Monthly Archives: October 2013

“The Cider Geeks Are Excited” – Canadian Beer News & The Rhino’s Fall Beer & Cider Fest

Last year I went to a Winter Beer festival that I considered one of the most refreshing festivals I’ve attended. It was pretty low-key and casual, but featured an incredible selection of new and interesting beers. It was in a wonderful space as well, which allowed people to sit down or walk around talking to each other. It was relaxing, eclectic and appealed to hardcore beer geek and interested newcomer alike.

And on Sunday Greg Clow of Canadian Beer News and the folks at The Rhino Bar & Grill did it all again for Fall and decided to include a wonderful feature of Ontario ciders on top of it.

With a total of 58 beers and 11 Ontario ciders listed, this proved to be a fun event and a nice sampling of what Ontario’s alternatives are to the syrupy apple juice one usually finds in liquor stores.

The clear highlight of the day for me was the West Avenue Cider Company, run by Husband-and-wife team Chris Haworth and Amy Robson. The Cidery is only in their first year, but has been making a big splash with one-off ciders, this event in particular featuring Barrett Fuller’s Secret Bourbon-Barrel Aged Cider, with a rich bourbon aroma and lovely vanilla taste notes and the Smash Me Up Butternut Cask-Conditioned Pumpkin Cider, which tasted like a  homemade mulled cider I would expect from a beloved Somerset family member with an age-old secret recipe.

And with plans to increase their production by 300% and make ciders with more select, quality ingredients, West Avenue is a Cidery I’ll be keeping my eye on.

A tip of the hat and a rising of the glass goes to Greg Clow and The Rhino for pulling off another wonderful event that I’ll always be looking forward to.

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Cask Days 2013

Two years ago I went to my very first beer festival at Hart House, part of the University of Toronto campus. It featured, if I recall correctly, somewhere around 50 casks, mostly from Ontario, and the reception was impressive with several hundred people showing up. This was the first time the festival had expanded from the patio of barVolo, where they started it all in 2005 and things were looking promising.

Fast forward to last weekend and Cask Days 2013 boasted 4,500 attendees and 230 casks from 124 different breweries from all over the country with a highlight of the UK as well. All spread out over 2 days and three sessions at the MASSIVE and beautiful Evergreen Brickworks.

I think I have whiplash from how fast things have developed and grown in only two years.

The Morana family have really done amazingly in bringing forth events that continue to welcome new members in to the world of craft beer while still making the beer geek’s cynical heart beat a little faster with anticipation. This event was huge, amazing and was filled with some incredible larger representation from other provinces, which highlighted the evergrowing popularity of beer.

The 230 casks allowed for more diversity than ever this year, featuring an eclectic selection of mild and strong of all different styles. There were Sours, English Browns, ESBs, Chocolate Stouts, and even Ciders all at the ready. It should be noted that this year’s glass design was certainley unique in that it was well…a mason jar. It no doubt appealed to younger festival goers and brought on a bit of nostalgia for the older folks who drank out of mason jars before it became so popular in the Williamsburg Era we currently live in. It served as a lovely sample glass and very unique souvenir that stands out among the many festival glasses one gets. I for one am looking forward to getting a lid for it and doing some beer-based pickling!

Moranas, you’ve done it again. That was truly an unforgettable festival experience.

And now on to my selected highlights:

Arran Dark Brown Ale – Isle of Arran Brewery – United Kingdom – This…this really took me to my happy place. Whenever I try a Brown Ale I expect a certain flavour. Rich, mild, warming, slight fruit taste with a dry finish at the end. This beer had it all and was a wonderful experience. I could honestly have had that all day and be perfectly content.

Storm Imperial Flanders Red – Storm Brewing – British Columbia – This ended up being the talk of Session 1. A bit on the acidic side, but wonderful tart notes and a sweet finish with a beautiful, complex aroma,

Grand River Beetified Bohemian Beet Beer – Grand River Brewing – Ontario – A unique beer that I really enjoyed and was a surprise coming from Grand River, who normally make some pretty standard beers. Of course the colour was a nice, deep red, but the aroma was nice and earthy and the taste was a whole whack of beets with a nice hoppy finish that made it a comfortable treat.

Jaffa Cake Brown Ale – Hockley Brewing – Ontario – While I do hesitate to put it in the highlights, as it was pretty watered down and light on flavour, I have to give points for originality and actually getting down the taste of a delicious Jaffa Cake. I would have liked to have tasted more though, instead of a whisp of Jaffa Cake and a quick exit.

Proper Job Export IPA – St. Austell Brewery– United Kingdom – Really glad I tried this one. A simple, but warm and inviting IPA that hugged me like an old relative I hadn’t seen in a while. Slight notes of caramel malts with hints of citrus and pine.

El Jaguar Imperial Stout with Chocolate & Chilies – Amsterdam Brewery – Ontario – While an absolute beast at 14% ABV, it had lots of amazing chocolate flavours along with a really nice, ever so slight heat at the back with the chilies that crept up on you after a sip. Definitely a good winter warmer.

And that was only a few of a much larger list.

An incredible event that just seems to get better each year. I already can’t wait to see what next year will be like.

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Pumpkin Ciders – A Gluten-Free Guest Post by The Celiac Wench

Commercial ciders, for the most part, suffer from a common problem—they’re incredibly sweet.

You might be wondering why you’re hearing about cider on Robin’s beer blog—and why Robin was just referred to in the third person. Let me shed a little light on that subject: Hi, I’m Caroline. I have celiac disease. It’s a super pesky, highly sensitive gluten-triggered immune disorder. Gluten is a tiny protein in wheat, rye, barley, and a bunch of other grains. Drinking beer, which is full of gluten, literally causes my body to destroy itself. My immune system descends upon my small intestine like a biblical plague of locusts.

Luckily for me, cider has experienced a resurgence in popularity. There are a number of reasons for this—enough for a separate post—but the important thing is that the end-result is a wider variety of ciders on the shelves, including specialty flavors.

And it’s the fall, so it’s pumpkin time.

Pumpkin ciders are a kind of odd invention. My theory is that cider brewers noticed the glut of pumpkin beers that were hitting the market and thought, “Hey. Why can’t we do that? Oh wait, NO REASON.” And lo, the brewers gave unto the glutarded masses a pumpkin cider or six. Pumpkin and apple are both fall flavors, so pairing them seems to make sense. But how often do you really see pumpkin and apple combined? Apple flavors tend to be pretty strong, and getting a strong pumpkin flavor requires a LOT of pumpkin.

Pumpkin ciders have one kind of large problem to contend with: the spices that taste AWESOME with pumpkin are frequently paired with apple. This means there’s a world of delicious apple baked goods out there—I’m looking at you, apple pie—whose flavors are going to creep into your pumpkin cider. The way some beers deal with this is, I’ve been told, by balancing the savory and the sweet. But let’s be honest for a moment—the range of what is being done with beer is far wider than what’s being done with cider.

It’s difficult to balance savory and sweet with a pumpkin cider. Cider is inherently sweet, but the cider that sells is often syrupy sweet. And the quality of a pumpkin cider can really come down to this: how good is the cider itself?

I’ve seen four pumpkin ciders so far.

Woodchuck’s is, like some of Woodchuck’s ciders, cloyingly sweet and eminently skippable. Woodchuck does deserve substantial credit for being one of the first brands stateside to have a range of flavors. They even started introducing seasonal flavors. Unfortunately for me, they largely hang on the sweet side of the spectrum (Granny Smith is notably tart-er, some of their seasonal flavors are solid). Their pumpkin is even sweeter than their typical output, and it’s exceedingly difficult to find pumpkin in the cider itself.

Doc’s Draft is also a pumpkin cider built on a sweet base. The standard Doc’s apple cider is a bit on the sweet side, so this came as no surprise. These guys do a great job at spicing the cider—you can actually taste some nutmeg in there—but that results in something that tastes kind of like apple pie. Not a bad thing! The pumpkin just kind of hangs in the background, and if I didn’t know it was

a pumpkin cider, I probably wouldn’t have guessed.

Harpoon Brewery (yes, the Boston beer folks) has a really solid regular cider—dry, light, a little tart. Not very sweet at all. Unsurprisingly, their pumpkin cider is lovely. Yes, the pumpkin is very subtle, and yes, it still tastes more apple-pie-ish than anything else. But they manage to retain some of the tartness of the standard Harpoon cider. This is no small feat for something that tastes like baked goods.

California’s Ace Cider has been a relatively recent addition to East Coast cider selections. Their Joker cider is probably my favorite relatively cheap cider out there by virtue of how tart and dry it is. I was a little surprised when their pumpkin cider ended up being sweeter, but I’ll be honest—I think it works well. The Ace Pumpkin is probably the first pumpkin cider where I’ve been able to say, “mmm, pumpkin!” This might be more of a statement about my unsophisticated palate. But for an identifiably pumpkin-flavored cider? This is probably your best bet. It’s not as dry as the Harpoon (a close second), but it’s got probably my favorite flavor profile.

I’m looking forward to seeing more bizarre cider varieties in my local beer store. New York isn’t close to California’s level of cider paradise yet, but things are slowly making their way over here. This past summer I discovered hopped ciders. Hopped! It’s a brave new world out there for the glutards like me.

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