Thursday, January 2, 2014

Virginia Cider: Potter's, Albemarle & Foggy Ridge

"In early eighteenth-century New England, the most popular alcoholic drink, in terms of volume, was locally produced cider. Throughout much of this period, cider served as a currency. It was used to pay salaries and product prices could be quoted in barrels of cider."
--Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol by Iain Gately

When Europeans settled in America, apples were one of the first crops they introduced to the country. It is believed that the first cultivated apple trees were planted in the region which would eventually become Boston, as early as 1623. Apple trees spread through the colonies and by 1647, apples were grafted onto wild native rootstocks. A significant proportion of those apples ended up being made into hard cider. By 1775, about 10% of farms in New England owned and operated their own cider mills. However, the 19th century saw a waning in hard cider production and consumption.

In recent years, hard cider has seen a rebirth and renaissance, and numerous artisan cideries have opened all across the country. I have previously written about some of these new ciders, as I am a huge fan of hard cider. These hard ciders are being produced from many different apple types, including numerous heirloom varieties, and are made in a variety of styles too. It has become a creative endeavor and I am always intrigued to taste new ciders, from all across the country. For example, last year I tasted a number of ciders from Quebec.

Recently, I had the opportunity to sample three ciders from Virginia. Virginia has a lengthy history of cider production, and now hosts eight cideries, including Albemarle Ciderworks, Blue Bee Cider, Bold Rock Cider, Castle Hill Cider, Foggy Ridge Cider, Old Hill Cider, Potter's Craft Cider, and Winchester Ciderworks. Many of those cideries have been around for less than two years. Last year was also their second year hosting a Cider Week, which helps to promote their cideries. After tasting a few of their ciders, I was intrigued enough to want to sample more.

My favorite of the three ciders was the Potter's Craft Cider Farmhouse Dry. Potter's has been around for about two years, and has tried to revive the old style of American farmhouse ciders. They use traditional cider apples that have been grown in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Their Farmhouse Dry is made from a combination of Albemarle Pippin, Virginia Winesap, and Stayman apples. The cider was tank aged for 3-6 months before bottling, has an alcohol content of 8.5% and only 0.1% residual sugar.

What grabbed my attention was the complexity of this cider, the melange of aromas and flavors that I found within this bottle. Crisp and dry, it possessed bright fruit flavors of not only apple but also touches of pear, melon and even pineapple. A refreshing effervescence, a subtle tartness, a mild earthiness and a lengthy, pleasing finish. This was so tasty that it was easy to finish the bottle one evening, and then wishing I had a second one. Highly recommended.

I was also impressed with the Albemarle Ciderworks Royal Pippin. Albemarle, located in North Garden, has been around since 2009, and they grow over 200 apple varieties on their property. Their Royal Pippin is made the Albemarle Pippin apples, which were a favorite of Queen Victoria. The cider has an alcohol content of 8.5% and only 0.2% residual sugar.

This cider also possessed a nice complexity, as well as being dry and crisp. Plenty of apple flavors, there were also subtle notes of peach and pineapple. A light effervescence, a lush body, and a satisfying finish. This is another cider that it was very easy to finish, and left me desirous of more.

Foggy Ridge Cider, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has three orchards of American, English and French apples. Their Serious Cider is made from a combination of Dabinett, Tremlett's Bitter, Ashmead's Kernel, and Newtown Pippin apples. The cider spent 2 months on the lees and was then tank aged for 6 months before bottling. It has an alcohol content of 8% and 0.4% residual sugar.

This cider seemed to be the simplest of the three, a pleasant drink but not especially compelling. It also had a touch of sweetness to it, differentiating it from the other two more dry ciders. It possessed a nice apple taste, with a hint of spice, and was light bodies, with an easy drinking style. I would be interested in trying their other ciders to see how they compare.

In 2014, endeavor to drink more hard cider, and if you can obtain some Virginia cider, then do so. The Potter's and Albemarle as as good as any other ciders I have tasted, and both are worthy of a hearty recommendation.


Frank said...

Happy New Year, Richard. Thanks for reviewing the Virginia ciders (and apologies for messing up the date of the tasting). Hard cider has definitely seen a rebirth here in Virginia.

All the best in 2014!

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