Sipping Apples: Virginia Hard Cider

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Sipping Apples: Virginia Hard Cider

By Ken Wilson –

Not so long ago, hard cider was stuff you bought at the grocery store and let sit around too long. Or maybe you’d put it out on the porch to ferment on purpose, checking it every once in a while as it developed that tang and that slightly alcoholic edge.

Either way, the transformation from family dinner and snack time accompaniment to interesting adult beverage was artless not artisanal. You didn’t pick and crush your own apples, inject the juice with carbonation after you fermented it, then add exotic flavors. You didn’t do what more and more curious and creative and entrepreneurial Central Virginians are doing, and experiment with every type of local apple, make a dozen or more varieties spiced with exotic flavorings, and open a cidery.

As a matter of fact, cider was an everyday drink in America’s early days when apples were the  mainstay fruit. John Adams enjoyed a tankard-full before breakfast and America’s First Gourmet, Thomas Jefferson, made it from the Taliaferro apple, one of eighteen varieties he’d planted and is unfortunately now extinct.

What folks like Tim Edmond and Dan Potter and their fellow mad cider scientists in the Central Virginia countryside are doing is reviving and expanding on an old American culinary tradition. And while it’s hard to tell what George Washington would have thought of “a copper-colored cider with hints of caramel, molasses, butterscotch, and raisins,” to 21st century palates trained on boutique wines and microbrews, it piques interest and hits the spot.

Potter’s Craft Cider
Tim Edmond and Dan Potter were beer-brewing, nature-loving college buddies at Princeton who headed off to desk jobs post-graduation, but kept meeting weekends to  pursue the good life. In 2009 they began experimenting with cider, and in 2011, on the site of a former horse veterinary clinic in Free Union, they founded Potter’s Craft Cider.

Their 18 different ciders range from sober sounding creations like Oak Barrel Reserve, produced with traditional barrel-aging techniques, to more fanciful offerings like the soon to be released Enigma, made with Australian grown hops and redolent of red currant, raspberry and pinot gris. Their Charlottesville tasting room and cider garden, operated in a collaboration with the Bridge PAI!, are open Fridays from 4:00 to 10:00 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 10:00 p.m. 

Blue Toad Hard Cider
First dreamed up in 2013 “in the back of a cold garage in Scottsville, New York by three childhood friends with diverse backgrounds,” Blue Toad Hard Cider takes three to four different apple varieties grown in Nelson County and western New York and blends them at its cideries in Roseland and Rochester. Blue Ridge Blonde, a light, straw-colored cider with a pear note finish, is made from Golden Delicious, Red Delicious and Granny Smith apples. APA Triple Hopped is advertised as a cider for IPA drinkers. Each of Blue Toad’s four flagship ciders and eight current seasonal offerings—including a new blueberry variety—can be tasted at its cidery at High View Farm in Roseland, Friday 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Bold Rock Hard Cider
One Bold Rock partner grew up in Virginia and the Carolinas and owned farmland in Nelson County. The other grew up farming in New Zealand, bought an apple orchard and, after a devastating cyclone, gathered his fallen fruit for what would become an award-winning New Zealand cider.

Southerner reached out to New Zealander, and the two built a cider barn in Nellysford and sold their first bottle of Bold Rock cider in 2012. Bold Rock now uses 11 different types of apples, all from within 35 miles of their production facility, and offers nine varieties of cider year round and five more in season.

Visitors to timber-framed Bold Rock Cider Barn—or Chapel of the Apple as it’s informally known —can sample ciders by the fireplace in the rustic Tap Room and discover the history of cider making in the United States in the Cider Museum.

The facility welcomes visitors Monday through Thursday and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. for complimentary tours and tastings of their two flagship brands—the Virginia Apple and Virginia Draft. Pints, flights, food and cider-to-go are for sale.

Castle Hill Cider
Pressing apples on an American-made press, fermenting their juice in German-made tanks, and burying it for fermentation in traditional terra-cotta vessels from the Republic of Georgia, Castle Hill Cider makes nine varieties of cider, including Big Pippin, fortified with oaked apple spirits and pressed ginger. The cidery sits on land once part of the 600-acre Castle Hill estate, which dates to 1764 and was the first place in Albemarle County to plant Albemarle Pippin apples, soon to become a major cash crop.

The estate was originally the home of Colonel Thomas Walker, guardian and mentor to Thomas Jefferson. Over the years it has hosted Patrick Henry, Robert E. Lee, and seven U.S. presidents. Visitors to Castle Hill Cider will find indoor and outdoor tasting areas, an orchard, a lake, and lawns bordered by cherry trees and wisteria arbors. The cidery is open Monday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Albemarle CiderWorks
“There is nothing in our cider except apples,” says Charlotte Shelton of Albemarle CiderWorks in North Garden, which offers 12 different varieties of it. “No flavorings, no water. With one or two of them we add a tiny bit of sugar right at the end in order to modulate the acidity, but other than that there is nothing added.”

Jupiter’s Legacy, Albemarle’s flagship cider, is a blend of apples that changes annually in accordance with each year’s harvest. “We put into that all our best cider apples,” Shelton says.

What they get is a drink with a pleasingly astringent tannin and a tart apple finish. The 1817 cider, based on a recipe in a text on cultivating fruit trees and managing orchards published in the year 1817, is comprised of three different cider apples. Albemarle’s tasting room is open 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

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