Grey and Gold Cider was one of my favourite stops on the first leg of the Ontario Cider Trail travel blog series I started in 2022. Not only is the location idyllic and the cider intriguing, but the husband and wife running the cidery, David and Kim, are lovely humans. They were as gracious with their time and sharing their story when I rolled up unannounced as they were welcoming, even offering me the option to park overnight. They also provided suggestions for where I could teach with decent access to public wifi (The Foundry in Collingwood) and a few restaurants they suggested I visit in the South Georgian Bay area (Heart’s Tavern) and back in Toronto (Allen’s). Our conversation was lively and engaging and I found myself the recipient of as many questions about vanlife, travel, and the impetus for the Ontario Cider Trail blog series as I had for them about their farm and journey to opening a cidery.
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At a Glance
- Cidery: Grey & Gold Cidery
- Location: Clarksburg, Ontario
- ABV: 6.5% – 7.5%
- Cans or Bottles: 500ml & 750ml bottles, 1L & 2L growlers
- Price Range: $8 – $20
- Where to Buy: Grey & Gold Cidery, select bars & restaurants in Ontario
- Style: Heritage craft cider
History of Grey and Gold Cidery
Grey and Gold Cidery began 7 years ago in David Baker’s basement with a small self-fabricated press and an apple grinder. David hated the taste of commercial cider and when first introduced to “real” cider a decade ago in Prince Edward County was surprised to find that he loved the refreshing apple beverage. At the time, cider wasn’t popular or readily available in Ontario, so began his underground experiments.
From the start, Grey and Gold has been a family operation. The couple’s sons are the unofficial taste testers and have proven their tastebuds are in tune with their customers’ preferences. When the boys first tasted the very uniquely flavoured Spruce of the Bruce the brothers gave two thumbs up. David and Kim didn’t enjoy it as much, but the boys convinced them it was worthy to share. Since its release to the public, Spruce of the Bruce has been a crowd favourite.
Good Fortune During an Unfortunate Time
The family purchased the farm in 2016 and opened it in 2020, an unforgettable year for all the right and wrong reasons. In order to open a farm-based cidery, there is a minimum requirement to have 5 acres of fruit in production. David and 2 of his sons hand-planted 6 acres of heritage cider apples with a 1-man auger over 3 weeks, completing their manual labour on the day that the government announced a temporary waiver on the 5-acre rule. Ironic timing aside, they are now the proud stewards of 29 different varieties of apples and 700 trees that will bear fruit in the coming years. The orchard sits to the left of the iconic Grey and Gold Cider barn, with a sloping roof that greets you upon entering the property. Each white stake in the picture below is a tree that will one day bear apples, ripe and ready to fill our glasses.
Luckily, the pandemic worked in Grey and Gold Cidery’s favour thanks to their outdoor space which accommodated visiting guests. The first year open went well, even with the uncertainty surrounding the world. By the time I visited 2 years later in the summer of 2022, David and Kim had already noticed a difference in their guests’ confidence of travelling and being outside without masks. As restrictions have relaxed and the world has reopened, they’ve seen the demographics of their visitors change as well. From the many Quebecers and British Columbia residents who explored domestically when borders were closed, to the day-trippers and regular cottage-goers now popping in, it will be interesting to observe traveller trends in the coming years. 2022 was also the first year fully operating at the farm and selling Grey and Gold’s ciders in restaurants and bars.
The cidery is David’s full-time job. He’s content with the size and scope of the farm and intends to maintain it as is in the future as well. For a little extra help, he hires a student from the University of Guelph’s food science program each summer.
Welcome to Grey and Gold Cidery
Looking forward, David and Kim aim to extend their visitors’ farm experience into “hip” season. There is a plan for an enclosed structure and fire pit to keep the sippers cozy during winter months. In addition to Saturdays, their goal is to be open 5 days a week.
If you’ve visited Clarksburg, Ontario before, you may recognize the barn from the previous business that was located there, Pinetiques. The land has seen many iterations over the past century. At one point, the Grey and Gold Cidery farm was part of a massive 100-acre apple farm. Unfortunately, a blight tore through the Beaver Valley orchards roughly 60 years ago and many trees didn’t survive. That is why, despite the area’s rich history in apple farming, many of the current trees on commercial lots in the region are only 60 years old. Tree enthusiasts may also note that commercial farmers are choosing to plant dwarf trees. Slightly resembling grape vines, these trees are planted quite close together. This reduces the amount of spraying and improves the picking process.
They also have a beautiful farmhouse onsite enclosed by a stunning weeping willow. Despite every homeowner’s protest toward weeping willows, I still think they’re the most magnificent trees!
One with the Land: Sustainable Farm-Based Cidery
Did you know that apples are one of the worst fruits to consume, due to pesticide use? That fact was conveniently omitted when learning Johnny Appleseed in school! David is on a mission to counter this unsustainable and unhealthy farming practice. Everything at Grey and Gold Cidery is low-tech, like the 1-man auger used to plant their orchard. This approach helps him better understand the terroir that rests on an old riverbed and is full of gravel, rocks, sand, and clay.
Nearly every step of cider-making is completed on-site at Grey and Gold. For now, apples are sourced on another local property until Grey and Gold’s trees bear fruit. In South Georgian Bay, because of the sand and gravel, the apples flavour is more mineral-forward.
Grey and Gold Cidery use organic spray and relies on rainwater instead of commercial irrigation. They intentionally spread out the planted trees so that the meadow will remain in as natural a state as possible in order to better retain water. Despite the efforts to stay true to the land, and due to prohibitive costs and a lengthy process, Grey and Gold is not a Certified Organic farm.
Unlike beer, which requires a water source, cider does not. Automatically this makes cider a more sustainably produced beverage. The pursuit of traditional green farming practices brings with it the struggle to balance unpredictable weather, destructive insects, labour needs, and product demand. Grey and Gold’s apples will never be as unblemished as the dessert apples you’re used to seeing in the grocery store. In fact, it’s rare to develop a perfect-looking piece of fruit without spraying it with chemicals. Unfortunately, the food industry has primed consumers to develop a preference for this “style” of food. On the positive side, it’s easier to grow cider apples than dessert apples. Organic cider farmers don’t require flawless apples to create delicious cider!
Another benefit to growing pesticide-free fruit is that it allows the true flavour to shine. Natural farming practices also help to maintain the natural fermentation process. Whereas commercial cider companies value fast fermentation to turn over tanks as fast as a burger joint flips mediocre patties, smaller operations like Grey and Gold Cidery emphasize the benefits of long and slow organic fermentation methods. Commercially fertilized apples also ferment quicker, which consequently changes the flavour and value of the drink. In contrast, using organic apples keeps the temperature down and the nutrition levels as low as possible for a natural fermentation process.
Berries and Bees and Sourdough, Oh My
The property hosts more than apples. David forages from the grapevines, spruce trees, wildflowers like chamomile, and black caps (black raspberries) on the property as well. When you visit the tasting counter, you’ll see grapevines covering the barn. They are the same ones in your glass. The only Grey and Gold ciders made with juice from other fruits are the cranberry and botanical options.
Grey and Gold also have a small apiary and the honey from the bees helps to feed Kim’s 40-year old sourdough passed down from her parents. Kim kept bees in Toronto near the Don Valley before they had the farm, although her hive didn’t survive winter there. When they purchased the farm, the remaining bees were brought to the farm. Save for a disastrous 2022 for the little buzzers province-wide, they’ve taken well to country living.
Did You Know…
Did you know that despite the over-regulation of alcohol, it’s the only food industry that doesn’t require nutrition facts on labels? In talking with David, I learned that there are ciders sold in the LCBO with more sugar than Coke! For reference, a 335 mL can of coke has 34 g of sugar and there are 20-80 grams in commercial ciders. This explains the headache I used to get while drinking Somersby. YIKES!
An Education in Cider
Ivy League Cider School Graduate
A common theme with many of the cidery owners that I met in South Georgian Bay is their wide array of interests and skills. David is no exception. A University of Toronto law school graduate and former lawyer, he also attended the prestigious Ivy-League, Cornell University in 2004 for cider school. Yes, you read that correctly. There is an Ivy League institution that has a cider school. David has the t-shirt and certificate to prove it!
Renowned cider master Peter Mitchell of the UK taught the course, which included “school trips” to upstate New York, an area known for its cideries. As with any curious creator who learns the skills and rules of a craft, David mastered traditional cider practices before going rogue and unlearning it all again.
The student has also been a teacher, with David contributing to George Brown College as a guest lecturer.
Connecting the Cider Dots
While at cider school, David met 3 other Ontario cider makers, including the owners of Windswept Cider, Heartwood Cider, and Hard Way Cider. They’ve since become friends, sharing stories, strategies, and many a glass of cider together. Windswept and Grey and Gold Cidery opened their businesses around the same time and now source their apples together from the former Beaver Valley cidery’s property. Speaking of small world connections, if you’re in Toronto, check out Her Father’s Cider Bar on Harbourd Street, one of only 2 cider bars in Toronto. It’s owned by the son of the former owners of Beaver Valley.
Cider Terminology for Your Tasting Pleasure
Laidback with a surfer vibe, if you get David talking about cider his enthusiasm for the subject spills into the conversation. His favourites are their classic Heritage Dry and the Pét Nats. Of the botanical options, it’s the Hopped Highlander Cider. Kim enjoys the Pet Rocks the best with the Heritage Dry a close second. Their customers are a cross-section of newbies and casual sippers to the real connoisseurs and they offer something for each group. The casual sippers often gravitate towards ciders like Modern Girl and the connoisseurs have loads to choose from.
If like me, you’re progressing from casual sipper to a knowledgeable nose, here are a few terms to elevate your cider game.
- Scrumpy = English term for a farmhouse cider that’s pretty rough and rustic with lots of “funk”. Scrumpy ciders are higher in alcohol content and tannins and are typically still and cloudy. Due to the traditional production methods used for scrumpies, they’re often made as small batch ciders.
- Pét Nat = This technical term derives from the French, pétillant-naturel. These natural ciders and wines have a less-than-full sparkle. Pét Nat is having its moment as the buzz word in the natural wine industry these days. For the health-conscious crowd, this process, which interrupts the primary fermentation stage, creates carbonation in alcohol without adding extra yeast and sugar. This way of fermenting is known as Méthode Ancestral.
If you’re extra curious, the official bubble scale ranges from Flat to Pét to Champagne. As the middle child, Pét Nats are quite dynamic. They can be a full champagne or lightly bubbled drink, partly because the process is hard to control. They’re a surprise-in-a-bottle if you will. The juice above the sediment can be crystal clear or a little hazy, like kombucha, and sometimes confuses people who are used to only seeing commercially clear ciders. Don’t hesitate – dive in and give it a try! It’s totally normal for a Pét Nat to look this way.
- Champagne = As you read above, champagne is the bubbliest of the bubbles. It’s created as much for its flavour and texture as it is for the clean and clear aesthetic.
Where is Grey and Gold Cider Sold?
The best way to get your choice of which Grey and Gold ciders to bring home is to visit the bottle shop and farm (788171, Grey County Rd 13, Clarksburg, ON). Alternatively, there are local businesses and restaurants in the South Georgian Bay area that are stocked with their bottles, like Heart’s Restaurant in Kimberley. If you aren’t from the area, there are a select few spots around southwestern Ontario that carry different bottle selections. Visit Her Father’s Cider Bar in Toronto and Eby Street Bodega in Kitchener. They also have a Pour Locator on their website to help you find other spots serving their cider.
Grey and Gold Cidery sell their ciders in bottles and growlers. They offer a range of beverages, from the crowd favourites (Spruce of the Bruce, Modern Girl) to bold-flavours (Gin and Juice), to Pét Nats and funkier options like the Heritage Dry. When asked how they name their drinks, they shared the story of their Ailish Pét Nat. A woman’s Gaelic name meaning noble and kind, this cider is named after one of their regular’s beautiful Golden Retrievers. It’s stories like these that endear me to small businesses!
Here’s a point-form run-down of the Grey and Gold’s ciders I sampled during my visit:
- Modern Girl
This is the original Grey and Gold Cider award winner, though it has changed a fair bit over the years. The Modern Girl is the most commercial in taste, with its fresh, crisp, clean, and dry flavour. Kim’s honey is featured in this sipper. Only 8 grams of residual sugar per litre.
- Spruce of the Bruce
A Best in Class GLINTCAP winner, imagine combining the flavours of spruce trees and fennel seeds, and voilà! I am not a liquorice lover and this cider was one of my favourites of the day. On the flip side, David said they’ve had customers try it who love liquorice and weren’t as enamoured with the Spruce of the Bruce. In short, it’s a must-try regardless of where you stand on the liquorice-loving scale.
- Gin and Juice
Landing squarely in the “love it or hate it” camp, Gin and Juice was created to tie over the Spruce of the Bruce fans. Fragrant and bold, almost cocktail-like, it has juniper which is similar to spruce. There is also wild sumac, citrus notes, and wild grapes from the vine that climbs the barn. The grapes give it a deeper colour and tannins for texture.
- Heritage Dry
Their flagship cider is a bone-dry blend of Golden Russet and Northern Spy heritage apples. It’s aged for a couple of years to add flavour complexity and enhance its character. David called this cider fun. Some have labelled it a scrumpy, though he doesn’t agree.
The Highlander surprised me. At first glance, it’s a hasty swipe left for me. I don’t drink beer (it’s a hoppy cider) and grapefruit are gross. It reminded me, however, to stay open-minded before jumping to conclusions. The Highlander is worth a try.
- Russet Gone Wild
The 2018 harvest was kept in a single varietal with a wild ferment. This gave it a tropical pineapple flavour with a spicy gingery tang, even though Golden Russet apples are the only ingredient!
- Northern Spy
The Northern Spy is the only Grey and Gold cider that goes through a 2nd ferment with a commercial champagne yeast. This allows it to obtain a crisp flavour, although unlike champagne, it can sometimes be a bit hazy.
- Ailish Pet Nat
The Ailish is made with Golden Russet apples and has notes of softer stone fruit and vanilla. They are poured in the year they’re bottled so that their fruity “orchard floral funk” and minerality shine through.
Events & Experiences
There are many ways to experience the farm during your visit. In the winter there is a mini shed that’s heated for thirsty visitors. It’s more likely that you’ll visit in the summer, which is the perfect cider sipping season. Seating is outdoors in a cute grassy patio area across from the parking lot. It’s a popular spot to host networking events, bachelor/ette parties, birthdays, and so on. You can also rock up solo, like I did, and mingle with the other patrons. In 2023 the cidery started a concert series featuring their house band. They’ve got an event pavilion for the band and everything. As of my visit in 2022, there weren’t any offered property tours, but perhaps that will come down the road.
With regards to food, Grey and Gold Cidery offers nibblies such as meat sticks, chips, and charcuterie cups made by another local business. On the cider side of things, there are roughly 10 to sample. If you’ve got the time and a designated driver, I’d suggest trying a little bit of everything. There are $10 flights and individual samples are $2. In the spirit of collaboration and community, David buys hops from local brewer, Still Fields Brewery, who satisfies the beer crowd at Grey and Gold on the weekends. There are also non-alcoholic options for kiddos and other interested visitors.
I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the Spruce of the Bruce. As the name indicates, it’s flavoured by the property’s spruce trees. It often sells out, thanks to its popularity and the limited number of bottles available each year. There are only so many spring spruce tips they can forage! While I love the smell, I was cautiously optimistic that I’d enjoy the taste. As it turns out, it’s quite lovely! It’s a very fresh, clear taste with a hint of citrus. In learning some tasting vocabulary with David, this cider has lots of tannins, which means that you experience the dry feeling you get in your mouth, similar to tonic water or red wine. The technical term for the dry feeling is “astringency”. All this to say, if you’re not sure if this sounds like something you’d enjoy, try it anyway!!!
Other Cideries in the South Georgian Bay Region
If you’re heading to the South Georgian Bay area, you’re in luck! There are several delicious cideries within a short driving distance from each other, including Duntroon Cyderhouse, Spy Cider House and Distillery, Thornbury Craft Cider and Brewhouse, Duxbury Cider Co., and Coffin Ridge Vineyard & Winery.
Ontario Cider Trail Map
Prep for your own Ontario Cider Trail adventures by loading this map I made onto your phone.
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Plan Your Visit to South Georgian Bay
How to Get There
Clarksburg is located on beautiful Georgian Bay on Lake Huron, approximately 2.5 hours north of Toronto. Its neighbour to the southeast is Thornbury. If you’re leaving from southwestern Ontario, follow the directions below:
- Hwy 410 N
- Continue onto Hurontario St (ON-10/Orangeville)
- Turn left onto ON-10 / ON-89 W
- Turn right onto County Rd 124
- Take a left onto Grey Rd 4
- Turn right onto Grey Rd 2
- Take a left onto County Rd 40
- Turn left onto Beaver Valley Rd / Grey County Rd 13
Where to Stay in Georgian Bay
There are many different places to stay in South Georgian Bay to suit any travel style. For those who prefer hotels, book a stay at the popular 4-season Royal Harbour Resort. The resort is not dog-friendly, however there is a nearby boarding option at Blue Mountain Veterinary Services for your furry family members. You can enjoy a 2-bedroom lakeview suite and balcony facing Georgian Bay and the marina, or a studio room that sleeps up to 4 people. Both options include a fully-equipped kitchen and a fireplace. If you’re all about the amenities on your trip, Royal Harbour Resort has you covered with just about everything you could wish for: an indoor salt water heated pool, gym and sauna, hot tub, games room, BBQs, pickle ball and tennis courts, a games room, and even bicycles for you to ride around town!
Love a unique Instagrammable boutique motel? Look no further than Penny’s Motel & Après Snack Bar! The 13-room motel on Highway 26 was built in 1974 and still sports the original sign for a bit of nostalgia amongst the modern-day touches. In 2021, John Belknap, a hospitality entrepreneur from Toronto who has been skiing in South Georgian Bay most of his life, purchased and re-designed the motel. In addition to the colourful and cozy bedrooms, there are many other areas for you to rest and recharge. Outdoors there are several neat features that are perfect for mixing and mingling with other guests or simply enjoying the fresh air: a large outdoor 4-season patio, an herb garden, an art wall featuring Canadian artists, a bocce court, and a fire pit to perfectly cap off your day. Inside, the versatile reception area triples as a lobby bar, coffee station, and an oyster bar with seasonal menu offerings. In keeping with the local theme, they created a delicious apple Manhattan cocktail in recognition of South Georgian Bay’s delicious Apple Pie Trail, which Grey and Gold Cider is also a part of. It’s also dog-friendly, so feel free to bring your pup! Did I mention it’s walking and biking distance to the water and downtown?
If house rentals are more your style, check out the wide variety of Thornbury homes and cottages on VRBO.
Food and Drink
South Georgian Bay has a lot to offer foodies. Looking to start your day with a piping hot cuppa joe? Good Grief Coffee in nearby Thornbury has both your caffeine and sugar fixes with in-house-made Instagrammable pastries. They also wholesale their beans, sell other coffee paraphernalia, and even have some healthy juices for sale too. Care for a fancy charcuterie board or an outdoor picnic? Head to The Cheese Gallery for all of your gourmet nibbles. Craving a hearty Italian dinner? There’s the mouth-watering Fabbrica restaurant on Bruce Street South. My favourite treat stop is an artisinal ice cream shop found in nearby Meaford called PomPom.
Stay in the Loop
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