Along came a cider: The bars, bottles and basics of Toronto’s latest beverage boom
With new specialty bars and a bumper crop of fresh bottles and cans to pick from, hard cider's appeal is seriously spiking
Cider is way more than just a bottom-of-the-menu option at these spots
The newest of the new
Cider House, which opened on Roncesvalles this past December, is an Ontario-loving showcase for the province’s exploding cider industry, with a rotating selection of nearly 30 homegrown ciders—and a series of potent apple wines from Picton’s Clafeld, infused with raspberry, rose hip, elderberry and honey—served in a barn-board bedecked space that evokes the feel of a cozy sugar shack. Coming soon: more Canadiana, with a slate of champagne-style ciders from Quebec and three ciders from the East Coast. And for a wine bar, Jen Agg’s new Kensington spot, Grey Gardens, has an impressive, mostly imported cider selection that’s about 15 bottles long. Cider House, 391 Roncesvalles Ave., 416-533-7465, ciderhouseroncy.com; Grey Gardens, 199 Augusta Ave., 647-351-1552, greygardens.ca.
Her Father’s Cider Bar and Kitchen became Canada’s first dedicated cider bar when owner Joshua Mott opened it last June. It’s the strongest local sign of North America’s hipster cider renaissance, which began to flicker at trendy bars in New York (Wassail), Portland (Bushwhacker Cider) and San Francisco (Upcider). The rustic-glam Harbord Village spot (formerly Loire) offers a deep list of 125 small-batch ciders from the U.S., Canada, France, Spain, the U.K. and New Zealand. And 12 taps pour such curiosities as Revel Cider’s Midnight Circus, a farmhouse cider infused with absinthe botanicals from Dillon’s distillery. Even the cocktails are cider-based. 119 Harbord St., 647-347-7747, herfathers.ca.
The secret cider specialists
While the city’s new cider haunts were starting from scratch, Queen West fixture Tequila Bookworm was quietly curating an Ontario-focused list, and King West’s Wvrst (above and at right), best known for sausages and craft beer, was stockpiling ciders from Spain, France, Ontario, California and beyond. Wvrst’s in-house import business gives them an edge when it comes to securing rare ciders from all over, and their cellaring program ensures the goods are only going to get better with time. 512 Queen St. W., 416-504-2334, tequilabookworm.ca; Wvrst, 609 King St. W., 416-703-7775, wvrst.com.
It’s time to graduate from drinking those big-brand, artificially flavoured ciders. Level-up with these artisanal styles from around the world, which are popping up on the city’s draft and bottle lists
Funky, fermented by wild yeasts from the apple skins, aged in oak and unfiltered, it’s hazy and lightly carbonated with low acidity, high tannins and a distinct mustiness.
Producers in Normandy, one of France’s key cidermaking regions, use a special process called keeving that results in a sweeter finished product. Bittersharp cider apples keep the end result balanced.
North American craft cider
Most North American craft cideries use eating apples, like granny smith and McIntosh, resulting in ciders that are generally very easy to drink, with low tannins and acidity.
Cidre de glace is the ice wine of cider, an elegant Quebec speciality made from apples left to freeze (and concentrate their sweetness) on the tree, or fresh-pressed juice left outside in the winter. Great with dessert or as an after-dinner drink.
Hailing from Spain’s Asturias and Basque regions, bone-dry sidra is charting on cider geek radars with its big, fat, funky notes. It’s uncarbonated, so traditionalists pour it from overhead, aerating the cider as it tumbles into a wide-mouth glass held below the belt.
How to pour Basque cider like a pro
Bar Raval’s George Burt demonstrates the Spanish way
Hold a rocks glass or other wide-mouthed vessel at a 45-degree angle. Position the tip of the bottle—it’ll have a plastic aerator tip—above the point where the side and base of the glass meet.
Tilt the bottle until cider begins to flow. Gradually increase the distance between bottle and glass: 18 inches is fine, but the farther apart they are, the cooler you look. Don’t worry if you spill a few drops.
Stop pouring when the glass is about half full; any more and those bubbles will fizzle out before the final sip. Repeat and refill the glass as necessary. Feel superior in your cider-pouring savvy.
The LCBO’s best cider buys
From pretty dry to pretty sweet
The driest cider on the LCBO’s shelves, from the only cidery in Kitchener-Waterloo, drinks like an off-dry riesling.
$14.30 for a 4-pack of 330-mL bottles at the LCBO and Sobeys.
Brickworks Batch: 1904
Brickworks hoped to create a crowd-pleasing rival for the ubiquitous Strongbow, and the refreshing, light-bodied Batch 1904 more than matches the big British brand.
$3.15/473mL can at the LCBO, Loblaws and Sobeys.
This effervescent, medium-sweet cider is your new prosecco, with added depth from peppery saison yeast.
$3.10/473mL can at the LCBO and most grocery chains.
Ernest Dry Cider
This full-bodied sparkler, from wife-and-husband cider duo Michelle and Steve Faris, carries a touch of honey from a family farm in Halton.
$3.25/473mL can at the LCBO.
Shiny Apple Cider
A lemony tang and a candy kick reminiscent of Cinnamon Hearts help balance the sweetness from seven different kinds of apples.
$3.25/473mL can at the LCBO and Loblaws.
The best cider tours
Sample the goods straight from the source at these scenic cideries
County Cider Company Estate Winery
The province’s oldest operating cidery grows 16 types of apples, including some hard-to-cultivate French and British varieties. There’s a tasting room, and an outdoor restaurant with sweeping views of vineyards and the sandy shores of Lake Ontario. 657 Bongards Crossroads, Picton, 613-476-1022. Reopening for the season in May.
What to buy: Exclusive bottles like the naturally carbonated Golden Russet Cider, or the decadent, barrel-aged Prince Edward Ice Cider.
Spirit Tree Estate Cidery
Opened in 2009, the 50-acre farm with an orchard of 4,950 trees is nestled in the hills of Caledon. It’s farm-to-table cider, with every aspect of the process—picking the apples, pressing the fruit, aging it in the cellar, blending and bottling it—performed on the spot. 1137 Boston Mills Rd., Caledon, 905-838-2530
What to buy: The 2015 Estate Reserve cider, aged in bourbon barrels, and Dog Days, a tart blend of crab and dessert apples.
Thornbury Village Cidery
After nine years of making one of Ontario’s top ciders—while being unable to sell directly to customers on-site because of Byzantine provincial laws—Thornbury Village Cidery finally opened its doors to the public in February. It’s housed in a historic barn in one of Ontario’s key apple-growing regions, just a short jaunt northeast of Collingwood. 90 King St. E., Thornbury, 519-599-2616
What to buy: The newly released Cranberry Apple Cider, which is sweet with a touch of sour.