Long before North American settlers grew corn to make bourbon or malted barley for beer, the Puritans planted apple seeds to nurture the star ingredient for their favourite tipple: cider.
“America was built on cider,” says Chris Haworth, co-owner and cider-maker at West Avenue Cider House in Freelton, Ont. Not only would farmers pay their labourers partly in cider, he says, but in colonial times the fermented beverage was considered safer to drink than water. Prohibition effectively killed cider on the continent—entire orchards were torn down to keep the citizens dry—and it wasn’t until 2010 that the boozy apple bevvy started making a comeback. “All these orchards are being put back in and cider’s having its [second] heyday,” says Haworth.
Indeed, in the apple-growing regions of Canada and the United States—from B.C. to Nova Scotia and south to Texas—cider is fast becoming a craft darling. It’s gluten-free, steeped in history and occupies a comfortable niche as a gateway between beer and wine. Plus, it’s delicious. For these reasons, Haworth, a cider-loving Brit with a chef’s background, saw an opportunity to turn Ontario apples into a liquid every adult could love.
In 2012, after four years of research and recipe testing, Haworth and his wife, Amy Robson, opened their cider house in Freelton (a community in Hamilton) located between Toronto and the Niagara wine region.
West Avenue Cider House sits on a 75-acre farm planted with about 6,500 trees that produce a staggering 100 varieties of apples. The casual tasting room offers 15 different kinds of cider on tap and in bottles, from a traditional cider made with 100 per cent Ontario heritage apples, to a Spanish-style sour cider. “Cider has many styles and, as with craft beer, there’s a lot of experimentation going on,” says Haworth.
Many makers are barrel-aging their ciders, adding seasonal or tropical fruits and dry-hopping them for a deeper, more sophisticated flavour. Others are turning late-harvest apples into rich ice ciders by freezing the apples prior to fermentation, similar to the process of ice wine. “There are no limits, really,” says Haworth.
He sees the drink’s future playing out like wine, with makers striving to produce single-varietal ciders or creating the perfect blend—à la Bordeaux—using heirloom apples. “What I want to give customers is [a single] apple variety, or a perfect blend of [different] apples,” Hayworth says. “That to me is the Holy Grail.”
4 Creative Ciders to Try
Rumrunner, Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse, Saanichton, B.C.
This 12.5 per cent cider is aged in rum-soaked bourbon barrels and drinks like a rummy apple cocktail.
Heritage Dry, West Avenue Cider House, Freelton, Ontario
As a blend of four heritage apples grown on-farm, this cider reflects the Ontario orchard’s terroir.
Grasshop-ah, Colorado Cider Company, Denver, Colorado
Lightly hopped and spiced with lemongrass, this cider bridges the gap between beer geek and cider convert.
Fruit of the Forest, Nine Pin Cider, Albany, New York
The flavours of the forest live in this cider that’s been co-fermented with sour cherries and the cones of staghorn sumac plant.
[This story appears in the November 2018 issue of WestJet Magazine]
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