Cider? I hardly know’er!

A person's hand, resting on a vintage whiskey barrel, which is resting on it's side beside other barrels.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

You know the saying, “If life hands you a roadtrip, Go Buy CIDER!”

No?

I dunno, it totally seems like a thing. In any case, it was a thing for us this weekend. Child spent last week with his young lady friend at her family home in Northern Ontario, and the deal is usually that we collectively agree on a half-ish way point where we can meet. Usually, that place is Barrie, but this time, it was Collingwood. So armed with that information, I thought to myself, “Self, it’s been a while since the gentleman associate and I have been on a multi-stop tour-full-o’treats. The Butter Tart Trail goes up there, doesn’t it?” Turns out no, it doesn’t – it goes a little further east. But you know what does go up there? The Apple Pie Tour. And where there’s apples for pie, there’s apples for cider, and that’s really all the information I need to plan up a tour.

OK. Disclaimer #1: When we go on these tours (like the Bacon and Ale trail, the Baco Hunt, or the Shenanigans Brewin‘ tours), I generally don’t buy things that I can just get in the beer store or the LCBO. Usually, brewhouses and cideries (and vinyards and distilleries) have some seasonal or small-batch offerings for people who show up. And that’s the fun part. Often there’s a tap house where you can buy samples or flights to see what appeals to you. I generally buy blind. I go in knowing what I’m looking for, and while I can be seduced into buying other things, it’s not usually because I tried it. Except for the Bootleg cider from Shiny Apple Cider, which used to be finished in whiskey barrels, but now is just “blended with whisky flavouring” … whatever that means. And now it’s called Hank’s Spiked Cider, so I feel suspicious already). You used to only be able to get that at the cidery/winery, but looks like now you can get it commercially. The description of it is still amazing: Tastes like apple pie and vanilla ice cream had a delicious alcoholic baby. Anyway, that one we first bought solely because we tried it and liked it. Hopefully the commercial expansion of this one didn’t ruin it, because that would truly be unfortunate.

But I digress.

Collingwood is really only 2 hours from the Casa Di Swears. I thought it was further – you know, measuring distance in hours, as Canadians do. In any case, I enjoy that drive – there are fields of corn and wheat, orchards, and as you get further into Bruce County, giant towering 3-finned windmills. I love watching them in the distance, getting larger as we approach. I don’t get why people think they’re so hideous. Today was a pretty overcast day, but coming over the ridge on the approach and seeing Georgian Bay in the distance was breathtaking. I’m glad Child’s visit was our excuse to do this drive, and it’s planted a seed in my head for future beachcombing adventures. But none of that today. There’s other fun to be had.

Several bottles and cans of various types of apple cider from Grey and Gold Cider, Thornbury Craft Cider, Windswept Cidery, and Spy Cider.
Several bottles and cans of various types of apple cider from Grey and Gold Cider, Thornbury Craft Cider, Windswept Cidery, and Spy Cider.

The first stop on our tour was Thornbury Village Cider and Brew House. We picked up the Rose Apple Cider, the Raspberry Apple Cider, and Blood Orange cider in a 500ml bottle. Child also wanted to try the Peach and Black Cherry seltzers (cider+seltzer_flavour) – 473 ml cans.

Square brown warehouse-style building with a red oval on a top segment with the Thornbury village Craft cider and beer logo. There are pop-up tents on the patio and a section of the driveway is partitioned off with temporary fencing and large planters for extra seating. There are people seated at the tables, and a few waiting to be seated. There are a few people standing under black awnings ordering bottles to take home.
Wait at the bottom of the stairs if you want to be seated, go up the ramp to the window if you just want to get something to take home.


Next, it was time for an interlude: When I was mapping out the route to go to all these cideries, I found a fun diversion – a labyrinth! Thanks Google maps! Just off the Beaver River Trail, there’s a little side-trail, and in a grove of cedar trees, there’s the Cedar Grove Labyrinth. I walked it doing breathwork – four steps and four taps of my fingers against my palms for each inhale and exhale. I found myself speeding up a few times. Whether it was because I felt pressured by my gentlemen chaperones who sat on a bench nearby (even though they weren’t actually hurrying me), or some other thing, I had to re-center myself a few times. It made me think of the time when, in university, I sang in a jazz choir and we had an a capella song – O Sifuni Mungu in our repertoire. We went to a competition where lots of groups were singing that particular choice that year. A few tried to keep a cadence tempo throughout using a drum, others just got faster and faster the further along they got in the song. That competition is why I’m always amazed when members of one of the highland band (bagpipers or drummers) can just say yeah, we practice La Baum (my favourite!) at 55bpm and Highland Cathedral at 59 bpm, or Scotland the Brave/Black Bear is 96 bpm and then they can just do it. They can just pick that pace out of the air. That’s sorcery for sure.

But back to the labyrinth with us, yes?

Despite my pacing issues, it was a nice walk. It took maybe 20 minutes to wind my way into the center and then back out.

A round labyrinth constructed with cobblestones - gray for the path outline, reddy-brown for the path itself. At the center of the labyrinth there is a small boulder. Beyond the edges of the labyrinth there are cedar trees, tightly planted to form a hedge.

After the walk, it was time for lunch, so we went to The Corner Café and Grill. There are certain things that speak to the quality of a restaurant – their fries, and their coffee. We didn’t have coffee, but the fries were top-shelf. Child had a burger that he was pretty pleased with, and Mike and I were equally pleased with our club sammies. But the fries. Oh… the fries.

Next, we stopped at the Thornbury Bakery Cafe. Because this was about the *Apple Pie Trail*, right? So our Apple purchases shouldn’t *only* be delicious delicious liquid apple libations, right?

The lower third of the picture is of the pastry display case. There are assorted pastries on separated plates and tongs used to serve them. On top of the glass case there are two domed cake platters containing muffins and a three-tier pie rack. There are two wire framed pendant lights hanging above, and the Thornbury bakery cafe logo is painted on a brick wall behind the counter.

We coulda got some apple pie. But instead, we got coconut bars, lemon bars, pain(s) au chocolat, cinnamon buns with cream cheese icing, butter tarts (because this whole thing *kinda* started with butter tarts), a coconut banana muffin, and a blackberry-blueberry scone, I have no regrets. To be honest, I saw chop suey buns on their menu, and I was crazy curious. They’re described thusly: “Chop Suey buns are to Christmas what Hot Cross Buns are to Easter”. The picture looked kind of like a fruit bread (like the heavy yeasty pannetone that I make – not the super airy and gross ones you get in the Italian grocery stores. Sorrynotsorry). Alas, no chop suey buns for me this time.

Onward!

Windswept Orchard Cider. This is a very small batch cider – micro-cidery, even. The owner/operator, Mark, has a small Quonset beside his house, surrounded by his orchard, in which he has his tasting room and store. It’s lovely. We had an excellent chat about types of apples and other cideries that my gentleman associate and I have frequented in our travels. 10/10 for the experience here, for sure. I picked up Crimson Crisp and Golden Russet ciders (500 ml bottles) – my two favourite types of apples. I have high hopes here. The types of bottles that he uses are distinctive as well – more of a small champagne-style bottle with a squat heavy bottom and a long tapering neck, rather than the usual wine-bottle or beer bottle style. 10/10 for presentation, too. I also bought two bottles of Kyoto Rose Jun (500 ml) . Jun is like Kombucha, but made with green tea instead of black tea. Yummy.

A white barn with a black roof. There are vines climbing up the sides, Gray & Gold Cider is on a sign on the side of the barn. To the left of the lower side of the barn is the customer tasting area and bottle room.

Next: Grey and Gold cider have a charming little side-yard setup with a few pavillion tents and picnic tables set up for tastings. They have a Cider Shed, which I’m much amused by:

A wood shed with the word Cider crafted out of grape vines over the open door.
The Cider Shed

We got 750 ml bottles of Cranberry Fennel and Golden Russet ciders, and 500ml of Modern Girl.

The SPY Cider house and distillery is a gray barh-shaped building in the background with large windows and solar panels on the roof. In the parking lot beside the building there  is a patio set up for patrons. Tables are made with plywood over apple harvest bins with the farm name stamped on the side. The SPY Cider sign is off the side of the driveway. The area between the road and driveway and the parking lot and building are meadow, there are several flowers blooming, including Queen Anne's lace and goldenrod.

Last stop was at Spy Cider House and Distillery. Every product they sell riffs on a James Bond movie, their website is full of redacted mission statements and their founders are operatives. 10/10 on the theming. So clever and excellent, Even their drink menu is counterintelligence based:

A glass gallon cider jug with three round stickers on the side - SPY Crimson Tide premium black currant infused dry apple cider is red; SPY Golden Eye premium dry apple cider is white; and SPY Never say Never organic estate apple cider is green. The jug is sitting on a counter, and in the background, there are crates of apples and large barrels containing the finishing cider.
An aged black sandwich board advertising Spy Cocktails: Spy Spritz contains aperol, eau de vie de pomme, organic apple cider, and Golden Eye; Vesper Martini contains Dr. Yes gin, Our Man Piers vodka and Lillet Blanc; Ginger Bomb contains diced cucumbers and apples, mint leaves, Dr. Yes gin, ginger beer and fresh ginger; Femme Fatale contains blackberry puree, sage syrup, mata hari brandy, and soda water. All drinks are $15.

Disclaimer #2: I had to make a veryVeryVERY solemn oath a long time ago that I would stop buying alcohol because (1) I loved the label art and didn’t really care about what was in the bottle (2) I loved the name of the booze and thought I’d try but really I’d only drink the neck of the bottle and then see if I could convince my gentleman associate to drink it. He ain’t doing it. So I had to swear my solemn oath. Spy tested that oath today, friends. But I managed to leave with only the two (473ml) cans of Crimson Tide (black currant apple cider). There were no bottles of Doctor Yes organic Gin. No bottles of Mata Hari Apple Brandy. No bottles of Kiss and Tell Eau-de-vie-de-Poire. And if I had known when I was there that they had the teenytiny 50ml bottles (and not just mickeys or 500ml bottles), I likely would have broken that oath.

It poured rain the whole way home but that’s OK. Timing is everything, friends.

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