Crispin: The New Cider in Town

March 26 2010 - 8:54 AM

Cider is one of those alcoholic beverages that has never gotten a fair shake on many levels.  First of all, sugary-sweet overly processed concoctions give cider a bad rap, conjuring images of drunken teenagers or amateurs at happy hour.  Second, there just isn't that much cider to begin with.  Michael Christensen, the Regional Manager of the Midwest region, said that 0.3 percent of the alcoholic beverage market in the U.S. is cider, whereas it is six percent in the U.K.  A lot of educating is necessary to build what appears to be a wide open market with lots of growth.

South Africa native Joe Heron founded Crispin in 2008 on the idea that the cider market was under-served with what is essentially perceived to be rubbish.  Last night, Michael Christensen and the Crispin sales crew successfully demonstrated what a good cider should taste like:  one that is made essentially from apple juice, wine or beer yeasts, and honey or maple syrup. They were also nice enough to provide us with invitations to the event.

The result, served over ice, is a clean, crisp beverage that can be enjoyed over summer.  Crispin was paired with food at an event held by Dunlays on the Square in the heart of the Logan Square neighborhood.  I had expectations of pub grub, but was surprised with the food and the thought that not only went into the pairings but was kept us engaged throughout the evening.

We started out with their basic product: the original, a 5.0% alcohol off-dry cider.  It finished with a bit of sweetness, and it was paired with a house cured bacon and apple salad with arugula, grape tomatoes, parmesano reggiano, and balsamic dressing.

The next pairing, was served with an excellent pan seared wild pacific halibut with red quinoa salad and beurre blanc.  The fish was moist and well cooked, and the quinoa salad was succulent.  It paired nicely with the Brut cider, a 5.5% alcohol dry cider.  As explained to me, the difference between the Original and Brut was that the remaining sugars were turned to alcohol, resulting in a drier finish.

The third pairing was a herb crusted pork loin with cider vinegar braised cippolini onions and pureed parsnips.  It was served with my favorite cider of the evening, the Crispin "Saint", having a cloudy appearance and served with Belgian trappist beer yeasts.  It was also stronger, at 6.9% alcohol.   The pork loins were good, and the parsnips and onions were delicious; they really brought out the flavors in the Saint cider.

Finally, our dessert, a tasty flaky phyllo rustic apple tart with cinnamon ice cream, was served with the Honey Crisp apple cider, which was a bit sweeter and made with honey.  The name, however, was not a reference to the Honey Crisp apple variety but the style of cider, and the pairing was also good.

Michael did a great job really explaining a lot about the company and its cider brands.  There are also draft ciders under different brands, as well as a separate brand, Fox Barrel black currant and pear ciders.  There was even a cask-conditioned cider entered into the Firkin fest in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

This young, enthusiastic company has lots of room to grow, and I hope their ambition doesn't encounter road blocks from the big boys in the malt beverage business.  It will be interesting to see their offerings develop over time, and I can't wait to see more offerings in the artisanal spectrum.

Their cider is on draft at the following locations:

Jaks Tap – West Loop
Blue Bayou – Lakeview/Southport
Beer Bistro – West Loop
Pippin's – Gold Coast

Fireside – Old Town

Dunlay's on the Square
3137 W Logan Blvd

(773) 227-2400