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Celebrating Virginia Cider — A Hard Cider Primer

Hard cider was once the daily drink in early colonial America and was especially popular with presidents like John Adams, George Washington and noted oenophile Thomas Jefferson.  The Industrial Revolution and changing tastes influenced by a growing immigrant population that preferred beer led to a decline in fermented cider production and consumption in America.  Prohibition dealt a final blow to many orchards — and cider consumption — throughout Virginia and the other colonies.

After a long respite, cider is making a comeback here in the U.S.  This cider renaissance includes Virginia as artisan hard ciders are showing up in restaurants, in bottles shops and at tastings more and more.

Though the audience for artisan Virginia ciders is growing, many residents may be unaware of the cider revival throughout the Commonwealth. Below are a few basic facts about apples and Virginia’s growing artisan hard cider industry.

Ten Facts Virginians May Not Know About Virginia Hard Cider

  1. Thomas Jefferson, third U.S. president and Virginia’s second governor, cultivated eighteen varieties of apples in his orchard at Monticello (planted between 1769 and 1814) however, concentrated on two cultivars for cider production — Hewes’ Crabapple and Taliaferro.
  2. Though Hewe’s Crabapples are widely considered Jefferson’s favorite apples for hard cider, he wrote of the Taliaferro apple; “the best cyder apple existing . . . nearer to the silky Champagne than any other.”  Unfortunately, the Taliaferro has disappeared from cultivation.
  3. Virginia is home to eight cideries.  A complete list of Virginia cideries can be found on the Cider Week Virginia page.
  4. Hard apple cider is the fastest growing segmentin the alcohol business, with over 60% growth in 2012.
  5. Cider is fermented like wine, not brewed like beer.
  6. One of the biggest differences between hard cider and wine  —  or, apples and grapes — is that apples must be ground before pressing. The entire apple is ground to a pulp called pomace and the juice is then fermented.
  7. There are over 30 different apple varieties grown specifically for cider production throughout Virginia.
  8. Artisan ciders are typically made from blending different apples.  Many of the best apples for cider production are not ideal for eating.  The primary types of apples are:  Sharps (grown for high acid), Sweets (grown for high sugars), Bittersharps (grown for high tannins and acid), and Bittersweets (high tannins and high sugars).
  9. According to several cidermakers, one of the most common cider misconceptions amongst consumers is that hard cider is made in just ‘one’ style.  Hard cider is produced in many different styles and levels of quality — from the commercial 6-pack grocery store brands that are chaptalized and diluted with water, to bottle fermented cider, to bone dry cider, to fruity cider and sweet, dessert-style cider.
  10. Based on current law, Virginia hard apple cider can be up to 10% alcohol by volume, without chapitalizing (adding sugar to the juice).  Any fermented apple juice above 10% alcohol must be labeled ‘apple wine.’  A cider cannot have more than 7% alcohol when chapitalized.

Look for artisan Virginia hard ciders from producers like Foggy Ridge Cider, Albemarle Cider Works, Potters Craft Cider and Blue Bee Cider can be found in local wine shops or online.