what they’re doing. Bulwark’s flagship cider is a delight, right on the line between dry and sweet. The aroma is of a fresh white wine. You taste the apple but it isn’t overpoweringly juicy. Outstanding.turkey.

 Brickworks Ciderhouse Batch: 1904,


Brickworks Ciderhouse Batch: 1904,

Brickworks Ciderhouse Batch: 1904, Toronto, Ontario
Country born, city crafted says Brickworks, which sources apples from Niagara and Georgian Bay and makes the cider in Toronto. Batch: 1904 cider uses a mix of Ida Red and MacIntosh to make an off-dry cider. We found the cider very light and almost too apple juicy in taste. Serving it over ice with a squeeze of lime balanced it out.

Rock Creek

Rock Creek

Rock Creek, Calgary, Alberta
Calgary is no one’s idea of an apple-growing district but the Okanagan certainly is. In 1993, apple grower Chris Turton drove from Kelowna to Calgary to show Big Rock founder Ed McNally his English cider apples. Just as he did with Alberta barley, McNally saw the possibilities and in 1994 Big Rock launched their Rock Creek cider. A solid, tart, dry cider.

Left Field

Left Field

Left Field, Little Dry Mamette Lake, BC
Two sisters turned their family’s cattle ranch in the middle of nowhere (OK, the BC interior, 30 minutes north of Merritt) into a chic craft cidery. The Little Dry cider, made from traditional English cider and British Columbia table apples, is a champagne of a cider, bubbly and pale gold, almost translucent, with a delicate light taste and just a touch of sweetness.

Sea Cider Kings & Spies

Sea Cider Kings & Spies

Sea Cider Kings & Spies, Saanich, BC
Down the road from the Brentwood Bay ferry dock on Vancouver Island is the Sea Cider Ciderhouse. In 2004 Kristen Jordan planted a thousand apple trees and soon began making superb ciders. Made from Northern Spie and King apples, this cider is elegant, dry and crisp. Delightful.

Peter Bailey vows to bite his tongue even if he sees you drinking Shock Top or Lucky Lager. He tweets as @Libarbarian.