By Monica Boland and Jessica Strelitz
World-class cider master Brian Shanks is a New Zealand native who makes hard cider in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Known to friends and fellow cider makers as Brian “Ciderman” Shanks, the president of Bold Rock Hard Cider in Nellysford, Va. has 25 years of experience in the hard cider industry. Within six months of opening its doors in July 2012, Bold Rock sold over 45,000 cases and is on track to more than double that amount this year.
“Bold Rock is bringing a modern contemporary style of hard cider to the people of Virginia and [the] surrounding areas,” Shanks said of the 50-acre farm. “We were the first in this region to put cider into six-packs and make it universally available at most supermarkets, bars and independent stores throughout Virginia, D.C. and a large part of Maryland.”
Shanks, who runs Bold Rock with cider maker John Washburn, said they have been delighted and overwhelmed by the number of positive responses they have received from people who have sampled their ciders. He attributes some of the cidery’s success to its location.
“Being made from local Virginia apples and freshly pressed for each batch is an important feature of Bold Rock,” he explained.
“Our cider is made fresh throughout the whole year, drawing on stocks put aside in controlled atmosphere cool stores. This gives our Bold Rock ciders a distinctly fresh and crisp appeal that often distinguishes us from competitors.”
Shanks said he and Washburn have also invested in modern high tech equipment that allows Bold Rock to be “a blend of artisan craft underpinned by modern technology.”
Bold Rock’s staff of 14 hard cider professionals creates two market-leading sellers: Virginia Apple and Virginia Draft. Virginia Apple, made predominantly from a blend of Granny Smith and similar apples, has a fresh, green apple taste.
“The [Virginia Apple] cider is 4.7 percent alcohol, naturally gluten-free and is crisp and refreshing,” Shanks said.
Virginia Draft is made from a broader range of apples including Rome, Red Delicious, Gala, Pink Lady and others to produce an “exceptionally smooth and mellow cider.” Shanks said it’s made to be very “sessionable” and is a leading brand in on tap situations in bars and restaurants where “its ease of drinking and smooth aftertaste mean people can enjoy more than one pint.”
Other ciders of note include the Crimson Ridge range of hard ciders, now available in 750 ml bottles and soon to be launched in a four-pack of 12 oz bottles, to increase their “availability and versatility of occasions.”
Shanks said these ciders are premium hard ciders fermented from a broad blend of Virginia apples to seven percent alcohol. He described Vat No 1 as “complex, smooth and with an off-dry finish” and Vintage Dry as “complex [and] smooth but with a dry finish.”
Bold Rock is now in the process of building a 12,500-square-foot, state-of -the-art cidery onsite to accommodate its rapid growth. The building, to be completed next spring, will showcase Bold Rock’s products and incorporate a modern tasting room and bar surrounding the new cidery.
Shanks said that the “use of 20-foot-high huge glass walls will allow visitors to truly experience the art of cider making [by] watching apples being pressed and [being] able to see the whole process through fermentation and bottling, whilst enjoying a bottle of Bold Rock and drinking in the scenery of the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and the Rockfish River below.”
In the meantime, visitors are welcome from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily to check out the temporary cider barns for tastings, tours and hard cider to go. Bold Rock welcomes customers to bring a picnic basket and enjoy purchased ciders outdoors on the deck or anywhere on the farm.
Shanks, who first got his start on an apple orchard in New Zealand and was instrumental in the launch of Woodchuck Hard Cider, said that apples and hard cider have been his life’s passion and have taken him around the world.
“It is very satisfying to make a product, sell it and then watch and experience people enjoying the fruits of your labor,” he said. “We see this on a daily basis in our cellar door shop and at the many festivals we attend.”
The acclaimed cider maker said he also enjoys the “people aspects of the job,” including the large number of interesting people he gets to meet and also watching and seeing some of his younger staff – who he fondly refers to as “Bold Rockers” – developing new skills and abilities.
“I have two cider makers who had no real experience when they started with Bold Rock, but [they] are rapidly acquiring skills that will eventually get them to being world leaders in their own right.”
Shanks said that he and his talented staff have future plans to produce a pear cider and a range of seasonals, all to be released in “the not too far future.”
As for now, he’s content to “enjoy the growth of Bold Rock, the continued revival of hard cider and the beautiful area of Virginia in which we work.”
Learn more about cider master Brian Shanks and Bold Rock Hard Cider at www.boldrock.com.
Bold Rock Hard Cider: 1020 Rockfish Valley Hwy. Nellysford, VA; 434-361-1030; www.boldrock.com
Said to be the next frontier in artisanal brews, hard cider is making a big comeback. In fact, according to Rachel Nania's “Hard Cider Orchards: Virginia's other wine country”, published by WTOP "Cider is the fastest-growing segment in the alcohol industry right now. The category grew over 60 percent last year".
But this isn’t just a fad, cider has a long history in the US. The story goes that in colonial America, fermented cider was the drink of choice. John Adams attributed his health and long life to a tankard of cider before breakfast. Thomas Jefferson’s champagne-like cider, made with Hewe’s Crabapples, was his “table drink”. Throughout the 19th century, growing apples and crafting cider from cider apples was an integral part of every community. Many factors contributed to the decline of cider in the US—the Industrial Revolution caused a decline in farms; immigration patterns changed and more beer drinkers arrived; Prohibition dealt the last blow and most cider orchards declined or were destroyed. But the trend is reversing, and no more so than in our area.
The reason? The Virginia climate just happens to be perfect for apple growing and orchards are abundant statewide. Many Virginia cidermakers aim to revive the cider tradition by growing, or encouraging others to grow cider apples, and by crafting fine cider.
For the second year, Virginia will celebrate this revival with Virginia Cider Week November 15 – 24. Numerous events, including cider and cheese pairings, workshops, dinners and signature tastings will take place at various locations. To learn more about Virginia Cider Week visit www.ciderweekva.com.
Homegrown Options in Maryland and Virginia
Charlotte Shelton and her family opened the cidery south of Charlottesville in 2009, after spending the previous decade growing more than 200 types of apple and other fruit trees. You can taste many of Albemarle’s seven ciders in its tasting room, open Wednesdays through Sundays, or pick up bottles at select retailers across Virginia and in DC. Shelton notes that her flagship bottle, Jupiter’s Legacy, pairs perfectly with pork. Production is 3,000 cases per year.
Albemarle Ciderworks: 2550 Rural Ridge Ln. North Garden, VA; 434-297-2326; www.albemarleciderworks.com
Blue Bee Cider
Virginia’s only urban cidery is located in downtown Richmond and produces a trio of cider blends from local heirloom apples. The Charred Ordinary and Aragon 1904 are both semi-sparkling products, perfect for a celebration, while Harvest Ration is a dessert drink, fortified with apple brandy. Blue Bee’s tasting room is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, and case production is about 1,500 per year. Like juice? The cidery offers raw, unfiltered, unpasteurized juice on an extremely limited basis during the fall and winter – track its availability on social media or via their mailing list.
Blue Bee Cider: 212 W 6th St. Richmond, VA; 804-231-0280; www.bluebeecider.com
Castle Hill Cider
From Yarlington Mill to Albemarle Pippin, Castle Hill is growing fruit to feed the future of its cider collection. The tasting room is open daily, and features gorgeous views of the orchards and a mahogany tasting bar where you can sample Castle Hill’s four ciders. Highlights include Terrestrial, a crisp blend of Winesap and Albemarle Pippins, and Levity, a sparkling Albermarle Pippin fermented in traditional clay vessels called kvevri, which are buried below the frost line on the orchard property. This ancient method allows the cider to ferment slowly at a constant, cool temperature.
Castle Hill Cider: 6065 Turkey Sag Rd. Keswick, VA; 434-296-0047; www.castlehillcider.com
Just as fine wine isn’t made with table grapes, the best cider isn’t made with apples you’d find in the supermarket. Foggy Ridge’s orchards are planted with traditional English and French cider apples and heirloom American apples, yielding five different ciders with unique and complex flavors. Cidermaker Diane Flynt is serious about her craft – her bottles are found in some of the top restaurants in the South, including Husk in Charleston and the Inn at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. Foggy Ridge distributes in six states beyond the DMV, with an annual case production of about 4,500.
Foggy Ridge: 1328 Pineview Rd. Dugspur, VA; 276-398-2337; www.foggyridgecider.com
Old Hill Cider
Old Hill offers three ciders, ranging in taste from rustic to bold. Cidermaker’s Barrel is fermented in bourbon barrels, Betwixt is “somewhere between beer and wine” and crisp, dry Yesteryear is made from a blend of Pippin, Winesap and Stayman apples. Guests can try the ciders Thursday through Saturday at Old Hill’s tasting room in Showalter’s Orchard, north of Harrisonburg, VA. More than 20 varieties of apples are grown on site.
Old Hill Cider: 17768 Honeyville Rd. Timberville, VA; 540-896-7582; www.oldhillcider.com
Potter’s Craft Cider
Potter’s Craft, started by Dan Potter and Tim Edmond in 2010, produces limited runs of two styles of hard cider: Farmhouse Dry and Oak Barrel Reserve, which is aged for six months in oak casks that were once home to Laird’s Apple Brandy. The pair met as undergrads at Princeton and dabbled in beermaking before turning to apples. Their cidery in Free Union doesn’t have a tasting room, but you can find Potter’s on draft and in bottles in several cities, including dozens of locations in Charlottesville and Richmond.
Potter’s Craft Cider: 4699 Catterton Rd. Free Union, VA; 850-528-6314; www.potterscraftcider.com
Cidermaker Stephen Schuurman and business partner Joshua Ussel’s first release is a light drink with a heavy name. Malice — a blend of five apples grown in the Shenandoah Valley – is made in the style of Schuurman’s English birthplace, striking a balance between acidity and sweetness. It’s available at two bars in Winchester, where the cidery is based. Later this year the duo plans to release Ciderye – a potent cider aged in rye whiskey barrels for eight months and available in 750ml bottles.
Winchester Ciderworks: 2502 N. Frederick Pike Winchester, VA; 540-247-9246; www.s467089712.onlinehome.us
Distillery Lane Ciderworks
Maryland’s first cidery, located outside of Burkittsville, only presses and ferments apples grown on its 95-acre farm. Distillery Lane produces 10 different varieties of cider, from the minimally processed American Extra Dry to the semi-sweet sparkling Celebration Cider, and is available at select locations in Maryland and DC. “Our drier ciders are wonderful with spicy meals,” recommends owner Patty Power. “[Cider] is wonderful to cook with as well. I use it in all my recipes that call for white wine.”
Distillery Lane Ciderworks: 5533 Gapland Rd. Jefferson, MD; 301-834-8920; www.distillerylaneciderworks.com
This winery and cidery boasts the closest tasting room to DC, pouring samples right across the city line at Heyser Farms in Silver Spring. Great Shoals released its first hard cider – Spencerville Red Hard Apple – in 2011, and now boasts several hard fruit beverages, including a Bosc and Bartlett Hard Pear and a Hard Peach. Cidermaker Matt Cimino suggests pairing smoked cheddar and roasted chicken sandwiches with the pear cider, and vegetarian sausages with the flagship Spencerville Hard Apple. Both are made with fruit from Heyser Farms in Montgomery County.
Millstone Handcrafted Artisinal Cider and Mead: The non-traditional “cider wines” at Millstone are crafted from heirloom cider apples, barrel fermented and then aged in the bottle for up to year before being released. Father-and-son team Curt and Kyle Sherrer create new blends seasonally, and often add raw honey and other fruits to the mix. Millstone, located in a refurbished 1840s grist mill in northern Baltimore County, offers free tours and tastings on Saturdays.
Great Shoals Winery at Heyser Farms: 14526 New Hampshire Ave. Silver Spring, MD; 410-849-9616; www.greatshoals.com
Angry Orchard’s Cinnful Apple & Angry Orchard Green Apple
Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple cider imparts a sweet, slightly tart apple flavor, balanced with the aroma of cinnamon spice. Enjoy hints of cocoa and a slight heat, with a dry and warm finish. This seasonal cider is refreshing and smooth yet warming, the perfect complement to the colder months ahead. The spicy flavor profile of Angry Orchard Cinnful Apple pairs well with fall holiday occasions and a variety of food such as creamy mac n’ cheese, butternut squash soup, ham, chili, pumpkin pie and ginger ice cream.
Angry Orchard’s newest cider, Green Apple has a bright, fresh apple flavor with notes of sweet honeydew melon and kiwi that balance the lively apple tartness, all leading to a dry and slightly tart finish. Green Apple’s soft, bright acidity complements heavier flavors of smoked meats and sharp cheeses, as well as sweet desserts. The cider also pairs well with sweet potato casserole, roasted pork tenderloin and pecan pie.
These new releases are made with American culinary apples from Washington state and are gluten-free. To learn more about Angry Orchard visit www.angryorchard.com.