Friday, March 9, 2012

Albemarle CiderWorks | North Garden, VA

(From contributing writer, Terry "Smitty" Ebright)

This past holiday season marked my first since moving to Virginia, and while paying a visit with relatives, my father and I decided to stop at Albemarle CiderWorks to purchase a bottle or two to share later. We didn't intend to stay for very long, but shortly after entering, we found ourselves transfixed by the the cidery and its history. We even picked up a couple of "did you know" facts while there. Such as, did you know that Thomas Jefferson had experimented with nearly twenty varieties of apples to produce his own brand of hard apple cider? And did you know that hard apple cider was the most popular beverage of the Colonial period through to the Civil War? Unfortunately, this rural drink fell out of favor for numerous reasons including the Industrial Revolution, the increased demand for beer, and eventually Prohibition.

Lucky for us, however, traditions are timeless and have a way of returning to the popular fold. In recent years, due to small operations and the movement to preserve American heirloom foods, this refreshing beverage has been making a comeback. “Cider is a delicious and valuable part of our culinary and cultural heritage,” said Charlotte Shelton in a recent issue of Organic Gardening (October/November 2011).

Located a few miles from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia, Albemarle CiderWorks is operated by the Shelton family and produces their hard cider from heritage apples. And this is not the type of hard cider one finds in the beer section at the supermarket. The four ciders that were offered this past holiday season (Jupiter’s Legacy, Old Virginia Winesap, Ragged Mountain, and Royal Pippin) were handcrafted, light, and elegant. Almost like champagne or prosecco. While my father liked the Royal Pippin, my favorite of the four was Old Virginia Winesap, which featured apples that have been grown in Virginia since Jefferson's day.

Now, for those of you not familiar with hard ciders, they are usually lower in alcohol with artisanal ciders being crisp and refreshing. Commercial ciders tend to be more dry and sweet. They are best served chilled and goes well with a variety of foods from cheese to spicy Indian food to holiday dinners. A frequent patron to Albemarle CiderWorks told me their Winesap cider was absolutely "divine" when paired with the local smoked ham. I couldn't wait to try this!

So, the next time you plan to celebrate something special, whether it's for this year's holidays or another happy occasion, look to this versatile beverage. Priced at $16.00, each bottle is reasonably priced at Albemarle CiderWorks for all to enjoy. As an added feature, each label shares a bit of history about the apples used or tells something about Virginia folklore. Many thanks to the Sheldon family, who have been preserving this piece of American heritage since 2008.

Albemarle CiderWorks
2545 Rural Ridge Lane
North Garden, VA 22959

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