With the August long weekend upon us, you're likely on your way (or already at) the cottage, or are planning your relaxing stay-at-home time off.
And while nothing welcomes a weekend of rest and relaxation like a nice cold beer, not everyone enjoys a brewski -- or is able to drink a beer (more on that in a bit).
For those who prefer not to drink beer (or can't), cider -- the dry, unflavoured stuff -- is a relatively neglected but fairly decent alternative that's available at private wine stores, beer vendors and Liquor Marts. Unfortunately, it doesn't always get prime shelf space, as a recent Liquor Mart visit showed -- it was in the back corner, facing the wall, next to the de-alcoholized products and pre-mixed cocktails.
Here are some fun facts about dry cider for you to chew on this weekend as you contemplate your next summer sipper...
IT'S (SPARKLING) WINE IN A CAN
While we tend to think of cider as being beer's close cousin -- it usually comes in beer-sized cans/bottles, it has around the same alcohol levels and we serve it in a similar fashion -- it's actually a closer relation to sparkling wine.
In a nutshell, both cider and bubbly are made from fruit, and in both cases said fruit is crushed, pressed and undergoes fermentation that results in some carbonation.
THERE'S AN APP(LE) FOR THAT
While you could theoretically make cider from any variety of apple, most are made from cider apples. There are four different sub-types of cider apples: sharps, bittersharps, sweets and bittersweets. They vary only slightly in levels of sugar and tannin, each bringing certain flavour components to a cider.
Cider apples tend to be more fibrous, meaning it's easier to extract the juice than from typical apples one might find in grocery stores.
Certain varieties of cider apples are more common than others in particular cider-producing regions. In the U.S., the Harrison cider apple is often used, as are the Yates, Campfield and Hewe's Virginia Crab. In the United Kingdom, commonly used varieties include Dymock Red, Kingston Black, and Stoke Red.
In some more commercial, sweetened or flavoured ciders, more common apples such as MacIntosh or Granny Smith are used.
QUEBEC CIDER'S SWEET SUCCESS
More than any other province, Quebec has seen cider production continue to rise, especially as growers/producers continue to experiment with ice cider. Like icewine, the fruit is left to freeze on the plant before being crushed, resulting in a concentrated nectar to be fermented. It's difficult and costly to make but incredibly intense in sweetness and flavour.
CIDER: NATURALLY GLUTEN-FREE
Dry, unflavoured cider is typically gluten-free -- and always has been. This makes it a great alternative to beer for those who have gluten sensitivities and don't enjoy the limited selection of gluten-free beers in our province.
Many dry ciders now say "gluten-free" on the packaging. But beware -- flavoured ciders don't always come with the same gluten-free guarantee.
Westons Cider Stowford Press (Herefordshire, England -- $3.99/500ml can, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Pale gold in colour and clear, the Stowford Press brings aromas of bruised apple, spice and a hint of toastiness on the nose. It's a fairly dry, crisp cider, with pretty decent balance but a bit flat intensity-wise. Still, it's a fine middle-of-the-road intro to dry, un-flavoured cider. 2-1/2 stars
Tree Brewing Co. Dukes Cider (Kelowna, B.C. -- $3.51/500ml can, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Also pale gold in colour and clear, the Dukes has fresh red-apple aromas behind a sulphur, smoky, almost tinny note that I couldn't get rid of, despite pouring from the can into a couple of glasses more than once over an evening. It masks what might have been bright, clean apple notes. A disappointing cider from a pretty good brewery. 1 star
Angry Orchard Crisp Apple Hard Cider (Cincinnati -- $2.65/355ml bottle, Liquor Marts and beyond)
While slightly deeper gold in colour, there's an additional intensity to the red-apple and green-apple candy notes here. The Angry Orchard is a touch sweeter flavour-wise, with juicy apple flavours and just a hint of spice. It's not quite as dry as the others, but still plenty delicious. 3 stars
Manoir de Grandouet Cambremer Cidre de Tradition (Pays D'Auge, France -- around $12/750ml bottle, private wine stores)
This slightly cloudy, copper-in-colour French cider brings fine, intense bubbles -- like a sparkling wine -- and deep aromas of both fresh and baked-apple, light-spice and toasty-wood notes. That all comes through on the slightly off-dry palate, with complex earthy notes that make this more of a cider to contemplate than to chug in the sun. 3-1/2 stars