Ever try cider made from the Harrison apple? The variety was the most prized cider apple of the colonial era. Originally grown in New Jersey, it makes outstanding cider but it went out of production during Prohibition, explains Courtney Mailey, founder of Blue Bee Cider in Richmond, Virginia. It was rediscovered in the ‘70s just as the last known tree was about to be bulldozed.
Now Blue Bee makes cider from produce of about 100 Harrison trees, all descended from the sole survivor. Harrison offers a good balance between sugar, acid and tannin, creating a dry beverage for Blue Bee at 8.5 percent ABV.
This is one of many unique and inventive ciders that will be available during Cider Week Virginia and its variety of events throughout the Commonwealth, which kicks off today and runs through Nov. 18.
Beyond the Apple
But you don’t have to confine yourself to apple cider. Pawpaw cider is also on the menu. Courthouse Creek Cider is harvesting pawpaw — part of an effort to bring recognition to endangered or extinct local foods, explains Liza Cioffi, co-owner of the Richmond-based cidery.
Pawpaw, a Mid-Atlantic native fruit, grows only near water. “It has a very short shelf life — once it falls off the tree and is ripe, it only lasts about three days,” Cioffi says. “Most people have never heard of the pawpaw unless they are foresters or live on the land. It’s like a tropical fruit, perhaps a cross between a mango and cherimoya, looking like a pineapple with smooth skin.”
Courthouse Creek is planning to initiate a pawpaw fire cider, in which they fermented the cider then reduced it to be more of an aperitif in style. Courthouse Creek plans to serve it as part of a cider dinner during the week and offer any leftover in tasting rooms.
Cider Week Virginia attendees can also try Inkjet, a blackberry-mint-infused cider invented by cidermaker Brent Miles of Sly Clyde Ciderworks of Hampton. He describes the 6.7 percent ABV, semisweet sip as a “blackberry mojito masquerading as a cider, [which] deftly combines sweet, savory and just a little bit of tart in a gluten-free cider you can drink all day.”
Meanwhile, Castle Hill Cider of Keswick is preparing its 2017 Levity cider, fermented in a qvevri, an ancient terracotta vessel of Georgian origin, submerged underground to keep cold then bottled to create natural carbonation. “The vessels are lined with beeswax because that shows they could maintain life force,” explains Stuart Madany, Castle Hill cidermaker and orchard manager. For the same reason, qvevris are shaped like eggs, as our fermenting ancestors understood that ovals would collect energy.
“In my studies, I was introduced to this guy named Viktor Schauberger, an Austrian forester and original thinker,” Madany adds. “He devised this way of making compost that was supercharged with stable energy he called ‘levity,’ hence the name.”
On the other side of the state in the Shenandoah Valley, Old Hill Hard Cider will offer Season’s Finish ice cider, a blend of 10 varieties, mainly variants of Pippins and Golden Delicious. Owner Shannon Showalter explains it takes five gallons of cider to reduce to one gallon of the ice cider and that he adopted the idea from cider made in Vermont and Canada. However, unlike in these classic ice cider regions, the apples won’t freeze on trees in Virginia. “It’s not that cold [here] so we press the juice and we freeze that juice solid,” he says. “We end up with a syrupy product really high in sugar and acid. We then ferment that at a real slow pace.”
Whether sipping at a slow or fast pace, attendees to the various Cider Week Virginia events will discover regional cider of all types, from creative infusions to ancient production methods and nearly extinct apples.