An old mountain libation – with its roots in the days before grapes were widely grown in the Southern Appalachians – is making a comeback at several spots in the Blue Ridge region.
Hard cider might best be described as the shy, yet surprisingly evocative, sister to wine. She might not get much attention compared to her well-known relative, but once people get to know her, they are usually captivated.
Little known and often misunderstood, hard cider is crafted just like wine, only instead of beautiful, delicate grapes, the ingredients are often ugly, bitter apples. That is why the early settlers of America cherished cider as one of their favorite alcoholic libations.
Grapes were hard to grow in this new land, but apples were easy, especially in the cooler northern climates. Our ancestors from England, who were quite familiar with cider, were inclined to grow what they knew and loved, but then dramatic changes in the world started the rapid decline of the popularity of hard cider, from which it has never fully returned. Immigration from lands such as Germany, where beer was the popular beverage, as well as countries where wine was definitely king, soon changed the national landscape of desired drinks. Throw in Prohibition and the sudden ease of transporting wine and beer across the nation with the new railroads and cider’s moment in the spotlight was all but over.
Though cider might have had its heyday years ago, there is a new generation of connoisseurs who are passionate about delving back into history and keeping the unique flavors of the drink alive. There are currently only a handful of innovative hard cider producers in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but an increased public passion to learn more about the libation means that there are many plans in the works for future cider orchards and tasting rooms.
To explore the origins of modern-day hard cider in the southeast, you have to visit Foggy Ridge Cider in Dugspur, Va.
“I don’t particularly want to be called the grandmother of cider in the south,” owner Diane Flynt says, “but we were the first to focus exclusively on apple orchards to make cider.” Surprisingly, there is a huge difference between the apple orchards growing apples for pies, juice and eating compared to the apples that are grown for cider. Cider apples tend to be small, imperfect and, often, too full of tannins and acidity to eat with pleasure.
Foggy Ridge Cider was the first hard cider-making facility to open in Virginia. In 1997, Flynt gave up the big-city corporate life to embrace a more rural, agricultural setting. Though she makes an alcoholic beverage that most people are not familiar with, the setting and the process should be very familiar to visitors.
“I say that I own a winery, but I focus full time on making cider,” Flynt says. “I consider myself a fruit grower who takes great care with the fruit that I grow and how I harvest it. Unlike the large grocery store cider brands, the difference in flavor is the way that I treat it. When the apples are absolutely, perfectly ripe, then I’m out there picking them.”