castle hill 2There is a new trend in distilled beverages, or spirits, afoot today, well represented in the Piedmont: Hard Cider. Having grown up in New England, I am very fond of cider, but had never had hard cider, except perhaps for an occasional try back in college of the sweet, soda-like alcoholic drink, found next to Mike’s Hard Lemonade in grocery stores and 7-Elevens. In my travels delivering magazines around Charlottesville, I drove by a sign for  Castle Hill Cider somewhere around Keswick, and decided to turn around and see all about it.

Now, cider, of course, is not a new thing. It is many centuries old, probably only about one season younger than the first apple crop! Given the lack of clean water in ages past, it was a regular beverage for all ages. I’m actually not even sure when “soft” cider came about….it wouldn’t surprise me if they had to invent it for prohibition!

But cider has gone the way of wine, beers, and whiskies; a portion of it developed into a sophisticated, artistic process to bring out certain flavors of various types of apples. Since it is sparkling, I imagine there is also a champagne type process to the fermentation.

Castle Hill Cider has a range of 7 ciders, ranging from dry to sweet. Since I was driving and far from home, and also technically still working, I didn’t do a full tasting. So I tasted both ends….the driest and the sweetest. Now, I am in no way qualified to give an opinion on any wine, beer, spirits, or cider (although I like them all), but I did have a preference for the sweeter-probably due to my upbringing and preconceptions about cider. However, it really was not very sweet at all…no resemblance whatsoever to the cider sitting by the Mike’s Hard Lemonade! The drier one was a bit like a dry champagne with a distinct apple tinge to it. I cannot do a real review; apart from being totally unqualified, this was my first taste of real hard cider and this is the only Cidery I have ever been to. But I hope to experience it more. Research, of course.

Castle Hill Cidery (http://castlehillcider.com) is also a gorgeous place to visit, a distillery and tasting room to rival any winery, gorgeous views, rural setting, and, of course, apple orchards. They do have their own orchards, but also use apples from external sources, but all from Virginia.

There are quite a few Cideries in the Piedmont to try. I was assured that cider is a year-round thing. The apples are harvested in the fall, of course, but the process (and consumption!), is an ongoing endeavor.

Virginia Cideries fit right into what is important to us and our readers at the Piedmont Virginian: local produce, check. Land conservation for farming, check. Sustainable agriculture, check. Locally made artisan products, check. Spirits, check. And a little history thrown in, check. The Piedmont Virginian will be featuring a cider story by Glenda Booth in the fall, to coincide with Cider Week Virginia in November. But there’s really no reason to wait until fall to do some sampling!