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Chesapeake Farm to Fork

Dec 08, 2018 12:00AM ● By Brian Saucedo

By Rita Calvert

Welcome to hard cider culture, a creative new genre comprised of folks who are bringing back tradition with a carefully handcrafted skill. Like craft beer, hard cider—brewed with cultivated yeast (yeast that is grown in cultures for purposes such as brewing) and with skillful attention to a few key elements (terroir, sugar content, acidity, and tannin levels)—is experiencing a huge resurgence.

Odd perhaps, but true, it is a less palatable apple with its high tannins, bitter sharpness, and a hard texture that is ideal for this incredibly sought-after popular drink. Indeed, hard ciders invite the adventurous exploration one might pursue with wine varietals. Once challenging to find, the intriguing new hard ciders are becoming more popular in liquor stores, bars, and restaurants.

Hard cider is definitely taking a slice of the craft beer market and bringing its own ancient roots to the forefront. Evidence of intentional apple/fruit fermenting (in fact, hard cider can be any fruit, not just apples as we might assume) goes back to 55 B.C. As Romans captured present-day Britain, they found the locals fermenting apple juice into an alcoholic beverage. Historians suggest it was often consumed as an alternative to unsafe drinking water.

“The cider industry in Maryland is growing briskly, with a few new cideries opening later this year into the spring,” says Kevin Atticks, the founder and CEO of Grow & Fortify, a company that guides, builds, educates, advocates, and markets for all of Maryland’s alcoholic product producers. “Many new cideries are existing apple orchards that decide to produce cider commercially and get regulated as either a winery or brewery.ˮ 

“Since the Appalachian foothills provide the best climate for apple orchards, we see startups in Montgomery, Frederick, Carroll, and Washington counties,” he adds.

Hard cider creates an entirely new category for the apple orchard, as the modern masters bring back the ancient art. The process is less complex than beer making as it has the benefit of not needing heat. It is readily achieved, given adequate time for the fruit to ferment.

Thinking of hard cider as sweet juice? Au contraire. It gets dry-hopped, barrel-aged, and experimented on for a wide variety of beverage palates. In Maryland, hard cider must be licensed as wine because of the fermentation process. That means you may well find more “wineries” offering hard ciders.

Hard cider is made from pure apple juice, so it offers similar nutrition to that of fresh juice. Hard cider, like unfermented juice, contains some vitamin C while tannins make it rich in antioxidants. The amount of antioxidants in hard cider outweighs that found in green or black tea, or even a serving of some vegetables.

Distillery Lane Ciderworks

Distillery Lane Ciderworks has a rich back story for its 95 acres just outside Burkettesville. Known as “The Encampment,” the farm was a Union camp leading up to the battle of Antietam. The farmhouse, adjacent carriage house, and Civil War-era barn foundation still stand on the property. In 2001, Robert Miller, his wife Patty Power, and children moved to the farm and put in a 1,000-tree apple orchard with plans for fresh and hard cider. The cider house was built and began fully operating in 2008 as a family-run Maryland winery, becoming the first licensed cidery in the state.

It has a large selection of varietal apples (for specific purposes such as baking), British apples, Japanese apples, and heritage, like those that George Washington grew at Mount Vernon. The Mount Vernons are reserved just for the cider. Many of these apples are available in the tasting room. With all of the apple varieties, a selection of hard cider is made here, including sparkling, aged, and seasonals.

A self-guided walking tour around the orchard gives plenty of apple facts and special signs for kids to follow, and there is a monthly cider-making class for beginners in the offseason (January to July). Visit DLC, as it is known, along the historic trail in Frederick County and part of the Gettysburg Wine and Fruit Trail and Valley Craft Network to explore the rich history of the region.

Faulkner Branch Cidery Distilling Company

Taste the fruit of Maryland’s Atlantic Coastal Plain growing region and visit Lynda and Stephen Blades at Blades Orchard in Federalsburg on the Eastern Shore. The Blades have transformed a rundown orchard to a thriving business selling fruits, sparkling bottled ciders, and fermented hard ciders, plus you can pick your own apples off the trees. Faulkner Branch Cidery was up and running in 2015 and is a family business run by the entrepreneurial couple and their daughter, Olivia. In fact, this young woman is also a self-starter and drives the tractor at the farm for the hayride tour and has also started her own produce stand from the farm harvest, naming it “College Fund.”

Faulkner Branch Cidery has been instrumental in the official proclamation by Caroline County to establish October as the first-ever Shore Craft Beer and Hard Cider Month. Its tasting room adjoins the orchard as a friendly place to relax and chat in what is modeled as a prohibition speakeasy.  

You can find the family weekends at Anne Arundel County Farmers’ Market (corner of Harry S Truman Parkway and Riva Road) and sample their hard cider and some of the other produce they grow.

Willow Oaks Craft Cider

Thirty years ago, Eric Rice and Lori Leitzel Rice first planted their 35-acre apple orchard on the slopes of a former cornfield and nurtured what became Willow Oaks Farm. They craft their farmhouse style cider from certified organic, American heirloom apples on their farm in Middletown in small batch barrel fermentation. They were the first certified organic orchard in the Maryland.

Eric implemented Maryland’s organic program while expanding the farm by adding organic pears, blueberries, black currants, and other fruits which became ingredients in Willow Oaks’ ciders. These fruity ciders are artfully designed to finish with a crisp dryness, one of which is named “Gloaming.” It won the 2017 Governor’s Cup Gold Medal and Best in Class and is beautifully described on the Willow Oaks website: “The sunny, bright disposition of our straight up apple cider goes dark and moody with the addition of organic black currants. The word gloaming is from the Old English verb ‘glōwan,’ ‘to glow.’ By the early 1800s, English speakers began to use the Scottish verb gloam, ‘to become twilight’ or ‘to grow dark.’ All the magic of nightfall with the remaining rays of sunlight. Gloaming [features] organic apples and black currents fermented to a tart, dry finish and gorgeous purple twilight color.”

Located 13 miles west of Frederick, Maryland, the orchard welcomes you to take a picnic, check out their farmstand, and browse their gallery of local art.

Great Shoals

Matt Cimino, owner and winemaker of Great Shoals has been noted as someone to watch by wine aficionados. One of their tasting rooms is located in Tacoma Park and partners with Maryland farmers to source the high-quality fruits within the Chesapeake watershed to produce excellent Maryland wines and hard ciders. Matt grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and named the company after the Great Shoals Lighthouse, which marked the route home in his father’s boat. The company also has one tasting room on South Talbot Street in St. Michaels.

Great Shoals’ third tasting room, Boyer Cellars, is located near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Cimino grows the fruit within the rolling hills of Biglerville.

Great Shoals’ first product was released in March of 2011. Spencerville Red Hard 

Apple earned Gold and Best in Class Hard Cider at that year’s Maryland Governor’s Cup wine competition. At the time of this writing, Winesap is Great Shoals’ newest hard cider edition, made solely from Winesap apples, making it crisp and dry.

“The cider bottle market is strong, but the keg/tap market is even stronger as many restaurants carry the local brews,” Atticks says. “One of our cideries—Great Shoals—makes a fresh fermented cider that’s incredibly popular at events and festivals, which gets ‘tastes’ out to the public.”