Friday, November 20, 2015

Cider Week Virginia, Tasting Through the Commonwealth's Dozen Cideries

As my friend Dezel likes to remind me, John Adams drank a tankard of cider every morning as the cider industry was a major feature of the colonial landscape. And in Virginia other presidents like Washington and Jefferson produced cider on their plantations with Jefferson known for his champagne-like cider produced using Virginia Hewe’s Crab. Cider was big business. Obviously the industry slowly dwindled to outright cessation during Prohibition; but in recent times cider has begun to rebound. It is the fastest growing segment of the alcohol industry. There have been many catalysts for this resurrection nationwide, but in Virginia I believe the primary spark was ignited by Diane Flynt and Foggy Ridge Cider. She introduced the concept of Virginia cider to many of us bloggers and was instrumental in creating Cider Week Virginia in order to showcase the rising industry. The first Virginia cidery procured their license in 2004 and today there are 18 cider producers in the Commonwealth with a dozen currently operating. The largest winery in the state is a cidery and Virginia cider is distributed from New York to New Orleans and west to California. And here's what to expect if you purchase or visit a Virginia cidery (theCompass can assist in that regard).

Winchester Ciderworks, Winchester
Located in prime apple country in northeast Virginia, this operation is based out of co-owner Diane Kearns' Fruit Hill Orchard and specializes in English style ciders from cider maker\co-owner Stephen Schuurman's native country.  Their canned Malice is representative of an East English cider and is unfiltered, juicy, and acidic. Nicely done. The cider in the Wicked Wiles brand is based off a West English recipe which is then aged in either used Rye or Bourbon barrels. Malo-lactic fermentation softens the acids which allow the cider to blend more easily with the spirit flavors. The spirits still shine through so expect a much richer cider.

Wild Hare Cider, Bluemont
Located in western Loudoun County this is a new operation where the apples are harvested from the owner's orchard in the Shenandoah Valley. Currently they produce three ciders, the Hatch (a traditional dry cider), Windrush (cider aged in oak and chestnut staves), and Hopscotch (a dry hopped cider).

Potter's Craft Cider, Free Union
Located west of Charlottesville this is the only cider house not open to the public, although look for their 1965 Airstream Trailer mobile tasting room. This cider house specializes in American farmhouse cider and was founded by college friends Tim Edmond and Dan Potter. And these guys like to experiment. Besides the everyday Farmhouse Dry, they produce a Hop Cider (Citra and Amarillo), Oak Barrel Reserve (aged in used Laird & Company's Apple Brandy Barrels), a Grapefruit Hibiscus cider, and a Raspberries & Brett lambic styled cider. These were all unique and delicious; the latter three cocktails on their own.

Old Hill Cider, Timberville
Located near Harrisonburg, Old Hill is based out of Showalter's Orchard in the Shenandoah Valley. They produce a range of styles from dry to off-dry to ice-styled. These are Yesteryear (dry), Heritage (dry), Cidermaker's Barrel (wild yeast and barrel fermented), Betwixt (off-dry), and Season's Finish (ice-styled). The Cidermaker's Barrel was fabulous, both smokey and vanilla - but clear apple flavor and acidity. Their dry offerings are also solid and who can resist a nice dessert cider.

Mt. Defiance Cidery, Middleburg
Located in an old service station on the west side of town, this facility produces both ciders and spirits.  They specialize in very dry Virginia Farmhouse style ciders, and I mean dry. The tart apple flavors, tannins, and acids dominate. Their General's Reserve Barrel Aged is cider aged in used Wild Turkey bourbon barrels. And they offer a few infused ciders: Honey Hard Cider, Ginger Hard Cider, and Blueberry Hard Cider.  I've tasted the Ginger, it's not over the top in spices so I would expect the other two to be subtle as well.

Foggy Ridge Cider, Dugspur
Located in southwest Virginia off the Blue Ridge Parkway, ciders from Foggy Ridge are abundantly available despite their isolated geography.  The Serious Cider is a take on English ciders using mostly English apples. On the other hand, First Fruit portrays an American style and Stayman Winesap perhaps a more Virginia style.  This cider carries a heavy dose of apple flavors, tannins, and acids. Foggy Ridge also creates two Port styled ciders fortified with Apple Brandy from Laird & Company. These are lovely ciders.

Cobbler Mountain Cellars, Delaplane
Located off Route 66, this operation produces both ciders and wine with your choice of a wine bar or cider pub when you visit. Many of their ciders are flavored ciders like the Pumpkin Spice, Kicken' Cinnamon, Maple Stout, and Ginger Peach and made with traditional consumption apples like Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Fuji. Their Traditional Jeffersonian is a very nice dry cider and with a little more sweetness, the Original Honey blends acids and sweet apple flavors.

Corcoran Vineyards & Cider, Waterford
Located near Loudoun County, the Corcorans added cider to their repertoire last year. I visited a couple weeks back and tasted through several of their ciders. Their off-dry Sinful was a big hit.

Castle Hill Cider, Keswick
Located east of Charlottesville on a large historic estate, Castle Hill hosts a one of kind cider, the Levity, fermented and aged in kvevri buried in the ground. This technique is based on an 8,000 year old process originating in what is today the Republic of Georgia to produce wine. Castle Hill incorporated the approach to produce a fantastic cider. Their Terrestrial dry cider is also a clean fresh cider.

Bold Rock Cidery, Nellysford
Located in beautiful Nelson County near Devils Backbone Brewing Company this is the largest winery in Virginia. They also have a satellite tasting facility on top of Carter's Mountain in Charlottesville which I visited this summer. Their ciders are sweeter than most in order to be attractive to the broadest audience and you have probably seen their Virginia Apple, Virginia Draft, and Bold Rock Pear in stores. Less available is the Bold Rock IPA (I believe the Virginia Apple recipe dry hopped) and the Vintage Dry.

Blue Bee Cider, Richmond
After apprenticing at Albemarle CiderWorks Courtney Mailey headed to the city to open her own cider operation and plant an urban orchard. From that orchard and another in nelson County she creates some of the most delicious ciders in the Commonwealth. Start with the Aragon 1904 - a cider reaping with tart flavors and acids. I never heard of cider referred to as a blush or rose, but that's how she describes her Fanfare, an off dry cider infused with wild mulberries. Loads of plum flavors in this cider. Blue Bee also offers a hopped cider, the Hopsap Shandy with the Citra hops giving a shandy-ish lemon profile.

Albemarle CiderWorks, North Garden
Located south of Charlottesville this operation produces a dozen ciders, mostly single varietals. Whereas my ciders are blends, the single varietal ciders allow you to appreciate the individual variety such as Albermarle Pippen, Goldrush, Black Twig, Arkansas Black, and Winesap. Most of these apples are historically significant and have clear differences in flavor profiles. For the blends, the Red Hill and Jupiter's Legacy have traditionally been my favorites.

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