OK, this is the last of my Victoria eats posts until my next trip (September, 2008). I haven’t focused on serious restaurants because to be honest the ones we tried were not very good, albeit their fine reputations. But no matter, because there is plenty to imbibe and savor regardless.
You’ll have to venture outside of Victoria for some of these. The Cowichan Valley, and notably Cobble Hill, is a haven of artisanal food and drink production. A 45-minute drive will get you there, an idyllic pastoral landscape of fields, forests, rivers and lakes. Hilary’s creamery, several decent wineries, honey producers and cideries dot the hills and valleys. Many of the spirits producers have on site bistros so culinary tourists can take a leisurely break for refreshment and taste the fruit of the vine or orchard along with dishes created to complement flavors.
At Merridale Estate Cidery we sampled the eight varieties of the hard stuff, some with as much alcohol content as wine and with tastes that range from sweet to extra dry. The effervesence is slight, due to the natural process of fermenting the organically grown apples of which there are many varieties. (According to the pourer, other producers inject bigger bubbles into the drink to mask the taste of chemicals.) Read this for a view of the cider business elswhere. The Merridale is experimenting with apple brandy as well.
This is a tricky drink to produce and to store. The cider must stay refrigerated or it will continue to ferment in the bottle, so if like us you plan to take some home bring an ice-packed cooler. But the result of the high standards of production is a delicate taste, in some varieties punctuated with a snap of ginger or pepper, and in others sweetened with honey or berries.
As is the case with most of the artisanal producers, Merridale is fairly new and despite its very good product will probably improve with maturity and more trial and error. But its relative youth is not a strike against it; awards are already pouring in.