“Hard cider, which has persevered through tough times, is intrinsically Appalachian and something we should embrace and invest in,” states the Charleston Gazette. When I stumbled onto this article after casually googling “cider making in Appalachia,” I just knew I had to write a blog post dedicated to cider. Cider has been around for ages here in these Appalachian mountains, long before the days of moonshine. This time of year – as the days shorten and the temperature starts to drop – I find myself craving that sweet, subtly spicy flavor that you can only really get from a cider. Read on to learn about the process and history of apples and cider making in Appalachia, and to find out where to go to enjoy true Appalachian cider.
An Appalachian Apple History
Apples were supposedly brought to North Carolina as early as the mid to late 1500s. The Cherokee people were quick to plant the trees, and soon enough apples were flourishing throughout North Carolina. Wise County, a mountainous region of southwest Virginia, was supposedly the top apple growing region in the United States. When coal mining companies came through, they convinced many farmers to sell their land, and orchards, promising financial security. Not much financial security was had, but many an orchard was lost.
These days, there are many people working hard to restore heirloom apple varieties. The Appalachian Institute for Mountain Studies cares for an orchard with over 90 different heirloom varieties. Orchard keepers and fruit explorers have scoured the hills and hollers of the Blue Ridge Mountains seeking out unique, old varieties. Many of these heirloom varieties have and can be used to make hard cider. In fact, hard cider was so popular before prohibition that many people drank it like water. Believe it or not, at the time it was actually safer to drink than water!
My favorite thing about craft hard cider is that (generally speaking) it’s dry. In many ciders you’ll certainly get a hint of sweetness, but a good craft cider is never overly sweet. Why? It’s simple chemistry. The yeast consumes most of the sugar in the juice. Of course, many brewers will experiment and add varying amounts of sugar, to their taste.
Cider is best when it’s made from fruits at their peak ripeness. When the fruit is at its peak, the flavors of the cider are much more rich and complex. Many brewers will often experiment with different blends of fruit. Different fruits, with different amounts of tannins, will also help the cider develop a more complex flavor. Just ask the folks over at our local cidery, and they can tell you all about it!
Locally made hard cider at Molley Chomper
My favorite place to go for locally made hard cider is Molley Chomper. This cidery is based out of Ashe County, North Carolina, which borders Watauga (where we’re located at the Horton). It’s about an hour drive from the hotel, but well worth the trip. The drive is beautiful, and the cider just as good! All of their cider is made from heirloom apples grown in the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia.
A local family owns the cidery, and they are truly passionate about what they do. In their words: “We love to experiment, including using local fruits such as blueberries, wild cherries and pumpkins to create unique blended ciders and fruit wines. We care deeply about terroir and authenticity, which to us means knowing our farmers and orchardists and their farms and fruit.” Now I can certainly get behind those ideals.
Cider tastes best on the rooftop
What are you waiting for? Plan a trip to the high country – complete with lots of cider tastings, of course! Don’t think you’ll have time to make the drive to Molley Chomper? Pick up a bottle or two at Benchmark Provisions, a bottle shop located just down the street from the hotel. Cheers!
Want to learn more? Check out my sources.
Read more of the Charleston Gazette article here. It’s a few years old, but well worth the read.
DIY, make your own cider! Check out the recipe and instructions here. If you do find yourself dabbling in home brewin’ after you read this, share a picture or two and tag us on Instagram or Facebook.
Author: Megan Biddix