Hard Apple Cider

Rediscovering a Virginia Tradition


Hewes’ Crab. Albemarle Pippin. Harrison. Grimes. Baldwin. Esopus Spitzenberg. Winesap. Apples. More specifically, cider apples with deep roots in The Commonwealth of Virginia. 

Each of these cultivars played an important role in the long history of hard cider in Virginia and are still grown today by some of the state’s most notable cideries.

From the founding of Jamestown through the Revolutionary era, hard cider made from apples was a common drink for both the rich and poor. Considered a source of nutrition and often safer to drink than water in many areas, cider was drank as much out of necessity as pleasure.

Though our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, may be better known for his love of wine and his many viticulture failures at Monticello, his home in Charlottesville, VA, hard apple cider was considered his ‘table drink’ and consumed with the main course of his meals. 
Between 1769 and 1814 Jefferson planted eighteen varieties of apples in the south orchard at Monticello, some of which are used today by Virginia cidermakers. Based on his many detailed farming notes, Jefferson was a discriminate farmer and particularly fond of four cider apple varieties; Taliaferro (now thought to be extinct), Newton Pippin, Esopus Spitzenburg, and Hewe’s Crab (also known as Virginia Crab). 
Hewe’s Crab is a small, nearly round apple with dull red skin highlighted with green-yellow streaks and was the most important horticultural cultivar in eighteenth-century Virginia according to Monticello.org.
While apple orchards and hard apple cider production for personal consumption was common in colonial Virginia, the popularity of hard cider waned in the mid-19th century.
The drop in cider consumption was widely thought to be due to the influx of German immigrants in the 1850s who brought with them new and more efficient methods of brewing beer. Making beer was cheaper and quicker than growing apples and harvesting once a year to make cider. 
Fast forward about 150 years and Virginia is on the threshold of a cider revival thanks to a small group of farmers dedicated to fine cider production.
One of the modern-day cider pioneers responsible for the cider renaissance in Virginia is Diane Flynt.
“We are the first cider producers south of Massachusetts to plant a cider apple orchard for the purpose of producing hard apple cider commercially,” says Diane Flynt, who founded Foggy Ridge Cider in the mid-1990s with her husband Chuck. 
Foggy Ridge Cider is situated on the Blue Ridge plateau in southwestern Virginia, equidistant between Roanoke, VA and Winston-Salem, NC, about 12 miles north of the Virginia-North Carolina border. 
A banker by trade, Flynt left the banking industry in the 1990’s to pursue what she calls her “last career,” in agriculture. 
Flynt studied cidermaking in England under Peter Mitchell, one of the most recognized global authorities on cider, and also took enology classes at Virginia Tech and Surry County Community College. Flynt counts the time she spent working with other cideries during the fermentation and bottling process among her most valuable learning experiences. 
The Flynts planted their first orchard at Foggy Ridge in 1997 and now have about 30 acres of semi-dwarf apple trees planted with 30 different cider apple varieties. The first Foggy Ridge Cider was released in 2005.
Today, with a total production of 5,300 cases, Foggy Ridge produces six different fine ciders — ranging from dry, light and zesty to a sweet dessert-style cider made with local apple brandy. My favorite, appropriately named Serious Cider, is crisp, light, and refreshing with notes of citrus and apple blossoms.
Flynt’s experience and dedication to the craft of artisan cidermaking shows in each Foggy Ridge cider.

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  • frank, this is a great write-up on my second favorite Virginia crafted adult beverage! Not only do I enjoy the ciders for all the reasons you mentioned, but they are also naturally Gluten Free...which is necessary for me. In addition to those you have mentioned, I am a fan of Potter's Craft made in Free Union just up the road from Glass House Winery, and of Bold Rock out in Nellysford along the Nelson, 151. Both as different as night and day and both with very interesting start up stories. If you haven't given either of them a try, you should!

    Oct 02, 2014 at 2:55 PM

  • Snooth User: Bill Davis
    943463 15

    West coast hard cider, we are blessed in Jefferson County, Olympic Peninsula, WA with 3 award-winning hard cider farms...check them out:
    ~Nancy & 'Bear" Bishop's Alpenfire Organic Hard Cider & Organic Vinegars: (http://alpenfirecider.com/)
    ~Crystie & Keith Kisler's Finnriver Farm & Cidery (http://www.finnriver.com/)
    ~Trudy & Jim Davis' Eaglemount Wine & Cider (http://eaglemountwineandcider.com/)

    Oct 02, 2014 at 5:01 PM

  • Thank you, Paulette. Now that you mention Potter's Craft Cider, I should stop by there this weekend for a visit since I'll be right there. (In looking at this, I should have named the other four Virginia cideries.) I hope this article will serve as a catalyst for some to decide to give Virginia cider a try. Cheers!

    Oct 02, 2014 at 7:02 PM

  • Snooth User: wegolfmd
    1542118 23

    Bold Rock in Nellysford has just opened a new large tasting room for its hard cider in several varieties. They have expanded in its 4 or so years and are now distributed from Penn to NC. Drop by as they are on the Route 151 corridor with wineries, breweries and a new distillery, just outside Charlottesville, on the way to Wintergreen. http://www.boldrock.com

    Oct 10, 2014 at 6:10 PM

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