I met up with Tariq, the mastermind behind Revel Cider, and his accomplice Stephen earlier this year while visiting Toronto. After a quick curbside introduction, we wandered down the street to Bellwoods Brewery where we proceeded to drink excessively. In fact, our lunch time drinking session went so well we were nearly an hour late for our dinner reservations. Needless to say, I could barely stop myself from guzzling their supremely complex, textural ciders. We chatted about fermentation dynamics, the quest to find rare apple trees scattered around Ontario, and how Tariq’s Muslim parents feel about him producing alcohol professionally.
Tariq was in the Plant Sciences program at the University of Guelph when he started experimenting with Cider making. His friends were impressed enough to encourage him to turn his hobby into a business, and after earning a grant via the University’s Center for Business he rented a small space and got to work.
Their ciders are made exclusively from Ontario grown apples; they’re constantly hunting for interesting varieties and terroirs to add to their arsenal. Nearly all their products are wild fermented. They are admittedly fond of brettanomyces and the shocking range of flavour profiles it can create in cider. In addition to apples, they love working with other local products: honeycomb from Rosewood, lees and grape skins from Pearl Morisette, botanicals and cherry pits from Dillon’s Distillery.
Some of their ciders are barrel aged which they believe adds depth and complexity. This also helps with stability, as they add very little sulphur to their bottlings. They do not fine nor filter their ciders, once again, opting for complexity and flavour over clarity.
Tariq is constantly challenging my perceptions of what cider can be. Recently he made a Sauvignon Blanc aged on Crab Apple skins, a cider aged on Cabernet Franc skins previously used in a Burdock Brewing Beer, and a wine made exclusively from spontaneously fermented cherries. It’s hard to keep up with all their projects, but it’s their dynamism that has drawn me in.
TIME & PLACE
About: This is Revel’s flagship cider. The juice from culinary apples is aged on the pomace of tannic cider apples for six-eight months. Culinary fruit tends to lack texture so most cideries back sweeten, but this extended maceration on high quality cider varieties adds depth without sugar. The cider is then can conditioned, resulting in a much nicer bubbled structure than forced carbonation. 6.5% ABV
About: For this project, Tariq and Stephen wanted to play around with Perry to make something more balanced and complex. Perry tends to have a high pH and plenty of non-fermentable sugars. This usually means a round, soft, and sweet profile. To balance this, they fermented this particular perry with ten strains of brettanomyces to add bitterness and hibiscus to add tartness. 5.5% ABV
About: This is a Cider / Wine hybrid. Wickson Crab Apples are notoriously high acid and presented the perfect foil for low acid Gewurztraminer. The blend is roughly fifty-fifty wild fermented cider, and wine aged on apple pomace. The two were blended and bottled with only 15ppm. It is mildly sparkling thanks to secondary fermentation in bottle. 9.1% ABV
About: For this cuvée Tariq and Stephen wild fermented cider on whole cherries and strawberries. They copied Cantillon’s fruiting rate of 200-300g/l of fresh fruit. Once fermentation was finished, they pressed off and let it macerate with whole-cluster Gamay from Rosewood in Niagara for a month. This imparted mild tannins and structure. 6.5% ABV
About: For this cuvée they used 250g/l of Montmorency Cherries, macerated with the cider for three months, stones and all. The cider was wild fermented and bottled conditioned. It was neither fined nor filtered. 6.5% ABV
About: For this cuvée they used 250g/l of About: This non-vintage cuvée is a blend of 2017 Riesling (30%), 2017 Perry (20%), and 2016 Cider (50%). The acidity and TDN of the Riesling is nicely balanced by the Perry’s sorbitol sweetness, and the Volatile Acidity from older cider. 8.1% ABV