Potter’s Craft Cider.
This blog post was supposed to have run last summer. I apologize profusely to Dan and Tim for the delay.
Back in the infancy of our relationship, I met The Hubby in Paris after a work conference he had in Belgium. It was our first big trip together. And it was extra special not only because I’d never been to Paris, but it solidified this was definitely the guy for me. Traveling together is never easy, a true litmus test. By the end of our trip, I knew The Hubby would probably become, well, The Hubby.
It was also memorable because I fell in love with cider. Not Alpenglow, or apple juice, but hard cider. Effervescent, light, crisp. As refreshing as a beer on a hot summer’s day. With a light kick akin to a 2-drink minimum at a show. Just lovely.
I even remember the day. We’d just toured Giverny, Monet’s country home outside Paris. The cottage walls were covered in Japanese prints and surrounded by gardens so fecund and overflowing it was like strolling through heaven. Colors bursting and exploding like fairy fireworks everywhere you turned. It helped it was June. You know the famous water lily paintings? He painted the ones in that garden. Seeing them up close has been one of the highlights of my life.
After the tour we discovered there would be a 3-hour wait for the bus back to the train station. Rather than stand in line under the hot sun, we opted to wait at an inn and have lunch. Underneath a huge oak we ate and sipped an entire bottle of cider while the sheeple stood in line just down the road from us and sweated. It felt glorious. A slight breeze stirred the oak leaves, our lunch was amazing, and the cider tasted like relief. A tremendously perfect introduction. The bubbles tickled my nose and I fell in love with the taste, the crispness, the effervescence.
Fast forward almost a decade to 2008. We’re married and have just moved to the center of apple universe, The Shenandoah Valley. I’m from Richmond, but both parents are from either ends of the valley so I spent my entire childhood at one apple festival or another. Saturday afternoons in The Apple Store in Linden eating apple cider doughnuts and begging my Pop-Pop to buy me a giant blow-up red apple.
We’ve been subsisting on French cider from our local ABC store in Pittsburgh for 8 years, and I’m way eager to sample what The Valley has to offer because I know it’s going to be good. There’s just one problem. There’s none to be had. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. WTF!?!? The land of apples has no cider? What gives? So each summer I continue to subsist on French cider while at the same time championing the cause to anyone who will listen. Usually to empty looks and disinterested glances. I distinctly remember taking a food writing class and when it was my turn to “sell” my story idea on the history of cider in Virginia, and why we should be producing more, having the class look at me with a polite, “That’s nice, but I don’t think it will sell magazines.”
Fast forward a few more years and you can almost hear my sigh of relief. A major movement has taken hold in the valley and there is cause for rejoicing. For we now have, SEVEN, count them SEVEN cideries in the area. We just celebrated our first-ever Cider Week in Virginia. Hallelujah! The gods have heard my prayers. Not only are there cideries but you have a choice.
And what choices. From Foggy Ridge, to Bold Rock, to Albemarle Ciderworks, the tasty options are endless. Then there’s one of my favorites, Potter’s Craft Cider, just two guys bottling their own cider in a 2-room warehouse out in Free Union. Nothing fancy, nothing too high-tech, just people earnest and passionate about their product. As earnest about their cider production as I am about drinking it.
Daniel Potter and Tim Edmond were kind enough to allow a tour of their facility last June, so I could see how an apple goes from the tree to the bottle. Dan and Tim opened Potter’s Craft in 2010 after brewing beer as a hobby. To their surprise hard cider is very similar in that the taste variations are endless since flavor of the apples changes throughout the season, and from year to year.
They learned by reading books and talking to other brewers and their expertise shows in the two varieties they’ve produced for 2012. Their Farmhouse Dry is light and crisp, with just a hint of sweetness and their Oak Barrel Reserve is something else. I feel they’ve invented something new. I’m convinced of this. By aging their blend of cider in used Laird’s Apple Brandy oak casks for 6 months, they’ve allowed a dry, crisp, refreshing beverage to acquire undertones of mellow roundness, caramel, vanilla, and well. . .bourbon! It has replaced Calvados as the after dinner drink of choice in our house. It’s lighter, but with the same “kick” a nice digestif offers. An apple Eau de Vie. It’s why I named their Oak Barrel Reserve the #1 Dish of 2012 on this blog last week.
They keep copious notes, and an extensive database of what each blend tastes like at each stage of the process. The decision on which blends to use is way more arbitrary. They usually “know” what they’re looking for when they taste it. Watching them work was like observing chemists obsessed in an experiment. I was honored when they allowed me to taste samples, and even more honored when they agreed with my findings. And then wrote them down. Who knew I had a palate?
It was fascinating to me each sample could taste so differently. Where one had a floral, geranium smell and flavor, another might taste vinous but with a soft “pow” of apple at the end. Another might taste sweet like candy or overly fruity. The possibilities seemed endless.
Potter’s philosophy on getting cider to consumers is more grass roots than other cideries. They make all deliveries themselves. Rather than a bonafide tasting room, Potter’s Craft Cider hosts tastings in wine shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. In this way they keep costs down, focusing their efforts on experimenting with different apple blends and teaching folks the joys of cider. By staying small you have time to experiment and play, discovering through trial and error what works and what doesn’t. You can come up with something unique. Considering the success of the Oak Barrel Reserve, the formula is definitely working.
They’re hoping to teach consumers cider can be as complex as wine. As Dan says, “You don’t drink wine and expect grape juice, so why would you drink cider and expect apple juice? There’s way more complexity and flavors to be had than that.”
Well said. Cider also pairs extremely well with food, particularly gamey, spicy, fatty foods and meats like duck, venison, pork, boar, and BBQ. It’s great with nutty cheeses like Comté, and awesome at brunch instead of champagne.
Tim states that right now the industry is at a great point because even though there are 7 cideries, rather than being in competition, each one helps the other. It’s a real community in that if one runs out of supplies, another will step in to help. All of them are dedicated to promoting the product and singing its praises, because all of them are still fighting for viable shelf space in wine stores.
This wasn’t the case at the early part of the last century. Hard cider was common before Prohibition, everyone not only drank the stuff, but produced it at home. Prohibition not only put the kibosh on drinking cider, but growers stopped growing the Stamen, Winesap, and Albemarle Pippin apples most commonly used, opting for eating apples instead. These varieties are only now just coming back along with the knowledge that a glass of cider is a fine thing indeed.
Right now Potter’s production of last year’s harvest is close to selling out, and they’re putting the finishing touches on this year’s apple pressing. After apples are pressed, they’ll ferment in kegs, then be pressurized and put into bottles for next summer.
Dan and Tim’s enthusiam for cider is infectious. After hemming and hawing about the lack of cider in this area, it was tremendously validating to spend an afternoon with “my people” crowing about the virtues of cider. Tasting it. And brainstorming ways to get it to the consumer. As I sip on what may be one of the last bottles of Oak Barrel Reserve in town on a cold gray day promising snow, I imagine all that appley goodness fermenting away. And I can hardly wait for summer.