Tasting Crispin Cider at the Happy Gnome

On Tuesday evening, I was lucky enough to join a group of about 50 local food lovers, journalists, and guests of Crispin Cider Company to introduce their newest baby: Honey Crisp Unfiltered cider. Its addition to the Crispin family – which also includes Original, Light and Brut varieties – officially comes next month, so it was a treat to sneak a little taste ahead of time.

The gathering was hosted at The Happy Gnome in St. Paul’s Cathedral Hill neighborhood, which turned out to be a pleasant surprise for me. I hadn’t been there since it was Chang O’Hara’s and have to say that I was still expecting a college crowd in a college bar. But the bar and the recently remodeled Firehouse Room (where the Crispin Cider event was held) have taken on a new personality: local pub. Being a St. Paul resident myself, I was alternately kicking myself and jumping for joy. I was carrying around old perceptions and missed the opportunity to enjoy a neighborhood spot … but, believe me, that will change. For a pay-by-play - and terrific pictures of the event - check out Heavy Table.  Here’s what was local about the event.

According to the Happy Gnome website, Hinman favors a “seasonally-changing, eclectic menu” and leans toward “local and sustainable farming, fostering relationships with independent growers and producers for the majority of the menu,” which was evident in the pairing menu and in the standard Happy Gnome fare. The menu for the event was well thought out and crafted specifically to pair with the 4 Crispin Ciders we were enjoying. Executive Chef Matthew Hinman stealthily included Crispin into many of the dishes themselves as macerating liquids, glazes and even in a softly-flavored foam atop one of the dishes. I appreciated the use of Eichten’s buffalo and chicken from an Amish farm in Iowa for two of the courses…they were tasty, indeed. (In fact, I had no idea that Eichten’s did bison/buffalo…I’ve only ever had their delish cheeses!)

Crispin Cider is, in a way, local as well. Though the ciders themselves are produced at a small cidery in Northern California (Joe, we’ll be talking …), Crispin is based here in the Twin Cities. Crispin Cider’s CEO Joe Heron is a transplanted South African brought to the Twin Cities years ago for a former job. He and his wife Leslie created the airforce Nutrisoda line of beverages (now called simply Nutrisoda – here’s an interesting commentary about its repackaging) and, after selling that company, decided to launch the super premium Crispin Ciders. Joe calls it the “champagne of ciders” which, remarkably, comes through in the taste. This line is quickly developing its distribution throughout the country and getting kudos for not only the straightforward, apple taste of the ciders but also for what they don’t have: chemically preservatives, colorants, nor added sugars, malts, alcohols and – important for those of us with allergies – gluten

Photo Credit: Becca Dilley / Heavy TablePhoto Credit: Becca Dilley / Heavy TableJoe says, “We are a Minnesotan company and always will be in our hearts. We have a fine tradition of heartland dining, and the artisanal style and that ‘new world, pioneering swagger’ resides here.” As for the new Honey Crisp cider? “We wanted a more earthy artisanal style of cider, something that broke the ‘traditional’ mold. The use of organic honey delivers on that, gives a terrific creamy flavor and mouthful, and a strong floral top note that is unique to this cider.” Honey Crisp was certainly the star of the evening and my personal favorite. The simple, clean honey taste comes through beautifully without being sickly sweet or heavy.

Crispin ciders are meant to be enjoyed over ice and finding myself headed towards the dog days of summer, I won’t have a problem giving in to this twist. I’m also hoping to play around with some of the cocktail recipes on the Crispin website and maybe a few of my own (I’m thinking Crispin Brut with a shot of ginger-flavored Canton, perhaps?). What I know for sure? Both the Honey Crisp and Brut ciders – along with the Happy Gnome – are going to find their way into my regular rotation. I’m so happy to have these local-loving organizations to support with my dollars…and my taste buds