By David Williams
Completing a journey begun when the first English settlers arrived in Virginia carrying apple saplings with their few belongings, hard cider has returned to Loudoun County where, as in most of the nation, it once held sway as America’s favorite alcoholic drink. With the opening of Corcoran’s Cidery at the Corcoran Vineyards off the Berlin Pike on July 5 and the opening on August 1 of Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery in the heart of Middleburg, Loudoun has a new product to boast of.
Jim and Lori Corcoran already run a successful winery at their farm vineyard. They recently moved a brewery business away from the farm into a brewery and tasting room on Hirst Road in Purcellville. The new cidery is housed in the space which previously housed the brewery. Lori expects to produce 150 barrels at 55 gallons each in the first year of operation. The cider is made from seven different varieties of apple grown near Winchester. They will start off with four types, a basic off-dry cider, a sweeter variety, one aged in bourbon barrels and one with some fruity addition like pear or berries. The cider will be served on tap, and sold in kegs or 22 oz bottles. The alcoholic content of the Corcoran’s light, gluten –free drink is about the same as beer, five percent.
In Middleburg, finishing touches are being made to the Mt. Defiance cidery and distilling business. Owner Marc Chretian wanted an elegant locale for what he hopes will be a pure dry cider close to the famous cidres of Normandy, France, which are bottled and enjoyed like champagne. Chretian says his ciders will not be quite like champagne but will have “a little effervesence that dances on your palate” and about 6 percent alcohol. Cider will be in several styles, one basic dry farmhouse, one aged in bourbon barrels and one flavored with ingredients such as ginger or blueberry. They are also planning to distill apple brandy, dark rum and a true Absinthe, now safe and totally legal which should be available in time for Halloween.
These new businesses will add to what is a growing enterprise in rural Loudoun, attracting tourists and enhancing the county’s reputation. Modern cideries already exist throughout Virginia. Winchester Ciderworks had a booth at the Purcellville Wine and Food festival in July. The line of people patiently waiting to taste this new product was one of the longest at the event. North of Loudoun, in Burkittsville, Md., Distillery Lane Ciderworks is establishing a reputation for brewing especially elegant ciders. Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge ciders in the southwest corner of the state has been one of the pioneers in Virginia. All of this is part of a revival of a drink not yet widely known in the U.S.
But cider once was America’s favorite drink, more popular than beer. John Adams said he drank a tankard every morning. Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia in 1676 was blamed at the time by a leading politician on cider: “All plantations flowing with syder, soe unripe drank by our licentious inhabitants, that they allow no tyme for its fermentation but in their braines.” A popular ditty of the day from Maryland boasted, “Our fires are wood/Our houses are good,/Our diet sawney and hominy/Drink, juice of the apple/Tobacco’s our staple/Gloria Tibi Domine!”
Why hard cider ceased to be so popular is a mystery still debated. (See http:mason.gmu.edu/~drwillia/cider). Prohibition certainly did a number on most alcoholic drinks, but cider alone failed to recover its prior popularity, until recently. That it has now returned to Loudoun County is something to be heralded.