The sixth largest apple producer in the nation, Virginia has been pressing cider since Captain John Smith instructed Jamestown settlers to plant orchards for their own survival. Safer than contaminated water sources, nutritious hard cider was the primary drink for colonists, and cider vinegar was vital for pickling crops for winter storage. Cider was so critical to the growing colony that Lord Thomas Fairfax, who owned much of the land in Northern Virginia, stipulated in his leases that tenants be required to plant and maintain an orchard of at least 100 trees.
Fortunately, Virginia orchards remain plentiful today, so a locally sourced, craft apple beverage is never far from reach.
Hard cider is made when raw mashed apples are pressed into fresh juice and left to ferment, turning the sugars into alcohol. Like wine and beer, hard ciders vary greatly in taste and character, so it’s fun to visit cidery tasting rooms to try out different labels. Fire pits, live entertainment, and social events like karaoke and trivia nights often add to the fun while getting to know these ciders by tap, bottle, or can.
Where to start? Head to Lost Boy Cider in Alexandria to try the 2020 Comeback Kid, voted Best in Show in Virginia’s 2021 Governor’s Cup competition. Unfiltered, unpasteurized, and sugar-free, this tangy dry classic is great alone, as part of a flight, or packaged to go. Also sample Lost Boy’s peppery En Fuego, simple Wingman, or strawberry basil Thai Rope Walker.
Wild Hare Hard Cider Pubs provides cozy seating at locations in Leesburg, Middleburg, and Warrenton, and offers containers and growlers for pick-up. Check out their champagne-like flagship Hatch (dry with hints of citrus) or the Saxby, infused with fresh ginger and a twist of lime.
Sharing property with family-friendly destination Great Country Farm, Henway Hard Cider Company in Bluemont offers great mountain views, plus a food menu, fishing pond, live music, and a firepit. Spend the day and sample the flavors, including the semi-sweet flagship Coop, the Blueberry Lavender, or the dry Brut, maybe in a mimosa.
Mount Defiance Cider Barn in Middleburg offers classic and craft ciders, some infused with ginger or co-fermented, sometimes with honey, blueberries, or peppers. Take a seat by the fireplace and try a flight; General’s Reserve, Ginger, and Old Volstead’s are great choices.
Old Town Cidery is a hip outdoor tasting room at North Cameron Street in downtown Winchester serving cider 100 percent grown, pressed, fermented, and packaged by Glaize Apples.
Winchester Ciderworks on North Frederick Pike has a flagship cider called Malice that follows proper English cider traditions, and its Wicked Wiles Bourbon off-dry cider is aged in bourbon barrels for at least eight months, giving tart and sour notes when chilled, but bourbon notes when warmed in your hand.
Cobbler Mountain Cider sells through Wegmans and other merchants, but visit the taproom in Delaplane to sample more than three dozen creative small-batch ciders and blends, including Orange Cinnamon, Apple Donut, Cranberry Ginger, and Harvest Pumpkin. It’s situated on 90 acres near Thumb Run Creek, with hiking trails, picnic tables, and firepits.
Apple Wine and Cocktails
The biggest difference between hard cider and wine is the alcohol content, with the wine being in the higher range of 8 to 14 percent ABV. Apple Jack (brandy) is made by distilling hard cider to further increase the alcohol content.
Corcoran Vineyards & Cider in Waterford has handcrafted ciders and port-style wines (aged for eight years in whiskey barrels).
Fabbioli Cellars in Leesburg has its 2020 Sparkling Chambourcin, with notes of strawberries and cream, black cherries, and pomegranate.
Ireland’s Four Provinces in Falls Church is serving Caramel Kissed Hot Cider, with vodka, brown sugar rim, and cinnamon bark.
West Oaks Farm Market in Winchester offers apple cider mimosas loaded with soaked apple chunks, to be enjoyed while listening to live music on the patio.
True Food Kitchen in Reston lists its Common Bond featuring bourbon, pressed apple, chai spice, and lemon.
Cap things off at Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern in Herndon, and its Captain Spiced Cider, blended with rum and spices, will put apples on your cheeks in no time.
Try This at Home
Shared with Permission by Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (VA ABC)
Though its roots are in the cocktails of colonial America, this party punch came of age in the suburban 50s. It’s especially good for fall entertaining.
1 1/2 oz (44.36 mL) black rum
4 oz (118.29 mL) apple cider
1 oz (29.57 mL) lemon juice
1/2 oz (14.79 mL) simple syrup
Heat the apple cider. Mix all ingredients in glass or mug. Garnish with cinnamon stick and split apple rounds.
This is the basic recipe. Easily scalable and tweaked—and open for improvisation: Use a proportion of hard cider or add apple brandy or Calvados. Use bourbon instead of rum. Add a few dashes of cinnamon-flavored spirits, such as schnapps or vodka. Use ginger beer or add a few dashes of ginger liqueur. Emphasize the citrus with a few dashes of triple sec or other orange-flavored liqueur. Try it cold, instead of hot.
Just the Juice, Without the Punch
Unfiltered pressed ciders and filtered apple juices contain no alcohol but pack a lot of flavor. Industry giant White House Foods has been processing nonalcoholic juice, ciders, and vinegar at its factory headquarters in Winchester since 1908, selling through grocery markets in every state in the country.
Local favorite cidermaker Rinker Orchards in Stephens City produces more than 100,000 gallons of its popular pure Rinker’s Apple Cider annually, sold chilled at farm stands and markets across the region. Taking a jug home? Try this recipe from George Washington’s Mount Vernon:
1 stick cinnamon, 3 inches long
2 whole allspice
2 whole cloves
1 quart cider
2/3 cup brown sugar
Place spices in bag. Boil cider, spices, and sugar five minutes. Remove spice bag and boil five more minutes. Serve hot. Serves six.
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