This obviously isn't still the case today, and the know-how to produce cider, as well as the right type of apples to produce a quality beverage, have been fading in United States history.
Enter Albermarle CiderWorks, in North Garden, Virginia, which aims to change that. It's an extension of an apple orchard called Vintage Virginia Apples, which specializes in unusual fruit varieties – they grow some 200 varieties of apples, and more than thirty peach varieties, for example.
Among these apple varieties are rare ones used for making cider. A brief explanation: The apple varieties that make for good eating aren’t necessarily the same that make for good cider, in the same way that grape varieties that you’ll munch on are not the same ones that you’d want to use for winemaking. In fact, most “table apples” are pretty sweet, which means that most of the cider you’ve sampled in the United States – often while apple picking and pumpkin patch roaming at an orchard in Autumn– is likewise sugary, and has little to do with the beverage that was popular in the Colonial era.
So although you’re unlikely to find varieties like Winesap, Newtown Pippin, or Hyslop apples next to the Golden Delicious or Macintosh apples at your local supermarket, Albermarle CiderWorks makes cider from these lesser-known varieties as the provide the right mix of acidity, tannin and other qualities that create surprisingly varied ciders. Albermarle’s $4 tasting fee lets you sample different varieties of cider, and gets you a great deal of historical information in the bargain.
By the way, Virginia Vintage Apples and the cider operation are part of the movement to protect heirloom and antique plant varietals – a growing movement around the country, but one that’s particularly strong in Charlottesville, thanks to the long arm of Thomas Jefferson, an avid farmer and gardener, who turned Monticello into “an Ellis Island of new and unusual plants from around the world.” Of particular interest to gardening foodies: Monticello hosts a Heritage Harvest Festival each year and Vintage Virginia Apples offers a variety of workshops for home orchard enthusiasts.
Although not a brewery, Albermarle CiderWorks is on the Brew Ridge Trail, and it makes a great (and refreshing) supplement to a day of beer tasting.