Cider House Rules

The scenic Bold Rock Cidery in Nelson County steps it up.

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With all the talk about breweries, it’s eye opening to hit the road for Cider Week and visit the apple folks at the new Bold Rock Cidery barn and tasting room in scenic Nelson County. They’re giddy because they know the numbers.

Hard cider is the fastest growing alcoholic drink in the country, with national production tripling from 2011 to 2013, and the number of cideries in Virginia has grown from a couple to 10. Popular in the Colonial days, cider lost its momentum after beer was introduced and during Prohibition. Now it’s back: And Virginia is the nation’s sixth largest apple producer by acreage, so we’re well situated to crank it out.

“Nelson County might just be the alcohol capital of Virginia,” says Todd Haymore, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, on Thursday evening during a soft launch of the third annual Cider Week. Reporters and the growing corps of Virginia food bloggers were taken yesterday to the cozy farm-like setting of Bold Rock Cidery, featuring a big Shenandoah-style barn with 600 native oak beams and floor-to-ceiling glass windows allowing beautiful views overlooking Rockfish River.

Bold Rock is owned by John Washburn, who started it with a famous apple orchardist from New Zealand named Brian Shanks. Shanks got into cider after a cyclone ruined his apple crop in the early ‘80s and quickly became a recognized leader with international experience. He started cideries in Europe, China and Australia.

“Some of the best apples in the world are grown in Virginia,” says Shenks. He credited the institutional memory of area families who grew apples for hundreds of years. “Cider is all-encompassing,” he says. “We have cider makers here who are making absolutely beautiful fine wine-style ciders that match the best of Virginia wines. As cider grows, you’re going to see more and more diversification. It’s got 2,000 years of history and 2,000 years of future.”

While there are some orchards on the 50-acre property, most of the apples used are purchased from local growers. The technically designated “farm-winery” is minimal and rustic -- inside the $4 million dollar facility there’s the visible production area and conveyor belt, an open bar with two ciders on tap, tiny gift area and a high-ceilinged dining room with a combination of rustic reclaimed wood and handmade brick including three fireplaces. Outside, tiered decks overlook the lush countryside and local trout run.

Some dudes might still think of cider as a ‘girly’ drink -- but it’s clear by the numbers that plenty guys are getting their cider on, too. A recent Chicago Tribune story attributed the exploding popularity to people searching for a gluten-free alternative to beer, as well as a search for different flavors.

Last night, those in attendance enjoyed Virginia barbecue, oysters, heirloom tomatoes and the bluegrass ‘80s covers of Love Canon. The drinks were refreshing and not too filling. But for my money the drier, less sweet ones are the winners. You can purchase the sparkling Crimson Ridge Vintage Dry or Crimson Ridge Vat No.1 in 750 ml bottles. Or simply order a darker Bold Rock Virginia draft from a local bar -- they’re everywhere.

You know it’s hip when Bushwacker Cider, America’s first boutique cider only bar, opens in southeast Portland. Locally, there’s a cider festival this Saturday at the 17th Street Farmer’s Market and a host of other cider events this week.

Bold Rock Cidery is located at 1020 Rockfish Valley Highway, Rt. 151 and is open for tours and tastings from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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