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There is a new beverage of choice for all the natural wine enthusiasts and craft beer advocates. Cider.
Looking to shift the misconception that all cider is injected with copious amounts of sugar, Revel Cider Co. works to meticulously craft a beverage that is natural, wild, dry, funky and reflective of Ontario's land. The self-proclaimed source for 'affordable housing for yeast and bacteria,' the team behind Revel is not afraid to take cues from a naturally occurring process when making cider.
Revel Cider's Sumac release is made from hot tea with sumac to extract a little more colour and flavour. The hot tea is then blended with cider and a small amount of perry aged on De Chaunac skins, resulting in a soft yet tart beverage.
Located just over an hour's drive from Downtown Toronto, Revel Cider Co. is located in Guelph, Ontario. Revel Cider products are sold out of several Toronto bottle shops and restaurants such as The Fed and Grape Glass. Bottles are also available for free Ontario shipping with purchases over $50 and outside of Ontario with purchases over $150.
A single varietal Dolgo cider, made from crabapples. Dolgos are super aromatic, with savoury aromas of the orchard floor, hay and ripe fruit.
Tariq Ahmed, the brainchild of the operation, started experimenting with cider production following an internship at Manorun Organic Farm in Copetown during his time spent at the University of Guelph for plant science. By 2015, Ahmed was distributing to independent owners all over the province and since his business has only grown.
Tariq Ahmed, founder and owner of Revel Cider, pictured above.
Tell us a little bit about how Revel Cider came into fruition? Revel Cider started as a little pet project for me. I was living on an organic farm, fermenting everything I could get my hands on. After making spontaneously fermented pickles for much of the summer, I moved on to fruit fermentations. I was still in university at this time, just taking a summer off to farm. Upon going back to school, I learned that the University of Guelph was giving grants to undergraduates to start businesses in the form of a pitch competition. I pitched Revel Cider, won a small amount of funding to start, and just stuck with it.
What is the process behind making your ciders? Our process for making ciders has evolved a lot over the years. Everything we make now is wild fermented, with 100% local ingredients. We don't add any sugar to our ciders, and they are all unfiltered as well. We try and keep them as close to nature as possible. We often find ourselves asking -- where does this cider want to go? What does it want to be? And then we try and encourage that and layer on complementary flavours and aromas. If the native yeast are taking it in a floral direction, we try to find the specific flower we're tasting, to layer it in.
Why cider? What makes it special to you? Revel doesn't just make cider anymore! We are working with so many different fruits and botanicals that sometimes it's easier to describe what we do as fruit wine. We've just recently blended ciders with a few grape wines and even made an apple vermouth! We love exploring our local environment for ingredients and take inspiration from new ingredients every year.
Do you think there is going to be more of a movement towards wild ferment and dry ciders? As far as the future of cider goes...I'm not sure there is a movement towards making dry and wild fermented products. It often feels like we're in a pretty small niche, with extremely passionate supporters. Our ciders aren't for everyone, but folks looking for something dry, wild and maybe a little funky -- which respects the environment it comes from -- have a home with us. We've been making ciders like this for almost 6 years now, and only recently have they started to get a bit of a larger following. We're just happy to continue following our hearts down this weird and wild fermentation adventure. We're so grateful to everyone for supporting us in making our dreams come true.
Tell us a little bit about the artwork on your labels -- the design is very eye catching. Our labels are made by a few different artists, but right now, they are mostly done by our friend Drea Scotland. Drea hand paints each label, which we then print. Eva Claycomb did the labels for our vermouth, and she will be taking on the labels for our Ibi project of grape fermentations in the future.
How has COVID-19 and the lockdown impacted your business? Do you find people are gravitating to drinking more small batch productions as opposed to mass produced stock typically found at the LCBO? In all honesty, we've been okay through COVID-19. It was quite stressful at first, losing our entire restaurant sales over that weekend when it first hit. Thankfully, we were early on the whole e-commerce thing, so we were able to ramp that up in a big way to make up for the loss of sales to bars and restaurants. I don't think people as a whole are gravitating to small producers instead of the LCBO, though -- the LCBO's sales were through the roof during COVID. The LCBO has benefited from COVID more than anyone.
What is the biggest misconception you think people have about cider? I think the biggest misconception with cider is that it's still sweet. It doesn't have to taste like candy! There's a whole world of heritage production techniques where producers create beverages much more like wine than a ready-to-drink cooler.
What’s your favourite bottle you’ve ever produced? My favourite bottle, hands down, is Bittersweet Freedom. It's made with Hyslop crabapples from extremely old trees that are highly biennial -- meaning they only fruit every other year. We've made a 2016 and 2018 vintage so far, and good news... the 2020 vintage will be released this summer. Bittersweet Freedom is a little citrusy, a little funky and super tannic. I just can't get enough of it, it's my favourite apple to work with by far.
What’s your plan moving into the new year, do you have any special projects you're working on? We've got so many plans this year. We're digging deeper in a couple of directions: by making more traditional and single varietal ciders and perrys, creating more wine blends with foraged botanicals and we've got a couple more apple based vermouths in the works too! We're also continuing our donation initiative, with $500 from every new release going to organizations helping to fight systemic racism and other issues affecting minority communities. We started doing this on June 1 last year and have donated $16,000 to date. Finally, we're getting 4 amphoras (clay fermentation vessels) that we're absolutely salivating over.