I pulled into the Cedar Park train depot on a clear Saturday evening. Ticket in hand and stomach growling, I made my way towards the home of the Austin Steam Train. My journey on the Santa Fe Steam Engine would mark the maiden voyage of the Cider Flyer, a gastronomical collaboration between Austin Wine & Cider and the Austin Steam Train Association.
Past Meets Present on Austin Steam Train’s Cider Flyer
A conductor decked in overalls ushered me and my fellow flyers onto the Nambe, a turquoise and chrome dining car straight out of the 1930’s. One step inside and we were blasted into the past.
Each car on the train has been restored to its original retro character. Narrow corridors lead into sleeping compartments. Vintage posters and pictures hang along the walls, showing glamorous riders of the past, sipping one last cocktail before retiring to bed during a cross-country trip.
During the next three hours, I joined my classy comrades of the past and took to the rails away from Austin to the northwest, past a sunset speckled sky.
Austin Wine & Cider: Simple Name, Complicated Flavors
The evening promised a four-course gluten-free dinner, expertly paired with seasonal ciders from Austin Wine & Cider. Before my adventure, I wasn’t familiar with this veteran-owned brewery whose tag line is “sinfully delicious.” While its voice may be a bit quieter than fellow apple aficionados at Austin Eastciders, the flavor and spirit of this winery and cider brewhouse are just as strong.
According to Vice President Tara McKay, Austin Wine & Cider has created a unique space for itself in the brewing world by using a “beer-minded method of blending a variety of fruit, spices and herbs into the fermenter.” Each flavor I tried intrigued my palate, hinting at other favorite drinks of mine, while maintaining the crisp character of a cider.
The mood for the night was set with a Smashed Lime cider. This fresh flavor would satisfy anyone who craves a Mexican beer with lime in it on a hot summer day, but needs a gluten-free alternative. Next in the parade of libations was a Ruby Crush cider that offered hints of champagne with a grapefruit twist.
The third course ushered in the Hefe Apfel Cider, a German-style, unfiltered apple and orange hard cider. One could tell by the satisfied looks on riders’ faces that this was their favorite flavor of the bunch. It took many of us back to pre-gluten-free days when we could enjoy gulps of Live Oak HefeWeizen, another Austin favorite.
The night was completed with chocolate cake and classic hard apple cider. We happily sipped as the Austin Steam Train made its way back to the depot.
Winning Combination of Steam and Cider
Although this was the first journey of the Cider Flyer, I’m certain it will not be the last. Each vintage train car was full to capacity with happy passengers. Enthusiasm flowed from car to car with the introduction of each cider flavor.
I can safely say that steam trains and cider have joined my list of favorite combinations. I’d love to see this event set the stage for other Austin establishments to jump on the collaboration train. My evening was an incredible way to experience multiple parts of Austin I never would’ve considered putting together.
I will definitely make my way south to try more of Austin Wine & Cider’s creations (411 E. St. Elmo Road). I’m intrigued by their wine selection as well, which boasts Texas fruit wine with flavors like blackberry honey.
Although Austin Steam Train doesn’t make the long treks it used to, there are many opportunities to ride. Every month, the Austin Steam Train Association offers thematic rides like the North Pole Flyer in November and December, Murder Mystery rides, Beer Flyers and more. Check the current schedule and plan your first ride!
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