Last summer, the Clockwatching Tart and I got to spend a wonderful evening in Toronto on the Craft Cider Cruise. As you’ll see in the original article, one of the most exciting aspects of the cruise was discovering Revel Cider Co., which was brand new at the time. Since that time, we’ve been lucky enough to try a few more Revel ciders on rare occasions at Milos’ Craft Beer Emporium, but it wasn’t exactly easy to come by. So, you can imagine our delight when we saw this poster online and in the window at Milos’:
So, before we get to our Q&A with Tariq Ahmed, Revel Cider’s self-proclaimed “CEO, cider maker, delivery guy, sales guy, janitor – everything really”, let’s take a look at the four ciders that helped celebrate Revel Cider’s one-year anniversary celebration!
Bittersweet Freedom 7% abv: First up was Bittersweet Freedom, made from a blend of Bittersweet crab apples and Freedom, a heritage variety. “I chose Freedom apples for Bittersweet Freedom because it had nice acidity, a touch of tannin, and I found it along with the Bittersweets at the same time. Sometimes you just gotta work with what life gives you. I found Freedom had some great characteristics (tannin + acidity) when I tasted it for making good cider. It was also great that it happened to be organically grown from a farmer I trusted,” says Tariq. Personally, I enjoyed the slight bit of funkiness and tartness and that it started clean and crisp, with a lingering sweetness – a great start to Revelations month!Oud Blanc 9% abv: The Clockwatching Tart was out of town and missed this one, but I’m glad I didn’t, as it was the highlight of the month for me and the best new cider I’ve tried in the past year. Admittedly, between loving Oud Bruin, the Flemish sour style of beer it is based on, and loving Ontario Riesling wines, I was pretty much the target demographic for this one, but still, it was amazing. Blended with Niagara-grown Riesling, I described Oud Blanc in my notes as aromatic, tart, bracing and amazing, which sounds about right. “I might make some of the Revelations releases again. Definitely Oud Blanc. But not till next year,” says Tariq.
Wild Honeycrisp 6.5% abv: Honeycrisp is without a doubt my favourite variety of apple for eating, but it isn’t cheap, which is probably why I’d never had it in a craft cider before now. The wild yeast imparts a bit of a tropical flair that isn’t present in the apple itself, Wild Honeycrisp was a very plesant surprise – even for Tariq himself. “For Wild Honeycrisp, I just brought the juice in and let the wild yeasts already present ferment it. I did that because I was curious what would happen.”
Revelry 7.5% abv: To celebrate Revel’s one-year anniversary, the final release of the month was Revelry, which uses the old pioneer technique for creating Apple Jack, which was a more potent version of cider. “Cryo-concentration is a technique developed in Quebec. Basically, it’s the same as making ice wine, except you press the apples and let the juice freeze - as opposed to letting the whole fruit freeze. Then you skim the ice off the top and use what's left,” says Tariq. The end result is something more sweet, warm and welcoming than the clean, crisp and funky ciders from earlier in the month. If you imagine Willy Wonka making a drink out of candy apples, you wouldn’t be far off on that Revelry was like.
Q&A with Revel Cider’s Tariq Ahmed
Q: How did you discover craft cider?
A: I discovered craft cider in Montreal originally quite a few years ago. I was 18 and had just won two Via Rail tickets from work at the time so a friend and I decided to go to Quebec. The hostel we were staying at was doing a pub crawl of brewpubs but I hadn't quite developed a taste for beer yet. An Australian named Shaun who we made with friends with told me to try the ciders - I was amazed that all of them were very different, even though they were made within walking distances. I've since gone back to Montreal after starting my business and had other phenomenal Quebec-made ciders.
Q: What inspired you to open Revel?
A: I wanted to own a farm originally - I studied Plant Science at the University of Guelph and did an internship at Manorun Organic Farm in Copetown (Just north of Hamilton) in the summer of my second year. They had an old wine press there that I ended up using to make mead, wine and ciders. I would grind/press/ferment after doing full days of labour on the farm. That was where I really fell in love with making alcohol. For me, it was just another way to preserve the summer harvest (I also did many pickles and preserves in my time there). I came back to school, took an applied business course (by the end of which you come out with a business plan) and applied for a grant program offered by U of G called The Hub. It's a business incubator. I pitched to a panel of judges and was selected among four other businesses to be in their first cohort. The grant helped but mostly the fact that the judges believed I had a solid plan was the reason I took it to the next level.
Q: What was your favourite experience during your first year of business?
A: I can't really pin down one moment as a favourite from the first year. It's been a pretty amazing ride with all the recognition and the great feedback. I'm hoping year two will be more of the same. The constant learning is what's best for me.
Q: What advice would you give cider lovers to help them choose the best ciders?
A: I would recommend giving everything Ontario-made a shot and deciding what style you like best. Just like beer and wine, you can make cider in many different ways - that's one of the reasons I love doing it. But not every style is for everyone; try it all and find what suits you. Ontario apples are phenomenal though. Also, traditional Spanish and French ciders are often good if you can find them.
Q: What's something you see in the craft cider world that is worrisome?
A: The most worrisome thing in the Craft Cider world right now, at least in Ontario, is the insane percentages that the LCBO takes from every sale (regardless of if you sell in their stores or straight to bars/restos). It can be as high as 56% currently. Until that changes, not many cideries will be able to operate profitably, severely holding back the industry in Ontario.
Q: What is your personal favourite cider you've brewed?
A: Personally, I really liked Bittersweet Freedom. It had a nice tannic balance, with great acidity. Tannin is one of the hardest things to find in Ontario apples so I could only make so much. Hopefully, that changes in the future. In the meantime, I've also made an aggressively hopped cider called XXX (in collaboration with Clifford Brewing and West Avenue Cider). It was phenomenal, lots of Citra and Galaxy Hops. I will be making that again.
Our special thanks to Tariq for taking the time to share with us – and for making such an incredible and unique selection of ciders to enjoy during Revelations month! Can’t wait ‘til next year and more Oud Blanc!