The Cider Crate

Event Reviews

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Event Review: County Cider Brewmasters Dinner at Craft Ottawa

About every month, Craft Ottawa hosts a special ‘Brewmasters dinner’ to celebrate pairing courses of food with excellent drinks – all from a select brewery or theme. For the first time, Craft Ottawa hosted a cider Brewmasters Dinner featuring the ever-wonderful County Cider Company on May 30th 2017. May is Celiac Awareness month, so Craft Ottawa decided to host a completely gluten-free Brewmasters Dinner for those who may normally be left out from the festivities. With cider being naturally gluten-free, it was an obvious choice to feature a dinner using cider for the first time.

Upon arrival to the dinner, was a very generous welcome drink of County Premium Apple Cider. Unsure if the remaining 4 ciders would be this large (yes, they were), everyone was getting primed for the evening with the dry, tart apple cider being handed out. With the dinner being hosted on the upper-level of the restaurant, it featured long, communal tables, so you could sit and meet with fellow cider fans in the process. With a strong mix of people attending – with many of them being young professionals – it was an energetic and friendly group of people from the start (even before being pumped with generous glasses of cider).

Before getting into the first course, Robin – County Cider employee extraordinaire and representative for the company for the evening – spoke about the origins of the County Cider Company; as well as the first two ciders being served. Focusing on the rich history and practices of the company, Robin touched on the tree planting done at the farm, the amount of cider produced every year; as well as the techniques that make County’s cider “more complex than some competitors”.

After Robin’s initial speech, out came the peach cider – all in its golden, bubbly glory. Made all natural with Niagara peaches, it has a clean and sweet finish. But before the first course came out, the head chef for Craft Ottawa wanted to say a few words about the dish and courses in general. The night was about ‘celebrating food people with Celiac can’t normally enjoy”; as well as to celebrate cider. It was admitted that the first dish to be paired with the peach cider was more in favour of celebrating the drink but when thinking of what to pair with it, “prosciutto came to mind”.

The first course that was perfectly paired with the peach cider was the ‘marinated burrata” – a  soft cheese, mixed with local prosciutto, roasted peaches, balsamic and a beet drizzle and bitter herbs. The meal and cider paired together, offered a lot of unique contrasts that really complimented each other: the sweetness of the peach cider and roasted peaches was matched well with the saltiness of the prosciutto; the softness of the burrata cheese was well equipped to handle the impact of the crunchiness from the roasted peaches and the meat; and the tartness and the tannin’s of the cider mellowed the bitterness from the herbs. Overall, this pairing was brilliant and the contrasting flavours really did form a superb marriage of tastes in the dish.

Before the second course began, out came the third cider of the evening – the County Pear Cider – with short speeches from Robin and the chef again. Robin went first, describing the properties of the pear cider, stating it was “apple-based with fruit concentrates” and that it is “not as sweet as other perries on the market”. After Robin finished, the chef wet our appetite with a description of the upcoming dish. The second course he designed had both ‘celebrating the cider and the gluten-free aspects of the dish in mind”. With pears being a central part of the dish to be paired with the pear cider, the chef acknowledged between these two courses, “peaches on peaches, pears on pears, hat on a hat” but it all helps to create the vivid flavours in the pairings.

The second course involved a gluten-free tart with pears and onions as the filing; with a side salad that featured Roquefort blue cheese and pickled onions. With a gritty pie crust (that was sometimes hard to pick up with a fork) the filing was a very strong caramelized onion taste; with pear being the secondary flavour. These strong flavours went up well against the strong flavours from the blue cheese and the pickled onions – that probably should have been followed with a breathe mint. While the previous dish had contrasting flavours that were at odds with one another, this pear-focused dish had strong flavours that blended more naturally together. With the onions being so dominate, the perry and the pears in the tart, acted to lower their acidity. The cheese was perfect and it almost melted in the mouth when enjoyed directly with the pear cider.

At this point, I was starting to feel the three very large ciders and two courses… we could have stopped there and I would have been very happy, but we were barely only half way through! The breaks between the courses were important and helped to appreciate pondering all the flavours that just happened. I could tell from looking around the room and speaking with a few others, that they were really starting to feel the generous ciders by this point as well, but nobody wanted to stop the journey we were on.

The fourth cider of the evening was ‘A Tortured Path’, and with it came a very important speech from Robin. This past January, County Cider tragically lost its creator and visionary, Grant Howes. Robin went on to describe that after a trip to Somerset, UK, Grant fell in love with their premiere style of cider, and wanted to create a version of his own back in Canada. Thus, A Tortured Path was born, and it had been, “Grant’s baby ever since”. A Tortured Path is an old-world cider, that has a dark golden hue and is quite dry from the tannin’s in the apples. Knowing the special value this cider had to Grant and the County Cider Company as a whole, it made it that much more meaningful for the third course.

The third course for the evening was a wonderfully presented Nashville fried chicken and cornbread waffles – with the 2 pieces of chicken coming in a tiny, silver bucket. Unfortunately for myself, I do not enjoy spicy food so I wish there had been an option without the sauce, but the strong presence of tannin’s in the cider did neutralized my pallet slightly. I would even say that the spicy notes helped to amplify the tannin’s in a way that isn’t as prominent than without the primer. The hot sauce did have an enjoyable smokey flavour however, and the chicken was very juicy. The cornbread waffles were the real star though, being incredibly light, crispy and sticky from the syrup it was glazed in. Despite my discomfort from the spiciness of the chicken I had to eat quickly to get past the heat, the whole dish was comforting and invited a more casual feel to the evening, from the prior, fancier courses.

Approaching the end of the evening, we were presented with our final cider, the County Blood Orange. Before dessert was served, Robin and the chef stood to speak one final time each. Robin admitted she could tell ‘that everyone is really enjoying the cider by that point’ and that the blood orange cider is a dessert cider –  a ‘hit or miss’ to some people. Only available at the County retail store – like the A Tortured Path – I could tell it was a real treat for some who may have never had access to it before. This cider is a vibrant orange-red hue that is sweet, candied and progressive in nature in the mouth.

Our final course was a dessert designed to be both deliberately complimentary and contrasting – a burnt orange crème brule that featured a crispy caramel salt on top. This dessert starts off immediately salty but then comes to be a creamy orange ‘creamsicle’ on the pallet. When enjoyed with the cider, the dryness of the drink really brought out the salty flavours of the dessert – including the advertised caramel notes. The brule was both crispy and soft, making it a perfect finish the courses. The blood orange cider was both tangy and sweet, and that left a long lingering taste in the mouth – which stayed well past the tables being cleared.

By the end of this dinner, everyone was rightfully tipsy and deservedly so; and everyone seemed to be friends and very social by this point. Overall, this was a fantastically put together dinner by the folks at Craft Ottawa and County Cider. The meals and the cider pairings were obviously very mindfully crafted to offer a variety of goals and objectives; with value at heart in terms of generous food and drink portions. One of the most thoughtful and appreciated aspects to the night was the commentary between every meal and cider from both the head chef and Robin. Having that knowledge shared really added depth and appreciation for the plates and ciders at hand.

Speaking with others, they enjoyed the night as much as I did – as well as being surprised at how generous every cider portion was. I know from experience and others, it is hard to get people in Ottawa excited about cider when it is a decidedly craft beer town. But events like this really do help to raise the profile of the drink in the city, and I hope to see more not only here, but around the province.

Thanks for the lovely evening, Craft and County – your professionalism, expertise and welcoming spirits will be a night to remember for a long time.

~Bethany for The Cider Crate

 

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Ottawa Winter BrewFest 2017 Review

We stopped in opening night to Ottawa Winter BrewFest to see what was going on at Lansdowne, as we heard there were some ciders being featured.  Below (and updated on our podcast) is an interview with Mike, the event coordinator where he talked about the festival, the ciders at the festival and whats coming up in 2017.

Download episode | Play in new window | File size: 9.2MB

 

Toronto Cider Festival 2016 – Podcast Series, Gallery and More

It took a lot of work and a lot of editing, but we are finally ready to present our extended recap coverage of the 2016 Toronto Cider Festival – including our Podcast Series of informative interviews about cider.

Check out the Podcast Series featuring 18 cideries who were at the festival.  You can also access it on iTunes.

Check through the gallery of all the photo’s we took throughout the day.

and if you missed it, our review is located here.

 

By in Event Reviews, News 2

Toronto Cider Festival 2016 Recap

The 2nd annual Toronto Cider Festival happened on August 27th, 2016, and if you weren’t there, you unfortunately missed out on an amazing day. The weather was sunny, warm and beautiful throughout the day, and the fans came out by the thousands to indulge in 40+ ciders from 19 cideries. Broken up into two sessions – with a VIP one-hour session – the all-day event was a massive success and we were there for the full 11+ hours to cover all of the action and speak to the cider makers and fans alike.
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Within moments of the doors opening at 11:30am, Yonge and Dundas square started to fill with hundreds of fans eager to start sampling cider. We made our way to interview about half the cideries prior to the doors opening – with us getting to interview the other half of the cideries between the two sessions. With the sun shining down, cider fans spent hours going to each cider booth, and getting their passports stamped and munching on the delightful cuisine offering by the food vendors mixed in around the drinks. With a delightful ‘Cottage in the City’ theme, the event successfully transported us into the wilderness amongst all of the city lights, to a calm oasis of wonderful cider sipping.

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With 19 cideries it was certainly difficult to know where to even start – luckily, there was no wrong choice. Among the included booths were: 14 Ontario cideries, 1 from British Columbia, 3 international companies and 1 French apple brandy company.With most cideries bringing their flagship ciders, many also brought special flavoured varieties; as well as limited kegs and upcoming releases.

While all the ciders offered to sample were amazingly delicious, there were some true standout ciders that were unique in their own right. KW Craft Cider was sampling one of their newest creations, the Snakebite Cider, which was a perfectly blended mixture of cider and beer, in collaboration with Elora Brewing Company. Spirit Tree Cider brought their recently released Pear Lavender cider (See our review here), which is a unique take on their original pear cider; as well as their Dry Hopped blend which tickles the pallet with flavour. The oldest cidery in Ontario, County Cider Company, brought four varieties to sample, which included their hit Blood Orange cider and their recently released cider, Rootbeer.

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One of the special ‘event’ ciders was Coffin Ridge’s Strawberry Mint Cider, where only 1 keg per session was tapped – at 2pm and 8pm – and only available for a short period, as the lineups to sample started early (and lasted about 30 before it was all gone).  Another special cider only offered in a limited quantity was Thornbury’s Spiced Apple – a smoothly blended cider that will be available at the LCBO this fall for a limited time. As well, Ironwood brought their hilariously named ‘Cowabunga’ Cider made with tart cranberries, that we actually had the pleasure of sampling the evening before at Her Fathers Cider Bar.

Other special cider offerings included Brickworks Field Trip Cherry (See our review here) (Poor Brickworks brought there re-constructed 1940’s tap truck which broke down less then 500m away from the event on the side of the road and missed the entire first session), Double Trouble’s ‘Grow a Pear’ cider (recently launched at the LCBO), Duxbury’s hopped Tilted Barn, amongst many, many others (there are just too many to list!).

One cidery that really stood out to us was Heritage Estates – a new cidery located in Barrie that only launched in July – that already had two canned thumb_P1090064_1024offerings available: Dragon’s Gold and Eden’s Apple. Let us tell you that these were two highly unique ciders that didn’t taste like anything else you would have had that day. We were also impressed with Lone Tree Cider – a cidery that came all the way from British Columbia and is hoping to break into the Ontario market soon – with 4 delicious ciders for our sampling pleasure.

Fans could text their favourite ciders to a special contest number throughout the day, and the same three cideries were selected as the fan favourites in both sessions but in different orders. The winners from the first session were 3) Heritage Estates 2) Ernest Cider and 1) Savanna. The evening session winners were 3) Savanna 2) Heritage Estates and 1) Ernest Cider. We were thrilled that two up-and-coming Ontario Craft Cideries were selected, as we see big things ahead for them all!

Mixed in throughout the evening, were two special schedulings – the food and cider pairing session at 5pm for VIP ticket holders and the flair bartthumb_P1090137_1024ending competition that started shortly before 7pm. The VIP session food pairing was done by the industry expert, Doris Miculan Bradley and it included a mouth-watering pulled pork sandwich, topped with creamy coleslaw and an olive – paired with County Cider Apple, and followed with County’s bright red cranberry and raspberry Feral Cider.

Shortly after, was the flair bartending competition, where a few seasoned professionals had 5 minutes to flip and toss bottles around, all while making a delicious cocktail featuring Angry Orchard Cider. While there were a few bottles broken, it was a true spectacle to watch with tons of crazy tricks and flips.

The festival offered so much more than just cider samples, pairings and cocktails though; with delicious food vendors, life-size games (including Jenga and Connect 4), DJs, live music, tons of incredible giveaways and more, it was a truly complete and grand experience for the senses. With the festival all tucked underneath the glowing signs and lights of Yonge and Dundas square, it only made the day more brilliant and grandeur.

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We think the 2016 edition of the Toronto Cider Festival was an incredible success and we thank not only the wonderful job done by the organizers and cideries for putting this day together; we thank the thousands of fans that came together to connect over a shared love of a delicious drink. Events like this are important for the cider community, as it show cider’s growing popularity and influence in Ontario. This helps grow the industry, grow allotted shelf space at the LCBO and grocery stores, and gain access to more markets and more equitable selling laws.

Thanks again to everyone involved with the Toronto Cider Festival. We cannot wait until next year.

*watch for our interviews with the cider makers coming soon!

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LCBO Cider Fair, March 2016

Event Review: LCBO Cider Fair, March 2016

348sThe Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) decided to put a focus on cider with the launch of their ‘In Cider’ guide for March 2016. Accompanying the guide, was a weekend of ‘Cider Fairs’ in-store across the province, that offered select samples of ciders, cider cocktails and food pairings – recipes that can be found in the In Cider guide. For both days, March 11th and 12th, we visited the LCBO located on Rideau Street in Ottawa, near Byward Market. With a massive store location, and an onsite kitchen, it made for a perfect venue for the tasting fair.

The Friday, March 11th, event had a selection of four ciders for sampling, as well as two food creations to nibble on. The ciders featured were: Alexander Keith’s Cider, Brickworks Cider Batch 1904, Magners UK Pear Cider, and Growers Honey Crisp Apple. After the small samples, I tried the two delicious food pairings, the Indian Spice Pork and the Lemon Pastry with toasted marshmallows.

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The Saturday sampling featured three different ciders, as well as the Growers Honey Crisp Apple that was featured the day before. These other ciders featured were: Molson Canadian Cider, Thornbury Cider and Strongbow Gold. The food samplings were the same, but this time they also featured a Strawberry Mojito cocktail made with crushed up strawberries, mint, simple syrup, mixed with the Molson Canadian cider.

Overall, we had mixed feelings about this event. We really do appreciate the LCBO finally giving cider a strong focus and publicity, as it has not much featured it before to our knowledge. We also like the fact that these events can be a gateway for people new to cider, to either taste it for the first time or try new flavours they haven’t before. We also like that there were food pairings and cocktails made with cider, as there are so many possibilities with cider, beyond just drinking it from a can.

However, we were quite disappointed with the selection of ciders being sampled. The majority of them were more commercial and sugary, in trying to appeal to the mass crowds. Each sampling only had one Ontario Craft Cider featured, and with so much selection available and the fact that the LCBO is Ontario owned, we had hoped for a more diverse and local selection. By serving both Alexander Keiths and Molson Canadian ciders, we think they were trying to piggy-back off the success of those beers; as well as by sampling Strongbow, one of the world’s most distributed and recognizable ciders.image1 (6)

We do hope that the LCBO continues to give more features to cider – including in-between potential future cider fairs – and diversify its selection available in stores; especially with the booming Ontario Craft Cider industry selections.

An online copy of the ‘In Cider’ guide, complete with the recipes and ciders mentioned here and more: LCBO Website

-Cider Bethany

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