Québec’s Ice Cider

By / Wine + Drinks / October 18th, 2010 / 1

Christian Barthomeuf created it in 1989, and after years of slow growth, ice cider is today a well-established Québecois terroir product that fully deserves its growing reputation. At 600,000 bottles per year, sales are steadily improving across the globe, reaching countries as far as Korea and Sweden.

The making of ice cider shares most of its basic principles with Icewine, but there are differences. In most cases, the fruits are harvested at their optimal maturity in September or October and stored under a controlled atmosphere until the winter. They are then crushed and pressed and the fresh juice is left outside to freeze naturally. A very sweet liquid is then collected by gravitation. The process is called cryoconcentration. This nectar is cold fermented for six to eight months until alcohol reaches between seven and 13 per cent. Residual sugar must be at least 130 g/l. The dominant flavour is unmistakably of apples, fresh or cooked.

Alternately, one can leave the whole fruit to freeze before pressing. This method results in a somewhat lighter style of ice cider, since the juice obtained is not quite as concentrated.

Only about three per cent of production is done with rare varieties that will hold on to their fruits long enough. Two ice ciders done this way (called cryoextraction) are récolte d’hiver, (Winter Harvest) from La Face Cachée de la Pomme (The Hidden Side of the Apple) and Clos Saragnat. Although once the tree has shut down for the winter it no longer nourishes its fruits, it is the slow action of the wind, sun and warm/cold cycles that explains why the flavours are more complex, adding notes of exotic fruits and spices.

Carbonic gas can be added to make either a pétillant (lightly sparkling) or a mousseux (sparkling) ice cider. Top-of-the-line cuvées can also be aged for some time in oak barrels.

The industry is well structured and must comply with strict rules. These cover every aspect of production and forbid artificial freezing and flavour or colour additives. The original law stated that the producer must do everything, from growing the trees to fermentation and bottling. Since it takes 60 to 80 apples to make one 375 ml bottle of ice cider, a modification came into effect last year that allows the use of up to 50 per cent of apples from other local growers. Everything is being done so that ice cider is entitled to call itself a true terroir product, and work is already under way for its recognition, and to protect the name globally.

There are dozens of producers across the province, most of them located in the Montérégie/Cantons de l’Est area, southeast of Montreal. A few names stand out; they were the first or the most dynamic. La Face Cachée de la Pomme was the first to export some of its production and remains a top-quality producer. Domaine Pinnacle is maybe the best known and the largest. Clos St-Denis and Clos Saragnat are worth a visit, too. Another orchard rich area is St-Joseph-du-Lac, about 50 km northwest of Montreal. There, Domaine Lafrance is unavoidable, but rising star Antolino Brongo’s Cryomalus is taking advantage of both cryo-processes. Harvested in the fall, the fruits are left outside to dry (passerillage, as it’s called when making Amarone) until frozen. After pressing, the juice is once again stored outside for further concentration before it is fermented and aged on its lees for six months.

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