Courthouse Creek, y’all!
A falling apple may have inspired Sir Isaac Newton to articulate the law of gravity, but the fruits being fermented around Richmond these days inspire something closer to hedonism. After Virginia’s first urban cidery was established–Blue Bee Cider in the Old Manchester District in 2012–we’re celebrating two new local cideries: Buskey Cider in Scott’s Addition in April and now Courthouse Creek Cider in Goochland. As promised last week, I come with more details on Richmond’s newest spirited business.
“Sales of Virginia cider increased over 200% from fiscal years 2014 to 2015 and national sales rose by more than 40% over the same,” said Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Todd Haymore at a ceremony announcing Blue Bee Cider’s new facilities in Scott’s Addition.
The new cidery in the Goochland countryside, at 1581 Maidens Road, is surrounded by orchards and tall fences to keep out the multitudes of deer. OK, so the orchards are young and not yet producing fruit, but owners Eric and Liza Cioffi are using apples grown from elsewhere in the commonwealth, including Silver Creek Orchard in Tyro, to begin producing some excellent creative cider.
The Cioffis are California transplants, coming to Virginia after discovering each other and articulating their mutual dreams on a big piece of construction paper. They articulate these dreams as including a “living, breathing, healthy environment for their kids to explore and on which to grow-up. Someplace where they could plant an orchard and produce an honest product–made from their land–that touched on their experiences living on the Central Coast. And this someplace had a creek running through it.”
The lawyer/chef (Eric) and schoolteacher (Liza) and their blended family of four have made their home on the Goochland property.
The Cioffis introduced their first hard apple cider at the Saturday South of the James Farmers’ Market in Forest Hill Park. This bottle-conditioned blend of seven apples, aged in rum and red wine barrels, is called Honest Farmer, named after a Goochland neighbor and friend, Raymond Hawk. The cider is available in 750- and 500-mL formats. The next Courthouse Creek release will be Bella Vita, a cider infused with raspberries and ginger.
Other ciders in the works include one with “sloe berries” (a berry that grows wild in British hedgerows – think sloe gin), a cider aged in red wine barrels, and a lime-touched summer cider called Hazy, Hot and Humid. Eric Cioffi is also considering using yeast cultivated in their orchards by RVA Yeast Labs.
Currently, the ciders are available at the South of the James market each Saturday, followed soon by limited local distribution (since self-distribution is legally acceptable for cideries), by tasting room appointments, and then by open hours.
The Courthouse Creek property lies on 10 acres, near the intersection of Route 522 and Route 6, not too far from Far West End and Powhatan County. Although only a stray Asian pear tree graced the property when they bought the land, they have since planted 730 trees of more than twenty varieties of apples and pears (for making perry, the pear equivalent of cider). They’re using low-impact and sustainable growing practices, such as using chickens and ducks as pest control – happy fowl. “What goes into the tree will come out in the cider,” Eric Cioffi told me, describing their clean, pure product. They’re also experimenting to find the varieties most suitable for their piece of Virginia countryside and growing other plants that add flavors to the fermented apple juice.
The Cioffis anticipate producing 500 cases of cider in 2016 and 1,500 in 2017–always producing “heartfully crafted Virginia cider.”
A Master Distiller Roves the Country
On May 5th, the Rogue Gentlemen brought master distiller Dave Pickerell to their bar to show off one of his creations, WhistlePig rye whiskey. After being impressed by the smooth taste of the highly acclaimed spirit, I found myself also impressed by the distiller himself. First, Pickerell serves as master distiller at three respected distilleries, WhistlePig in Vermont, Hillrock Distillery in Hudson Valley, New York, and George Washington’s Distillery at Mount Vernon. Even more impressive, he’s master of his own fate, living the life of a happy roving nomad. Ah, something to aspire to!
Since I’m far from achieving such a goal, aspiring to enjoy WhistlePig neat or in the Rogue Gentlemen’s creative cocktails was an easy short-term objective.
It’s Berry Goode
You know how spring brings berries. So does Bill Cavender at Black Heath Meadery, who has once again paired with David and Jonathan Goode of Swift Creek Berry Farm and Greenhouse in Chesterfield to make more Berry Goode, a fermented honey beverage with blueberries. In its first iteration, the mead won the respected Mazer Cup Award, so be looking for a June release of Black Heath Berry Goode.
Recipe of the week
Lest you think history is dry, take a trip to Colonial Williamsburg, where they acknowledge the importance of fermented beverages to our forebears. Among other beverages, I picked up a bottle of the Colonial Williamsburg Tart Lime Punch (limited availability at Richmond-area Virginia ABC stores). I’m not typically a fan of cocktail mixers, but this 18th-century blend of brown sugar syrup, lime juice, lemon juice and spices mixed in a three to one ratio with a rich dark rum is a tasty, easy-to-prepare sweet-tart drink, dry on the palate with its touch of spices. You’ll take a Turn for Colonial tastes.