It’s no easy feat picking a local beer or cider to down these days. There are now four breweries (soon to be five with the late-spring opening slated from County Road Beer) producing over twenty beers in the Bay of Quinte region, and three cideries with at least six concoctions on offer. The Cheddar & Ale Trail links them all together with perfect pairings to source yourself, meaning there’s no shortage of opportunities for the craft beer lover to explore the region.
Choice is never a bad thing when it comes to suds and ciders, though, especially this time of year when a wet, grey evening might call for an IPA, while a bright afternoon might work best with a crisp, dry cider. Still, if you want to narrow your search, keep reading. I talked to brewmasters from across the region and asked which of their brews pair best with spring.
Barley Days Brewery: County IPA, 5.5% abv
“We brew this one only in the spring because it’s made completely with local hops,” says brewer Brett French. If you’re a hoppy freak, this one’s for you. Hops are added five times during the brewing process, so it is bitter, but it has a subtle malt sweetness that helps balance things.
Food pairings: With so much flavour of its own, this one needs equal parts flavourful food for the best pairing. Try it with curry, Mexican dishes, red meat and even deep-fried fare.
MacKinnon Brothers Brewing: Origin Hefeweizen, 5.2% abv
This is a golden yellow brew from the German wheat beer tradition, so it has a distinct banana and honey flavour. But because the brewers use spelt for a portion of the wheat, it has a fuller flavour with bitter, spicy and nutmeg notes. “We had this one on last year, and it was super popular,” says co-founder Ben Vandenberg. Translation: get it while you can.
Food pairings: In Germany, you might have this one with schnitzel, potato dumplings and greens, says Ben, but here in Canada, it works just fine with steak, mashed potatoes and Caesar salad.
Bergeron Estate Winery & Cider House: Cole Point Cider, 5.9% abv
Although David Bergeron and his team will soon be adding a line of flavoured ciders and a scrumpy cider to the mix, for now we’ll gladly settle for the Cole Point. “It’s a dry, English-style cider, which is hard to find,” says David. “It has a nice light tartness and a light apple flavour with a little bit of bitterness to it.”
Food pairings: “The cider has a high acidity,” says David, “so fatty foods like cheese or pizza are a great pairing.”
Church-Key Brewing Company: Namastale, 6.5% abv
This Gruit hearkens back to the days when hops weren’t used in beer, and spices and other botanicals were used instead. For this one, the brewer lines the bottom of the mash tun with juniper boughs on brew day, and rosemary is added to the kettle for depth. The result is a beer with, you guessed it, rosemary and juniper notes that are balanced with a slight sweetness.
Food pairings: Think roasted meats like chicken rubbed with thyme and rosemary, burgers, mild blue cheese and cheesecake.
Gateway Brewing Company: Full Nelson Pale Ale, 4.2% abv
Although this one has a lower alcohol percentage, the flavour of the Full Nelson, like the wrestling move it’s named after, will sneak up on you. Most of that flavour comes from the New Zealand hops it’s made with, which give it a tropical fruit hop punch.
Food pairings: “The Full Nelson is kind of hoppy, kind of citrusy, so you want to pair it with something reasonably robust in flavour,” says brewer Chris Greasley. “Lamb or pork works really well.”
The County Cider Company: Waupoos Premium Cider, 6.5% abv
Likely The County Cider Company’s most popular cider, the Waupoos Premium has a slightly golden colour and gives off light apple and pear aromas. It’s a semi-sweet cider with a rich apple flavour and a refreshing, crisp finish—perfect for those warmer spring days.
Food pairings: Pork, bacon, roasted apples and salads with goat cheese.
Empire Cider Company: Empire Cider, 6.4% abv
The newest kid on the cider block is keeping things simple with its Empire Cider, an unfiltered, unpasteurized slightly cloudy creation with a light fizz, tart flavour and an extra dry finish. Oh, and because it’s naturally carbonated with wild yeast and local honey, don’t be surprised by the sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
Food pairings: “I’d suggest barbecue ribs because the cider’s dryness serves as a great refresher for the sweet stickiness of the meat,” says Felix Wittholz, one of people behind this new outpost. “But it also goes well with most seafood, especially mussels.”
PS: The 2015 Cheddar & Ale Trail is now in circulation! Grab a copy at local hot spots (or download here) and take the tour for yourself.