Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cafe Review: Marvel Coffee Co

So, there it is. A coffee shop on Donlands at Danforth. Marvel Coffee. The stuttering half sentences that morning brings often requires some form of caffeine to stretch nonsense into sense. It would be easy to write a puff piece on what they offer and whether or not their baked goods are worthwhile.

It is interesting to see how this space and focus separates itself from the One in the Only which is around the corner and Starbucks which has been making its way ever eastward along the Danforth. It is a clean white space that uses marble, high bar stools and metal highlights. They use Social Coffee, a solid local roaster. The espresso comes out aggressive and the roast is evident in the flavour. While that does not appeal to me in an espresso forward drink like an americano or straight shot, there is something to be said for having it in a milk based drink. 

There is a nuttiness and coffeeness to a drink made with medium dark and above blends that you just don't get with the coffee roasted for coffee nerds. It is one thing that I wish could be addressed and believe that we are on the cusp of a revolution in coffee. I chide some of the higher end coffee shops for this. Why does it have to be good milk drinks or sublime espresso? But that digression will have to wait. 

The placement on a side street before the subway stop points out an obvious thing. This place is meant as a quick liminal spot between house and work. There are a number of seats that really benefit someone coming in for a quick drink and bite before braving the TTC. The owner is happy to talk to you and often greets regulars with questions about their business. This is a local shop that is about that first moment that people get in the mornings to talk to a person. For many people, the first words they speak are to the barista for the coffee order. Makes me wonder why there aren't these type of commuter coffee bars inside stations but I guess we have Gateway to thank for that.

In terms of being around the corner from the One. Think of the One as being an extension of the bar and hostel where baristas sometimes look like patrons and there is a tendency to nest and nurse. One invites you to sit, brood, read and feels like home in some senses. Marvel is the friendly neighbour you wave to on the way out the door. It offers you a gentle way back into the world. 

I'm glad that Marvel is there to offer TTC travelers an option. This is not a destination coffee joint but it is definitely on my way to work. 

Edit: Ooops. Meant to mention that in order to be a destination spot, they may want to reflect Greek culture on their menu by adding a frappe or doing a new version of the custard pie or traditional doughnuts. If I had remembered, the prose would be flowery and the proper spelling of the goodies that I am talking about would be there. Also, not too sure whether that would sell but it would generate interest...

Marvel Coffee Co. on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Restaurant Review: Union Social Eatery

"How was everything?"
"It was fine. The vindaloo wasn't very spicy and..."
"Next time, we'll just add sriracha mayo for you. Thanks for coming." 
My dining companion suggested I open this way. It encapsulates the experiences I've had at the restaurant succinctly. A short yelp! type review would go something like this.

Pros: Attentive service with lunch served in less than an hour for under $20. Extensive bar menu including a lot on tap. Menu has something for everyone including vegetarians and gluten sensitivity.

Cons: Can get loud and busy at lunch. Some of the dishes were just okay. Tiffany didn't like the guy standing next to her and there wasn't a television where we were sitting.

Okay, that last line was snark on the focus of yelpers. I could write a whole blog on how to get the best out of yelp, urbanspoon or any crowd sourced review site. I'll put that in the idea pile. Anyways, let's expand this review for the parts that I found interesting about this type of restaurant in general and some of the bits about this restaurant in particular.

I've been here a few times largely on the merits of the affordable tap list and the cost of a sit down lunch in the area. It is cheaper than the Monk's Table and Rebel House and better tap list and food than the Sports Centre Cafe. 

This transplanted Mississauga restaurant looks like it has been dropped from your local big box mall parking lot and squeezed, wedged and shoehorned into a largish space at St. Clair and Yonge. High industrial ceilings create echoes and loudness at lunch and make for an empty feeling when the place is not busy. There is the whole high tech/high touch vibe going on where natural elements mix with synthetic to create a sophisticated but overly used trope on retail and dining. This aesthetic extends past the physical trappings and makes its way onto the menu. 

When you consider the number of items and the breadth of selection, you wonder how they do it. There is a separate gluten sensitivity menu that is shown on their website but not offered at the door. The food itself is a mix of East Asian, bar food, and Southwestern cuisine. Most plates are a mix of food service items dressed up and some original additions. From afar, it looks extensive and inclusive, reflecting the city from which it sprang. Closer looks shows where this approach begins to break down. 
"We are obsessed with quality ingredients and delivering addictive, tasty food. Its common food, but done uncommonly well." U.S.E.
Much has been made recently about racism in describing food such as kaffir which is used in their description of the popular Goan dish, vindaloo. In an effort to be exotic and to add flourishes of ethnic cuisine, it ignores the overall composition of the dish. Most of their menu items are about adding something. Truffle salt to fries or tortillas to a Mediterranean platter. More is more. So, when asking for a spice on the aforementioned vindaloo, the response makes sense - add an ingredient that doesn't make sense for the context and will just add more tastes to further muddy the flavours. In some ways, this unintentional homogenization reflects the ethos of most suburban environments in Canada. There is a blending of conservative elements that lead to a tasty, exotic but ultimately bland palette. 
"We are a premium casual restaurant known for its well crafted menus and cocktails, an extensive draught and wine selection and the kind of place where comfort rules, and your table is your own little escape. It’s a place where you can be yourself, relax, laugh with friends and enjoy great food."
Their beer tap menu is eclectic, stretching from big brewers to micro brewers to craft beer. Unfortunately, the servers do not seemed well versed in helping the customer through the list. They will always lead you to more popular and less offensive (read that as bland) options rather than considering your tastes or what you are eating. Anyone with Delirium Tremens on tap gets a nominal pass for me. Just don't ask for it like that. It's just Delirium on the menu and it confuses the servers.

The servers. All female. Verging on breastaurant territory. Sometimes I feel infantilized and wonder if it is a policy of the restaurant or just the experience of the staff that this type of behaviour garners more tips. The first time I went here, there was a super excited server who was really curious about the food and beer. She got the answers to my questions. I've never seen her there again. No other server has been as interested as her and the service, while always professional, has been spotty with the feeling that there are many scripted moments. 

Look, this isn't a bad restaurant. I try to stay away from reviewing places like this because I like to see other regions cuisine slip into white people's food. My objection lies where there seems to be a commodification of culture. The mainstream takes a highly distinctive dish and reprocesses it to appeal to the most people and sells it back. That makes sense for a restaurant trying to appeal to a sub $20 lunch crowd where it needs to fill butts in seats a couple times in a few hours to be successful. If it just paid attention to the small details then it could become a really good restaurant with no extra cost and that's what pains me in these type of restaurants. By having less scripted interactions but adding a knowledge of the beer menu for instance, could yield more profit by selling that one extra draught. Sure, it is harder to teach and control the experience but it may increase the profit margin. Instead I'm left with the feeling that no one cared what my preferences were because there was already something for everyone. Add a little sriracha mayo. That will fix the problem.

Union Social Eatery on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Magazine Review: The Gourmand

Since the Cookbook Store has closed, I've been looking at less likely places to pick up food magazines. I picked up this periodical at room 2046, near Summerhill subway station. The store has hints of food with their bowls, plates, napkins, cookbooks and food magazines. A design shop that is tight and focused. Like Cibo Matto, food isn't central. In a more pretentious place, this would be called curated due to its relation to art and design but it is more eccentric and deliberate; candle with scents like thyme and lemon and of course, they serve coffee and sweets.

The Gourmand is a magazine that tries to marry this same type of focused eclecticism. The look is somewhere between 70's naturist mags and museum guide book. It says on the spine that it is Issue 3 but inside the editor's not states that it is the fourth issue. Far from being an error, it reminds me of the joke of the person standing in the express line; wondering if the person ahead of them is a math major that can't read or an arts major that can't count. They may be channeling the comics industry where Issue #0 is the origin issue but then that isn't counted as part of the number system.

The strange thing is that in this internet age, you can be a polymath and find all the information you need. This means that a periodical has to bring more to the table than more of the same. Either specialized knowledge or a point of view that no one else has. The general interest mag is dead. Now you have to be a part of a community of interest or geography, or have a unique collection of goods that are put together in an interesting way. Design has become a reason to read.

Due to the eclectic nature, a few bits were impressive to me:

  • photos of pasta
  • Teenage Little Chef - a view into Britannia that I had only seen on Food Television with Heston Blumenthal.
  • Sunday specials about a synaesthete, who experiences sounds as tastes. The interesting bit was that they tried doing it backwards by presenting a dish and asking what sound would give you this taste and photographing the representation of sounds. For me, it is like trying to deconstruct a restaurant dish with a pantry of items with mixed familiarity. The photos generated are oddly cohesive and disjointed.

The strongest two pieces together bring what this mag can be at its best. Driving Light about a roving food truck in Jerusalem and The Living Archive about sourdough as an art installation. Smak Polski a description of the Polish influx into Britain tries to define Eastern European and locate the impact through Lituanica, a Lithuanian wholesale company who imports much of this 'ethnic' food.

There are a number of articles that have been covered elsewhere and I would consider them close to their expiry date. This magasine is written for a British audience and maybe the coverage of these things are more North American but I'm not so sure. These topics include; an article on Milton Glaser, coverage of the ortolan, and Les Blank coverage. With a little more exposition and focus, the last piece could have been a great piece. Maybe part of the issue is with publishing in general where more of the effort of editing has been pushed back onto the writers. Not all writers are good editors or have a good eye on how to make a single article fit into a whole mag.

It is an expensive proposition to buy this publication due to the exchange rate. It provided jumping off points for my own explorations but it was the gentle nudging of wistfulness rather than the spark of ardor. It didn't drive curiosity like a well selected mag would. I will try another issue or two to see if I can understand the accolades and awards but it doesn't offer much for the hardcore connected foodie.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review: Beerology

Hmm. What background must I give to make the following make sense? Let's start with the fact that I am reviewing Beerology by Mirella Amato. I've been following her on twitter for a while. She is one of 7 Master Cicerones in the world. So, she knows beer and is very dedicated to education and promotion.

In near proximity, I have read Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher and The Complete Beer Course by Joshua Bernstein. I did a review of the Bernstein book here. These cover similar areas and it was helpful to compare and contrast against Mirella's approach.

The stated goal is beer appreciation. The design is quite engaging. Coasters dot the chapter title pages. There are smaller, more concise sections for beer ingredients and process. The pour that is recommended is one of the two classic pours. I've not seen an explanation of the differences between the pours but I bet it's out there on the interwebs. Quick run down.
Pour type 1: Vigorous center pour, stop halfway through for foam to settle then continue. 
Pour type 2: 45 degree angle and pour to middle of the glass, gradually tip and center pour.
The style section is smaller than the other books I have recently read but those differences are big and important. One is the addition of a graphic that splits the characteristics of the brew into four dimensions; ale vs. lager, colour, distinct taste (bitter/sour/sweet), and alcohol. The second is splitting the styles into purposeful adjectives such as refreshing, mellow, striking, captivating and brews beyond. This moves beyond the traditional lists that operate in a variety of ways. Sometimes by beer style or country of origin or light to dark. What is important is that Mirella doesn't recommend her categories as the final say but actively suggests that you learn more.

There is so much to say on styles especially from the point of view of beer geekery. Styles are newish and have somehow come to dominate many discussions on beer judging rather than the taste of the beer. The sense that I get from this book is that taste is probably the most important aspect of the beer. Mirella put together a great post to describe how she figured out the style and beer section. It is a great read and really illustrates the point of style versus taste and the difficulty of using style as a primary description of beer.

My favourite sections are after the style section as she gets into the ideas of food pairing, beer tasting games, and beer cocktails. While she gives some thoughtful advice on how food and beer work together, the caveat of try stuff outside the box lingers. Her framework goes beyond the cut, complement and contrast. It is not so much multidimensional as a list of considerations about everything from intensity and weight to flavour components.

Now, comes the hard questions. Would I buy this book? I'm considering it for a some very good reasons, there are so few beer guides that have Canadian references and this is one. The extra 'u' in many words might be worth it alone. This is a good companion for the big beer guides mentioned above if you want a Canadian context. If you have David Ort's cookbook then this volume works well to present the beginnings of an interesting culinary approach to beer. The third is the graphics compile complex information into a readable, digestible and immediately understandable format. Her styles as graphic representation of bitterness and intensity make it easy to compare styles. If you happen to be a food geek as well, you have probably seen flavour wheels and other tools that help you match against her graphs.

I'm in the midst of doing a trim of my books in food and beer and playing a one in, one out game. When I have finished, this is one book that would be closer to the top.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Teff Beer Attempt - Step 4

The story so far... In Step 1, we decided on an idea for a beer and in Step 2, we looked for a recipe. In Step 3, we went shopping for equipment and ingredients.
For next few hundred words, we will take you on a journey through time and space (BTW, all of our journeys are through time and space) to a placed called the Malting.

I've been reading and re-reading beer books lately. I feel as if there are no new ways to approach the topic of beer. Malting is the sprouting, drying and maybe the toasting/roasting of the grain being used to make the beer.

I bought teff. The smallest grain in the world because I wanted to make a gluten free ale from the cradle of civilization, Ethiopia. It happens to be one of the quickest sprouting grains. There were a bunch of ways to sprout grain on the internet that just didn't apply because the batch was so small. Most recipes are scaled to 5 gallons and above. Remembering my school days and having recently revisited the whole sprouting stuff on a window sill thing with the kids, this process was still fresh in my head. Recommendations are to put the grains in a bucket or some tray where water can be removed or in a clear jar or... Some of these methods were not usable due to the size of the grain but it was wide open. The only requirement was that the grain had germinated.

So, first I soaked the grain for about 3 hours and then laid it on an unused, as in new, dampened hand towel set in 9x13 pan. I took a second towel, also dew dampened by the mists from Toronto tap water and placed it over the grains and waited.

Most of the literature talked about optimal length of the sprout, some calling it acrospire and timings  for germination were all for the more common grains. There was talk about being 80-100% of the grain. Germination time for teff is two to three days. I was contemplating raiding the kids' toys to see if I could find a magnifying glass. These grains are so small that it felt like beach sand when I was soaking them. I had to rely on something other than sight, so I popped one in my mouth. Dry, vague cereal taste. Flavourful dirt.

After 24 hours, when I lifted the cloth, it seemed as if I was looking at an out of focus picture. The sprouts had started a lot quicker than I expected. I tasted it. It was slightly green tasting and less crunchy than the day before. I didn't have time to set up for drying so I didn't have time to make a decision. I think that was for the best. When I came home from work that night, there were visible sprouts at least 6 times the length while others were still in that starting stage. It was time unless I wanted the whole pan to become filler to sandwiches. I couldn't worry about the inconsistency of the sprouts.

The grain was dumped out onto cookie sheets. More cookie sheets than I expected. You need a lot of room to dry these suckers. This is probably why brewers get malt from malters. I turned on the stove at a low temp briefly and let the pans rest inside once I was sure that it would dry without starting to cook the seeds. After the initial time, I left the pans around the house to air dry. They were dry within days. Several blogs and books had recommended an optimal after drying weight but there was no way I was going to transfer these suckers back and forth. Already there were grains everywhere. Did I say that they remind me of beach sand? Same problem.

With the slight toasting they received in the oven when I put them in too early one time, they would be a very light colour. This appeals to me since I love lighter beer such as wit, weiss, and wheat beers. It will go well with the other ingredients mentioned in the previous post. Put the grains away in a cool spot and in a sealed container.

Okay, so some stuff happened. Firstly, don't use a cloth with teff. I now have a wonderful cloth that is ready to be planted. The seeds grew into the cloth.

Drying can be anxiety ridden, so if you have never dried anything, don't start with grain.

Taste the grain. I have an appreciation for the differences during the sprouting process and you are trying to get the most sugar out of the grain. We have an amazing ability to taste sugar. The larger sprouts were not as sweet as the smaller ones. While we can get all scientific about the process and remove grains that are too big or two small, the nature of handmade goods is that they are complex or sometimes muddy rather than clean and perfect. Think of the difference between a meal at home and a meal at a fancy schmancy restaurant.

Let's go at that point that I just made another way. After spending a few days worrying that the sugar would not be optimized, I took to twitter to ask about what to do. "Test during the boiling process and add amylase." That will come up in the next chapter but what I took out was that there was a possible solution. I had a more brillianter idea. I asked a few friends who spent time in Ethiopia, okay grew up there... Okay, I asked a few Ethiopian friends. You may ask why I didn't do this before but I had. The difference is that this time I described the process and got back a whole whack of information that I couldn't get from the internet. Go ahead, look. That is what I would do to. We'll wait.

Okay, for those know-it-alls, glad to see you are joining us again. Here is the recipe I got back.
My mom puts a bunch of teff in a bucket with water and lets it sprout. In another bucket she combines injera, water and sometimes spices. She also adds this green leafy thing, dried. Don't know what the English name is but we call it Gesho and here is the Amharic symbols. There is probably some on the Danforth. So, she chops it up and adds them together when the first bucket is ready. After a week or so, it is ready to drink.
There are so many great things about the recipe and how I got it, I'm not sure I can do it justice. Firstly, beer making is still the domain of women in Ethiopia and that harkens back to earlier days of brewing in Western societies. These women were known as brewsters or ale wives. A good friend of my wife is named Brewster and like the Millers, were a big part of regular life.

Second point, is the recipe itself. Read a post by Mirella Amato about losing sight of the craft. While she came to a slightly different conclusion and direction, there is definitely a sense that scientific geekery might be losing sight of a fundamental bit about brewing. It is more like making homemade bread than molecular gastronomy. Both have there places but don't worry if you mess up a little bit because there is some Ethiopian grandmother making this stuff in a bucket without heating it up to get all the sugar out. Food wants to rot. This is just controlled rotting.

And last one I'll make here. Gesho is a bittering agent. It is used like hops. Everyone makes a bitter fermented beverage. I'm wondering if there are all types of beer out there in the non European world that have so much for us. I have heard of Indian traditions and wonder about Asia. A world map of traditional beer other than the small one I have in my head that is centered around central Europe would be cool.

The next post for this topic will be on the boiling process. I just have to get some iodine and amylase.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Book Review: The Complete Beer Course

Another month, another beer book. This is one of those books that make the must read lists for beer readers. At some point, reading another book is a series of diminishing returns on knowledge. Each book only adds a bit more information while it takes more hours of investment. When a book is a classic or a must read, it often covers territory that a reader has read more than a few times. It has to bring something different.

In the case of The Complete Beer Course, there is a coverage of styles with a short history along with a few beer to try for every style wrapped in the idea of beer class. In twelve classes, Bernstein will take you through enough beer to call yourself an expert. The conceit of the tasting class works well with the first class taking up the standard information given to all of us trying to become beer nerds.  There is the usual stuff around history of beer, beer process and some information on the ingredients. Of course, how to taste and serve beer are in there as well. How is it different?

What this book does well, is in the tone. There are a lot of puns and groans that make material that would otherwise be dry and boring into a bearable reading experience. Some of us will find this approach amusing and entertaining and others will not care for the less 'technical' approach. Beer is democratic and education was intended to democratic. To teach a class is to take an approach that will work best for the greatest number of students. I feel the balance struck here is quite good.

From a Canadian perspective, I was surprised to see how many breweries and brews were here hailing from my land when this book is definitely aimed at educating Americans. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised given what I know is true about the Canadian brewing experience and drinking as a Canadian. McAuslan, Dieu du ciel, Charlevoix, Hopfenstark, Central City, Russell, Mill Street and Spearhead all make an appearance. There are a few others but these are the ones in the International beer style section.

The style sections are fine. I'm having a hard time assessing these sections due to overexposure of this information. His humour is what kept me going through these sections. The bonus sections that are not part of the standard curriculum of nerdification are the brewery profiles, a deeper discussion on topics normally skimmed (water, increasing bitterness techniques and inventions, Belgian light beers and how old styles are revived for example) and the whole section on cellaring and pairing beers. Some of the information will not age well but for someone taking the plunge right now, this would give them enough to talk the and walk the walk and sound intelligent. I have only had about 1/3 of the named beers but had a beer in every style except for two (Kentucky Common, American Style Barley Wine) but I would consider myself well versed in styles. Only one of them is actually a named style but I'm putting down the Kentucky Common so that I don't forget it.

After the review, here is what bits and pieces turned my crank and got me thinking.

p.98 mentions a grodziskie which I had only heard in passing. It is an oak-smoked wheat low alcohol beer with a lot of hops but little aroma. It is an historic Polish beer. Think of a smoky wheat beer with a possible little bit of sour from the wheat depending on whom you talk to. I would love to try it either as a home brew or pro interpretation.

Two beer alterations include adding milk to stout porter (p.188) and adding an espresso shot to Guinness Draught (Dry Irish Stout) (p.183). Of course, after reading this, I saw a post on Alan McLeod's blog on mixing beers. These two recipes got me to thinking. While I like the idea of beer cocktails, there is always a bit of chagrin due to my reliance on intentionality of the brewer when judging a beer. In other words, the brewers didn't intend it this way. In a weird postmodern way, Alan's puts it that 'the experience of the drinker is the only experience in relation to any given glass of zymergistic goodness that matters. Brewer's intentions be damned'. The drinker determines the beer and by extension how it tastes best and not the brewer.

I've long wanted to write about postmodernism, philosophy and food. The book is pushing me towards getting that down. Anyways, this is a good book to learn about styles and the North American contribution to stretching them. If you like the tone, then this is definitely a good book.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Cider Reviews for Ontario Cider Week

Serendipitously, I received a cider for review this week. It's from South Africa. I was looking for some kind of hook and realized that it was Ontario Cider Week. So, I'm going to do an omnibus review. Hopefully it will show the variety and quality of Ontario and help situate the South African cider within a context to understand it.

The highly unscientific testing method to determine the best cider was to have my wife and I to drink a bunch of ciders, mostly from Ontario, with a few from other regions like Quebec, UK and USA. We would note our reactions and try lemon juice to determine if it makes a difference. The lemon juice would be added after tasting the cider as a nod to one of the recommendations from a producer who declared that their cider tastes better with a lemon in the neck of the bottle.

So, I went to my local LCBO to purchase supplies. I didn't realize how many ciders were from Ontario. Sure, there is the Grower's Cider from BC which was one of the first that I remember seeing in the LCBO but now there is a whole lot more. With sixteen members in the Ontario Craft Cider Association, this could be the next craft beer craze. Even with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I do have to admit that cider in the last few years has often been a good way to round out a night of drinking and with its distinct lack of bitterness can provide a mellow respite from summer beer.

The Ontario list: Spirit Tree, Pommies, Thornbury, County Cider, and Waupoos. Both Waupoos and County Cider are from the same company.

The Other list: Savanna Dry (South Africa),  Woodchuck (USA) and Cremant Cidrerie St-Nicolas (QC).

And one not cider: Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner.

When I started the tasting, my suspicion was that the ciders were going to clump around two polar opposites of sugariness. I hesitate to use the word sweet because in cider talk, sweet means the apple juice product where hard means the fermented drink. Dry cider means using champagne yeast or less sweet tasting or alcohol content removing the sugars from the fruit. In reality, dry has regional meanings. There are whole categories in Quebec based on the carbonation levels and then there is the ice ciders, a Canadian innovation that is big in Japan. Since I am not going to be the one to develop new coinages for the whole cider industry or further add to the confusion factors, I will use sweet and dry like wine terms. But this paragraph on sweetness is just a long way of saying that I was wrong. There is more of a range than I expected.

First of all, some overall impressions on the ciders. Almost all used sulfites. It is necessary. Most had a hints of sulfur in the smell or in the first few mouthfuls that dissipated if you left the glass for a few minutes. The smell/taste thing is particular to the bottles as I rarely find it in cider on tap. Haven't talked to a cider maker yet, but believe it is probably just a natural compound in rotting apples. When I used to live near apple trees in the country, you would notice that downed apples in late fall have a particular smell.

Let's get to the particular impressions, I do a mean Pikachu impression. Sorry, been watching a lot of Pokemon with my kids.

Ontario Ciders

Spirit Tree: Drier and bouncy on the tongue. Light colour and clocks at around 6%. More of a mid range apple flavour. I've had it on tap and this is one of my go to ciders. My wife hates this one due to mustiness. Due to my love of barnyard tastes, this one just registers as slightly funky for me.

Pommies: Clocking in at 5%, this has a lot of apple and sugar taste in another light coloured cider. It tasted juicy when tasted alongside any of the finer carbonated and drier tasting ciders. Although classified as a dry cider due to the alcohol content, I wouldn't call in dry. My wife likes this one. It is close to cooler territory for me. Lemon seemed to accent the sweetness and made this one veer into candy territory.

Thornbury: This one was the fizziest of the ciders poured on this night. It was the most like apple juice, maybe an Allen's apple juice that fades into a crisp finish. This one smelled like the pleasant version of downed apples. My wife liked this one and commented in particular that this one smelled appley. It is around 5% alcohol. The lemon juice brings out the latent tartness and gives the cider a cooler like quality that reminds me of mass market beer.

County Cider: Like the other cider, Waupoos, that we tasted from the same company, this is a 6.5% beverage. The body feels light to me with a milder apple flavour possibly due to a different varietal. Tasting these two side by side allows you to appreciate the difference the varietal can bring because you can assume similar production methods. Lemon brings out apples and a citrus taste in a way that other it didn't with the other ciders. It was a really pleasant addition.

Waupoos: The other of the two ciders that we tasted from County Cider. There is similar carbonation levels to the Spirit Tree. Light sour apple taste fading to a drier finish. A 6.5% alcohol beverage. There was a slight funkiness in the middle that my beer hating wife perceived as tasting like light beer. It was drinkable for her but I think she used the words 'Coors Light'. Adding the lemon enhanced the sour apple but made the slight unpleasant flavour obvious.

Other Regions

Savanna Dry (South Africa): The excuse that I used to round up a bunch of ciders was this sample sent for tasting. It's marketing is around being dryly humourous with a lemon in the neck of the bottle as a tasting gimmick. Think Corona and lime. South Africa is the 16th largest apple producing nation where Canada is 29th. We import a lot of apples from South Africa, they are the 5th largest by volume of countries that we import apples from. Anyways, enough background information and back to tasting notes. There was a slight smell that was hard to place but it was almost cheesy. It is at 6% alcohol content which contributes to a drier taste. It was the darkest cider we tasted and may have created the buttery tasting connection in our heads. It was more on the fizzy side. Their claim of lemon enhancing the flavour was true as it accented the carbonation, brought a distinct apple flavour to the front and pushed away the butteriness. This makes the drink more lively. My wife liked it with lemon but without the lemon, it tasted beery to her. 

Description of this image follows.

Woodchuck (USA):
An American cider that I always associate with Britain. It's partly the packaging and partially the taste. Its another dark cider that smells of socks initially before quickly fading to mellow apples. The flavour reminds me of sugary apples and while this would classify as a semi-sweet, it drinks closer to the sweet side. Lemon brings a tartness that plays with the carbonation in a way that makes it taste fake. Once again, this one heads close to cooler territory and appealed to my wife. Skip the lemon on this one.

Crémant St. Nicolas (QC): The lowest alcohol of the tasting at around 3%. It had the tiniest little bubbles with pronounced apple taste. Well rounded mild apple taste with hints of acid. Lemon juice turns the mildness into an aggressive "apple" taste like splashing citric acid onto a fresh cut Mac. This is where my wife's and my tastes come together. Without compromising what a cider is, this manages to please both the funky, beer like dry ciders with the cooler type sugary and apple forward ciders. This may be due to the champagne yeast. This was the most distinct flavoured of the ciders but remember, Quebec is the site of many innovation such as ice ciders.

Not a Cider

Nickel Brook Green Apple Pilsner: Easily recognized as a beer by the wife. Tastes like a flavoured beer. I like a lot of Nickel Brook products but this one always tastes fake to me. Lemon did nothing to improve it.

Overall Impressions: I've drank a lot of ciders in the last few years but by focusing on Ontario craft ciders at one time, it made me realize the breadth of products available. I'm not sure if there are any remaining drinkers out that gender cider by putting it into a corner with coolers that are best left to womenfolk. If so, they are missing out. None of the ciders tasted were bad. One or two crawled towards a more bland flavour profile but none screamed mass market.

The cider market may have been given a gift when the juice canning factories closed down in Southern Ontario. This left many orchards with few choices. Alcohol sells. There are more innovations that are happening in the Ontario market such as using different yeasts, dry hopping ciders, and barrel aging. Cideries are applying both brewing and vinous methods. West Avenue Cider is one to watch.

The cider industry in Ontario has many stories to be told. Craft cider is fast approaching craft beer territory, in terms of innovation and excellence. This week was the inaugural Cider Week. Now, all we need is the craft version of Sessions. Get out there and find a cider you like. The search is well worth it.