Monday, November 12, 2012

Cider 101 - The Newtown (Albemarle) Pippin

Since it's currently Cider Week Virginia, I felt it appropriate to discuss the most famous apple variety from the Commonwealth of Virginia - The Albemarle Pippin. This is a versatile apple, suitable for eating, cooking, juicing, and hard cider.  The apple's official name is the Newtown Pippin and originated in Long Island from a chance seedling (known as a pippin) sometime in the early 1700s. Col. Thomas Walker of Castle Hill brought the apple to the Piedmont area after serving with Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War.  It quickly became extremely popular and was grown by Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It became an international sensation in 1838, when "Andrew Stevenson, the American minister to Great Britain, presented Queen Victoria with a gift basket of the apples from his wife's Albemarle County orchard. In response, the British Parliament lifted import duties on the variety...(wiki)".

Over time the Albemarle Pippin lost it's appeal; maybe because export markets became more difficult to penetrate or crops dwindled since the apple it is not easy to grow and requires a warm summer and autumn.  Plus the apple requires a couple months of storage after harvest in order for it to develop it's unique and complex tart-sweet flavor. This situation is definitely not suitable for distribution in large chains who now prefer the Delicious varieties. In recent times it has only been available in roadside markets, local orchards, or interestingly, from California-based Martinelli's in their sparkling cider. Which leads us to hard cider - where the Albemarle Pippin is favored in both single varietal, sparkling, and blended ciders.

The Albemarle Pippin returned to Col. Walker's Castle Hill estate through Castle Hill Cider where the apple is used in several ciders. Our favorite is the sparkling single varietal Levity - where the apple juice is fermented and aged in clay kvevri containers buried in the ground. The pippen is also blended with other varieties in their Celestial and Terrestrial hard ciders.

The first modern Virginia cidery, Foggy Ridge Cider, uses the Albemarle Pippin in several new and interesting cider products. These include the sparkling Foggy Ridge Handmade, Pippin Gold (a unique blend of 100% Newtown Pippin hard cider and apple brandy from Laird and Company), and the Pippin Black which combines hard cider from Newtown Pippin and Arkansas Black apples with Virginia apple brandy.

Other Virginia cideries have joined in the fun. Albemarle CiderWorks produces a couple ciders using the apple - the 100% Royal Pippin and Ragged Mountain. Potter's Craft Cider's flagship cider is a blend of Virginia Winesap and Albemarle Pippin. The latter is also a blend in the Old Hill Cider Yesteryear. And finally, keep in eye out for Blue Bee Cider where the cider master, Courtney Mailey was an apprentice at Albemarle CiderWorks and will be using the Albemarle Pippin when her ciders are available in 2013.

Virginia is not the only region to utilize the Newton Pippin; it can also be found at West County Winery & Ciders in Colrain Massachesetts; the large scale production Original Sin Hard Cider; and even in Canada by Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse in British Columbia.

So head on out and grab yourself a Newton or Albemarle Pippin hard cider. Cheers.

VirginiaWineTV Winemaker Series: Castle Hill Cider & Kvevri:


Chez Us said...

Hi, just found your site via the Kitchen Daily Curator Network. Looking forward to checking out more of your site.

We have just started checking out some ciders - a nice alternative when we don't want a heavy beer.

Todd M. Godbout said...

Chez Us, I agree, Cider is a very nice alternative to both wine and beer. Many good brands in Virginia, Maryland, and New York. Venturing into Vermont ciders very soon. Cheers