“This is kind of like apple juice and kind of like Pepsi,” my six-year-old son says to me, cheerfully. He has just tasted apple cider from Kings Mill Cider, a new cidery not far off of Stirling-Marmora Road in south Hastings County.
It seems unjust to start the story of Margaret Van Helvoort and Kees Morsink’s proud new business with a reference to the non-alcohol, safe-for kids apple cider they offer when kids visit their tasting room. After all, they worked for eight years and put together 400 recipes before setting on a list of 10 ciders they would sell – each with an alcohol content ranging from 8.1 per cent to 10 per cent. But, this declaration has put my mind at ease. Knowing my oldest son – and presumably his toddler younger brother — will be happy means my wife Amy and I will be free to relax and taste what the cidery has to offer.
We quickly learned that Margaret and Kees aren’t just the owners of this interesting home-based Hastings County business; they’re great people too. As soon as we pulled into their driveway at 596 King Mills Rd., and Kees saw the four of us, he said “bring the kids in, we have kids’ cider.” As we sat down at a log-style bar they gave our kids apple chips to munch on, then got out shot classes for us to taste the adult-only drinks.
We started with a taste of a cider called Scrumpy, which is described as creamy with a low acid content. It tasted sweet, smooth and rich. Later we tried a Hopped cider, a Ginger cider, a cider called Arrested Development and a cider simply called Premium. I’m not qualified to give fine critiques of wine, but I can say each one tasted great; kind of like a fine wine with a hint of apple. Oh, and to quote my son, the non-alcoholic kind tasted kind of like Pepsi.
While we’re not big drinkers, we have friends and family members who are, so we thought a visit to the new business would be worth a detour off of Stirling-Marmora Road on a recent visit to Stirling, and we were right. We left their tasting room with four 750-ml bottles – each reasonably priced at under $20 – and impressed three other families with gifts. Of course, we kept one, the smooth tasting Hopped cider, for ourselves.
Though we live in an area that’s dotted with fantastic wineries, the concept of a cidery seemed new and provided an opportunity to buy something different and unique. Plus, we felt good about supporting a hard-working family local business. Margaret and Kees have lived long, interesting lives – they once did humanitarian work in Africa they told us – but have recently taken their love for cider making into a business.
In an attempt to keep with our apple-themed day, we hung a left onto Kings Mill Road and another left back onto Stirling-Marmora Road, to check out The Apple Store before heading home. Its big, red barn structure can’t be missed, as it towers above nearby cornrows; Green Foodland Ontario flags fly proudly by its entrance.
Unfortunately for us, we saw it on a weekday holiday, a rare instance when it’s closed. But I visited it on my own on another occasion days later. Though the store looked like a large grocery store from the outside, I quickly discovered it’s actually a quaint gift shop. One of the first things I saw, sitting at a table at the front entrance, was a bottle of Kings Mill Cider. That table, fittingly, set the tone for the products inside; unique souvenir-like items to decorate kitchens and living rooms and food items from other nearby businesses, such as meat from Cooney Farms (Cooney Farms owns The Apple Store), curd from Maple Dale Cheese and Kawartha Dairy ice cream. A steady stream of customers walked in and out in the brief time I was there; making it hard to believe I was in the middle of the country. The busy atmosphere made me feel as though I was in a small town’s downtown retail district.
I often jump at the chance to spend a day in the Stirling-Rawdon area; travelling up and down its peaceful roads amid rolling green hills and stopping in at places where I know I’ll have the chance to support rural, independent businesses. Truthfully, I don’t have to leave my urban neighbourhood to get meat, cheese, or even an alcoholic apple cider. But it’s something I choose to do and love to do with my family. It provides a chance to see and taste new things and support the local economy. Plus, it may lead to some great finds and, at the very least, a breath of fresh air.