Friday, August 12, 2022

Inventing the Catoctin Mountain Craft Beverage Trail

According to wikipedia, the "Catoctin Mountain, along with the geologically associated Bull Run Mountains, forms the easternmost mountain ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are in turn a part of the Appalachian Mountains range. The ridge runs northeast–southwest for about 50 miles (80 km) departing from South Mountain near Emmitsburg, Maryland, and running south past Leesburg, Virginia, where it disappears into the Piedmont in a series of low-lying hills near New Baltimore, Virginia. The ridge forms the eastern rampart of the Loudoun and Middletown valleys".

Furthermore, "Catoctin Mountain traverses Frederick County, Maryland, and extends into northern Loudoun County, Virginia. It rises to its greatest elevation of 1,900 feet (580 m) above sea level just southwest of Cunningham Falls State Park and is transected by gaps at Braddock Heights (Fairview Pass), Point of Rocks on the Potomac River, and Clarke's Gap west of Leesburg, as well as several other unnamed passes in Maryland and Virginia. The mountain is much lower in elevation in Virginia, reaching its highest peak just south of the Potomac at Furnace Mountain (891 feet/271 m) and with only one peak above 800 feet (240 m) south of Leesburg".

This past Sunday I decided to visit a few craft beverage establishments starting near Frederick, Maryland then move south towards the Potomac and back into the Commonwealth.  Inadvertently I had traversed a potential Catoctin Mountain Craft Beverage Trail running parallel to the mountain and along Route 15. Seems like a well-matched partnership that the proper entities should investigate.

Dragon Distillery, Frederick Maryland
I set out for this distillery in order to sample a couple of their Ready-to-Drink cocktails as we wind down the BevFluence RTD campaign. And I learned earlier that they were the first East Coast distillery to launch an RTD product.  They have a couple that I really enjoyed starting with the 20 proof Dragon's Mule - a take on the popular Moscow Mule. The recipe calls for Barritt's Ginger Beer, vodka, and artificial flavors; I was surprised by its lack of sweetness and generally pleasant vibe. I also sat down to their 38-proof Dragon's Draft Bourbon & Cream Soda. Although it uses sugar-free cream soda it comes across as a little sweeter but plays nicely with the bourbon.  

On previous visits I had tasted their traditional moonshine and whiskey, so today I delved into their flavored products starting with the FigZilla Fig Infused Whiskey. Despite the name, vanilla overtakes the subtle fig which is most noticeable on the nose. A very smooth, drinkable whiskey.  You must be a coffee lover to enjoy the Dwarven Morning Blend -- where coffee completely overwhelms the white rum. Instead, I came home with a bottle of the Sultan's Surprise Toasted Coconut rum for its cocktail potential. It has a little more burn than the other two, but the toasted coconut will play nicely with the iCiNG Pina Colada flavor shots. 

Willow Oaks Craft Cider and Wine, Middletown Maryland
This cidery is a subset of Country Pleasures Farm, a 35-year-old family farm and orchard located in the Middletown Valley - with Catoctin Mountain in the background. While talking to proprietor Eric Rice, I learned quite a bit about the region's history, the farm, and Maryland cider regulations. His, and many surrounding farms, were originally part of a colonial land grant that waited until the late 20th century to be subdivided.  Rice planted his farm 35 years ago and at the time there were no certified organic farms in the Free State and not a single organic orchard on the East Coast. More firsts on this tour - the first organic farm in Maryland and the first organic orchard on the Atlantic. Rice has planted a large number of traditional cider apples, some newer varieties, a couple English and French cidre apples, plus Asian pears.  Even though cider is the focus, Maryland regulations are still in their infancy where cider making was illegal only 13 years ago; thus Willow Oaks is registered as a winery.  

The ciders are all fermented using natural yeast and at times bottled unfiltered.  I went through a flight of six which highlighted the preferences of Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson. The All In is their flagship and this organic cider blend is aged in neutral oak barrels. The natural fermentation is telling, with an appealing refreshing finish. The Blue Note enhances this process with organic blueberries adding tartness and berry fruit to the tangy apples. The Confluence is a juicy heritage blend of Spitzenburg and Winesap apples with rounded tannins that provide a contrast to the previous tangy ciders.  I was all in on this cider, bringing a bottle home. The Appearition was the first perry on the flight but was overshadowed by the Pairing - also organic Asian pears, but this time infused with fresh pressed ginger juice. Very unique.  The final cider, and another in my cellar, was the Gloaming, a delicious blend of organic apples and organic black currants. Tart for sure, but also dry, fruity, and refreshing. 

Smoketown Brewing Station, Brunswick Maryland
Situated on the Potomac River, Brunswick is a transportation and recreation hub with many activities involving the river and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath. It also contains a bridge spanning the Potomac that leads directly into the bowels of Loudoun county. Smoketown Brewing Station sits in a converted fire station and theatre near the bridge and houses plenty of history within its walls. Plus the spirit of Walter Rice which is the namesake for their best offering, the Walter's Spirit Bourbon Barrel Aged Porter. This beer was aged four months in A. Smith Bowman bourbon barrels and is one of the best of 2022; an excellent melding of chocolate and bourbon & honey and vanilla. The brewery has plenty of other beer styles ready to satisfy the most discriminating palate. I enjoyed the low abv "Cherry Lane Social Club" Cherry Berliner Weisse enough to purchase a crowler. The Patsy Hazy IPA is named after the famous country singer who once performed in the second story Swing Hall and is juicy and delicious. The Fighting Fifth Cream Lager was a little too sweet for this palate, but the "Couchboy" Pilsner is a new favored lawnmower beer. 

Corcoran Vineyards and Cider, Waterford Virginia
Our favorite family cider and wine producer is on a direct line from Brunswick, over the Potomac on the Berlin Turnpike. A historical note that Brunswick was once called Berlin until it started being confused with the town on the Eastern Shore. Lori and Jim are good friends so I try to visit whenever I'm in the area.  Their standard flight of ciders consists of the Sinful, Original, Popo Peach, and Knot Head. These are made using Virginia-grown apples and each with a unique technique. The Sinful is dry but with added cinnamon and all-spice. The Original is just apples but fermented using champaign yeast. As the name suggests, Popo Peach includes some peach juice and the Knot Head is aged in whiskey barrels. This last is still my favorite, but they are all solid ciders. Would love to see these and other Maryland and Virginia ciders in the Cider: New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy campaign. Cheers. 

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