My first encounter with real cider happened at a relatively youg age. Not long after my 16th birthday, in a misguided attempt to beat the summer heat, I downed an ice cold pint of draught Somerset scrumpy—which was probably around 8 percent ABV, if not more. An aside – local scrumpy was also rumoured to be made with a dead rat, a rumour that, according to these guys, in the old days at least, may well have been true.
Such juvenile bravado aside, the choice of scrumpy to slake your thirst was not a smart move, as a kindly policeman later explained, as escorted me (still on my wobbly bike) off the main highway.
Our more recent encounters with fermented apples have been much less risky and far more satisfying. Take our visit to Saanich’s Sea Cider last week, courtesy of Victoria’s Taste Festival and Tourism Vancouver.
We’ve been aware of Sea Cider for some time now but never quite managed to make it to their idyllic cidery on the Saanich Peninsular. The spacious tasting room and cidery are surrounded by natural gardens, orchards and grazing sheep, against a stunning backdrop of pastoral island and ocean views.
We worked our way through the range, paired with an artisan Ploughman’s lunch plate: spicy Oyama Castellano sausage, nicely matured Natural Pastures Comox Camembert, Kootenay Alpine Nostrala hard cheese, fruit preserves, rye and sourdough breads and a shortbread cookie ‘treat’. Sea Cider doesn’t skimp on its platters.
The sheer variety of styles guarantees something to suit every taste. We’re inclined to the drier ciders, especially for food matching, and kept coming back to Kings & Spies, whose crisp, savoury apple notes through the mid-palate remind us very much of English cider—though definitely not scrumpy! Although, we also found ourselves revisiting the tartness of the (wild yeast fermented) Wild English, and the more dry, slightly spicy complexity of the Flagship.
As you can tell, we have no problem drinking good cider. Interestingly, what came home with us from this tasting of fermented apple drinks were comparisons with grape-wine, mainly because of the acidity that some of these show so well, in particular the Pippins. We liked its clean crispness and have since enjoyed it both as a pleasing apéritif, and with smoked salmon.
The ‘crowd pleaser’ of the lineup is the blackberry infused Bramble Bubbly. This off-dry, rosé-like sparkler is also among the most food flexible. We could see having it with lightly spiced Asian dishes.
We’d be tempted to reach for a good Cuban cigar to share with the Rumrunner (aged in rum soaked oak barrels) while the quite tawny port-like, sweet Pommeau had us craving a blue cheese such as Stilton, although it also went well with shortbread.
Cyser, which packs a punch at 16 percent, is cider blended with fermented organic honey, essentially mead, and yields a more complex, sweet and almost smoky toned drop.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then apricot and orange toned nectar Pomona (made with crab-apples, and named for the Roman goddess of apples) successfully emulates an icewine style at half the price.
Every time we taste Sea Cider we’re impressed but this time more than before. Perhaps it was the chance to experience such a wide range at one sitting. But we were intrigued by the possibilities these drinks offer as food partners, in some cases posing quite nicely as lower alcohol wines.
We also like the packaging, which is again more wine-like. For its full format, 750 ml. size, Sea Cider uses crown-capped glass bottles (imported from France). For the sparkling ciders, a sprung cap and rubber washer help retain effervescence for at least a couple of days.)
Sea Cider offers a strong contrast to most commercial Canadian cider brands, which make little or no effort to use true cider apples or even to mimic their taste.
No wonder this tasting has us primed to do more cider exploring.
And no, it won’t be by bike.
You can find Sea Cider at many wine stores in BC’s Lower Mainland and, of course, on Vancouver Island. Prices and styles here.
Open 11 am to 4 pm Wednesday through Sunday (and most holiday Mondays)
2487 Mt. St. Michael Rd., Saanichton, BC V8M 1T7
Phone (250) 544-4824 or email firstname.lastname@example.org | Event inquiries: email@example.com