What to Drink This Week: Alexander Keith’s Original Cider
Though you’d never know it from this website, I actually came to booze relatively late in life, at least compared to my peer group. I have clear memories of being in tenth grade English class and listening to the kids around me — the fourteen year-old kids, mind you — describing the extensive, heavy-duty alcohol abuse that they had undergone, and what they had planned next. I realize how quaint this makes me sound, but at the time it blew my frigging mind.
[Ed. note – As pointed out in the comments, normal tenth-graders are not 14; rather, that was my age that year. Protip: only write articles about cider before extensively sampling it, rather than after. ANYHOO.]
Then, you know, I went home and played Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe, which should answer any questions that you may have up to this point. I think it best if we fast-forward somewhat.
Behold the cutting edge of twenty years ago. Excuse me while I go gather dust.
I share these embarrassing details with you to help illustrate a few very important points:
- To illustrate exactly how far I have come in a relatively short time,
- That anyone can be a late bloomer, and that for some of us that may happen at rather a more geologic pace than others, but
- In the interim, we all have our Mike’s Hard Lemonade phase
Heaven knows that I sure did. Around the time that I went off to have my first truly awful summer job, working at the soon-to-be defunct Ontario Place, I had my first encounter with the category that would one day haunt me: The pre-mixed cooler. Mike’s Hard Lemonade was bursting onto the scene, a fizzy, lemon-flavored and vodka-heavy alternative to the packaged wine coolers that otherwise dominated liquor store shelves. It seems crazy now just how popular Mike’s turned out to be — for those of you recollecting the popularity curve of Smirnoff Ice, please add a 3x multiplier to both the hype and douchebag factors, and you will have a rough estimation of the experience.
In fact, you could credibly argue that Mike’s brought a new life into the pre-mixed marketplace, for good or (and guess which I believe it is) ill. But at the time I hadn’t properly understood the limitations of such products, and being afraid of beer’s still-awful taste and the overwhelming terror associated with proper straight-on liquor, Mike’s suited me perfectly. It was candy-sweet, it had enough alcohol to get me socially drunk at just the right pace, and I had no experience to challenge the severity of the hangovers it spawned. That so many others went on to imitate all those traits, without seeking to improve on any of them, is a phenomenon that haunts me to this day.
Even now, staring at this bottle of Alexander Keith’s Original Cider, I am haunted.
Keith’s Original Cider is an early entry into what promises to be a fun Refreshing Summer Drinks season (what with Bud Light Iced Tea around the corner), and it’s one that caught my eye very quickly. The world of cider isn’t one that many Canadian brewers have eagerly jumped into, given that there are so very many Great British brands that have been doing it well and for a very long time. Local micro-brews will, as they do with everything else, flare up with interesting offerings now and again, but nothing on quite so national a scale. And with the somewhat-kinda-Celtic-East-Coast affiliation that Alexander Keith’s carries with it as a brand, it seemed doubly intriguing that they should try to shoulder into the market.
That, and the market for cider is a strange one, composed mostly of British ex-patriots, girls who need a break from Wild Vines, and people who really don’t like the taste of alcohol but will tolerate the taste of bruised apples. That’s where I start to have my flashbacks.
I have had some ciders that taste truly authentic, in that slightly decayed way that all fruit-based booze — like meads, home-brewed wines or liqueurs — can. Bulmer’s Original Cider is about as real a scrumpy as you can imagine, and for all the world it has the lingering flavor of apple peels that were left in the sink for the weekend. Like beers, such ciders have their nuances, and it takes time to develop a taste for the more complicated ones; like beers, therefore, they are not exactly immediately accessible to people who just want something tasty to drink that gets them comfortably squiffy.
Alexander Keith’s Original Cider has no particular interest in being authentic. Rather, there is a distinct air of Mike’s Hard Apple Juice about the entire affair.
Indeed, the first thing that you taste on sipping one is very sweet apple, of the kind that might bring back memories if you were one of the lucky kids who got to drink Allen’s Apple Juice out of the one litre tins in your childhood.
Ohhhhhhh yeah, that’s the stuff right there. There’s that golden goodness with the two very large asterisks next to “No Sugar Added”, inviting parents to engage in a close reading exercise to determine what “sugar” and “adding” really mean in today’s crazy world. Alexander Keith’s Original Cider has a flavor remarkably similar to this, with a very mild carbonation that is just enough to give the impression of fizziness without even the possibility of making it too filling. Indeed, there’s just enough bubbles to impart a slightly synthetic flavor to the cider, carrying it to the very edge of Jolly Rancher-dom.
Fortunately though, it doesn’t cross the line. It is unmistakably sugary, though, and as such not the sort of thing that can be consumed continually through an afternoon without predictable consequences. But for the same reason, it becomes a very safe bet to include in any backyard party’s cooler: A single-serving non-beer, with an immediately recognizable flavor, easy to drink and capable of delivering a pleasant buzz at the same rate as the beer drinkers. Cider purists will almost certainly explain to you why it doesn’t taste enough of apple cores and the dirt under an orchard picker’s fingernails, but they are equally likely to be doing so while asking for a second one of these.
Such is the devilry of these well-executed sweet cocktails, with their non-alcoholic fruit flavors and their approachable brands. With their Original Cider, Alexander Keith’s has found a way to use cider as their angle into the party drink world, and it works pretty darned well. The usual caveats of sour stomachs and headaches still definitely apply (as they must with anything this sugary that has alcohol in it) but all the same, they’ve put forward a strong contender.
Rating: 4 apples out of 5