Having been ensconced in my windowless basement home office for nigh on six weeks of isolation now, I am beginning to feel like Sméagol transforming into Gollum, having forgot the taste of bread, the sound of trees, and the softness of the wind.
Fortunately, many of our Alberta craft brewers are offering home delivery or curbside pickup, making my isolation a little brighter. I even arrange for my regular drinking companions to make identical orders, so we can virtually meet up for an online brewery crawl without leaving our respective homes, or even changing out of the pajama pants that seem to be work for more and more hours each day.
My friendly neighbourhood bottle shop has been very good with the social distancing, allowing orders to be placed in advance, and bringing them out curbside and placing them directly in the trunk, avoiding personal contact altogether.
Variety being the spice of life, I decided to welcome the arrival of spring by ordering a mixed case of hard cider from the Uncommon Cider Company, offering delivery within Calgary and surrounding areas, including Chestermere.
For those not familiar, the Uncommon Cider Company started up in Calgary’s so-called Barley Belt back in 2018, making hard cider from locally grown apples, although a good bulk of their raw material must be imported from the orchards of the Okanagan Valley, home of Canada’s best apples.
Cider is not a new product in Alberta, cider production going on for nearly 30 years now. It all started back in 1993, when an orchard owner in Kelowna hand-delivered a bushel of apples to the late, great, Ed McNally, founder of the Calgary-based Big Rock Brewery.
By 1994, Big Rock had started producing Rock Creek Cider out of the brewery in Calgary, and it has been going strong ever since. Rock Creek Cider is made in the dry style, meaning that nearly all of the sugars in the juice have been consumed by yeast during the fermentation process.
Big Rock was the only producer of hard cider for many years, but a few more Alberta producers have cropped up in recent years.
Calgary’s own Village Brewing, which was famously started by a number of former Big Rock employees, started producing Village Cider a few years back. You may have already noticed Village Cider in tallboy cans at your local bottle shop. Made with a champagne yeast and just a tiny bit of Earl Grey tea for flavouring, it is the perfect refresher for the coming summer days.
Another new-ish kid on the block is the Elite Brewing & Cidery, who opened their doors in Calgary back in 2018, making both beer and cider in a militaria-themed brewery and tap room.
Unlike the aforementioned beer brewers that craft up a cider or two on the side, the Uncommon Cider Company is strictly a cider producer, making several different styles to satisfy every palate. The flagship is the Uncommon Dry Craft Cider, made from a mix of Alberta and BC apples. Crisp and bright flavours with subtle spicy notes from the wild yeast fermentation, this one was my favourite.
Those who prefer a slightly bitter tang to their cider will enjoy the Uncommon Dry Hopped Craft Cider. Citra and Mosaic hops are added late in the fermentation process, which allows them to add floral aromas without extracting much of the bittering hop oils.
For those looking for something different, the Uncommon Haskap Cider is made from the haskap berry, also known as blue honeysuckle, which grows wild across Alberta and much of the rest of Canada. Looking similar to an elongated blueberry, the hakasp berry has long been prized for its antioxidant properties and tart flavour, making it a natural choice for turning into booze.
With notes of pomegranate and plum, the Uncommon Hakasp Cider is crisp and refreshing on its own, but I like to mix it half and half with a with a Pilsner-styled beer.
In a show of industry solidarity, Uncommon Cider even has a single varietal cider made from Gala apples, infused with spent Gin botanicals from their friends at Last Best Brewing & Distilling. The Gin Botanical Cider is my favourite, with a very dry finish, and plenty of juniper and coriander notes on the palate.
Remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, so try some local Alberta craft cider today!