Rethinking Cider (Part I)

Until recently I wasn’t even giving cider a chance. That was a mistake.

In August of 2012, I arrived at the Hauptbahnhof in Frankfurt and asked for directions to “… a microbrewery? Craft brewery? Someone local that makes beer… not a big brewery.” A map was produced and I was directed to Roßmarkt where I was told local brewers had gathered for a festival!

I hadn’t slept in nearly 30 hours, having endured an overnight flight next to a guy who spontaneously, violently convulsed every hour or so. It was close to 40 scorching degrees and sunnier than a 17-year-old Taylor Swift on Disney pills. What turned out to be my first and only Apfelweinfest was off to a rough start.

Apfelweinfest
Apfelweinfest!
Jagermeister
Jäger – not helping my cause

Frankfurt, it turns out, doesn’t take the same pride in making beer the rest of the country does. Instead, it produces apple wine. Apfelwein is a regional appellation, which means its manufacturers have the advantage selling it tax-free in the local area. A single Euro bought me two samples of the strangely bitter, sour cider. Several Euros were traded that afternoon.

Apfelwein
Apfelwein

Starved for sleep and cooking under an unrelenting Teutonic sun, I put back glass after gloriously chilled glass until the tents started closing and I decided it was time to walk it off.

Apfelwein
A fancier sample of apfelwein

I don’t actually remember what happened next. I know it got dark at some point. I know I wanted a beer. Badly. Then, much to my drunken relief, I found… wait for it… Shooter’s American Sportsbar in the Altstadt, where an altogether charming Polish bartender named Gosia translated the next few hours. To my left, a North African cab driver who spoke only French and German. On my right sat an Italian who also communicated no Inglese.

Weihenstephaner
Weihenstephaner, at Shooter’s American Sportsbar

I know I had Weihenstephaner – I have the picture to prove it. I’m pretty sure there were shots as well. I do remember that when Gosia was busy I continued speaking to my new friends, assuming they would figure it out. The cab driver insisted on paying my tab when I could no longer hold my head up.

Somehow I successfully stumbled back to my hotel, tripping my way alongside the Main (the river that runs through Frankfurt).

The next day I woke up at the Leonardo Hotel in a wicked world of hurt. Clif Bar safely inside me, I shuffled my way across the street to the train station and pulled myself onto a City Sightseeing tour bus (the red, double-decker one) bound for anywhere.

Modern Frankfurt
Modern Frankfurt, from the bus

Frankfurt, you may know, was bombed and burnt to hell during WWII. Where Medieval buildings once stood, a very modern metropolis has assumed the geography. On the south banks of the Main, however, is the Sachsenhausen district, much of which was spared the British bombers. Centuries-old architectural war vets line the neighbourhood, including quite a number of stone-faced venues around Schweizer Straße, that produce Apfelwein on site.

The Applegalerie,  Sachsenhausen
The Applergalerie, Sachsenhausen
 Sachsenhausen
Sachsenhausen
 Sachsenhausen
Sachsenhausen

I was the damaged one the day I walked those cobbled streets. As charmed as I was by how much love Frankfurters felt for their local drink – so much so they built a very prominent building to resemble an Apfelwein glass – that beverage (and not its consumer or whatever else I may have dumped in my body) was what I blamed for the pain that infected my every cell.

Frankfurt
See how the building looks like an Apfelwein glass!
Apfelwein
Apfelwein

When I returned to North America a couple weeks later I had no interest in the cider available here. I had tasted something special in Frankfurt, and it hurt me.

It wasn’t until October’s Canadian Beer News Fall Beer & Cider festival at The Rhino that I finally gave drunken apples a chance again. Greg Clow, who organized the event, insisted I try West Avenue’s barrel-aged blend. And damn. I’ve been missing out!

So cider’s creeping back on my radar. Last week I attended an informative lunch meeting at the Summerhill LCBO, with Woodchuck’s Cider Maker and V.P. of sales on hand. Samples from Blackthorn and Magners were also available.

More on that, coming soon….

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