Producers like Foggy Ridge Cider are putting craft beer’s little brother back on the beverage map
Author JANE BLACK
WHEN DIANE FLYNT decided to escape her air-conditioned workaday life as a banker, her first thought was to get some land out in the country, maybe a picturesque vineyard somewhere. But when it came time to make her move, the property she fell in love with was a farm 3,000 feet up in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. The climate was too cold for grapes, but it was perfect for apples, so Flynt, long an amateur horticulturist, began testing different varieties of apple tree, cut her work as a financial consultant down to 40 weeks a year and began spending the rest of her time on the orchard. Eight years later, she unveiled her first hard cider. “The farm told me what to do,” she says.
Today, the six varieties of Flynt’s Foggy Ridge Cider are emblematic of a recent renaissance in American cidermaking. Over the last year alone, the industry’s sales jumped 23.5 percent to $44.2 million. That’s 1.3 million cases, up from just 145,000 in 1990. “I haven’t seen this kind of interest since craft beer started to boom in the 1970s,” says Bump Williams, a beverage industry consultant. There are now dozens of cideries dotting apple-producing states from coast to coast.
At Foggy Ridge, there are currently three orchards, including a 300-tree test grove producing 30 different kinds of apple. In her apples, Flynt looks for the same traits that winemakers do: sugars, acid and, most important, tannins, which give a cider body and layers of flavor. Foggy Ridge’s First Fruit, for example, uses early apples such as Hewe’s crabapple, known for creating a syrupy juice, and the dark, complex Harrison, to create a rich, fruity taste. The Sweet Stayman cider blends the tart Stayman with Grimes Golden and Cox’s Orange Pippin for a sweet drink that pairs well with spicy food. Flynt also makes two fortified ciders — Pippin Gold and Pippin Black — to go with cheese and dessert.
Needless to say, none of them tastes much like the stuff you’ll find in the supermarket. But contrary to what you might think, Flynt has nothing but kind words for her mass-market counterparts, particularly one featuring the visage of a certain oversize rodent. “I think of Woodchuck as a gateway cider,” Flynt says. “If it brings you to the cider world, that’s wonderful.”
Monticello’s Peter Hatch picks up where Thomas Jefferson left off
DURING HIS FIVE-YEAR SOJOURN in Paris, Thomas Jefferson was entranced by French architecture, music and wine. And yet the City of Light couldn’t hold a candle to his Virginia home in one key regard. “They have no apple to compare with our Newtown Pippin,” he wrote in a letter home.
That apple, with its rich, balanced flavor, might have been largely forgotten if it were not for Peter Hatch, the director of gardens and grounds for Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia home. Over the last 34 years, Hatch has served as a de facto historian, archeologist, landscape architect and a kind of colonial fruit and vegetable detective. Using Jefferson’s writings and sketches, he has painstakingly recreated Jefferson’s gardens, vineyards and orchards and made Monticello a go-to source for heirloom seeds.
Hatch, a humble 62-year-old with wild gray-brown hair, aspired to be a poet back in the early ’70s, but his real talent was for gardening. In 1977, he was hired to oversee Monticello’s 2,400 acres, and one of his first projects was the restoration of Jefferson’s south orchard, which today abounds with peaches, cherries, figs and about 14 heirloom apple varieties, including the Newtown Pippin. More recently, he helped Michelle Obama choose heirloom seeds for her White House garden.
During Jefferson’s time, apples “were written about with the same intensity that we now write about great New York restaurants,” Hatch says. To recreate that kind of enthusiasm, each fall Monticello stages an apple tasting featuring nearly two dozen rare varieties, such as Roxbury Russets and Esopus Spitzenburgs. This year’s will take place October 15.
Artisan jam makers bring the flavors of long-forgotten apple varieties to grocery store shelves
In the days of Johnny Appleseed, America boasted about 15,000 varieties of apple with distinctive names — like Buckingham, Dula Beauty and Gloria Mundi — as well as flavors. Today, however, the perfectly beautiful and famously bland Red Delicious makes up 41 percent of the national apple crop. Eleven varieties constitute 90 percent of all apples sold in grocery stores.
Artisan jam makers are helping to turn the tide by using little-known apples in their wares. Each fall, June Taylor releases a new batch of her Gravenstein apple butter, which uses the signature apple of Sonoma County, while Laura O’Brien of Josephine’s Feast uses Newtown Pippins from a century-old tree on the coast of Shinnecock Bay in Southampton, N.Y., to make her heirloom apple butter with cardamom and heirloom apple compote cooked with French mustard. Brooklyn-based Anarchy in a Jar makes a cheeky “Apple Sass,” an apple butter made with Winesaps and Staymans, plus a spiced apple jelly that also features local Sixpoint Brewery’s beer — proving that apples can indeed fall far from the tree.