A taste of History on Tap: The Compleat Cyder

The Virginia Historical Society partnered with Blue Bee Cider for the latest iteration of History on Tap. Guys, colonial brewing recipes are fascinating!

To live in Central Virginia is to be cheek-and-jowl with history. With both colonial roots and Civil War relics all around, it’s a little easy to take it all for granted. The Virginia Historical Society is making it easier to get in touch with our history through its History on Tap program, which takes recipes that were used long ago, and brings them back for our modern palates to try.

Their inaugural project with Ardent Craft Ales resulted in a recreation of Jane’s Percimon Beer recipe from 1739. VHS then worked with Blue Bee Cider to brew a cider based on a recipe found in “The Compleat Housewife,” a cookbook in the VHS’s vast collection. The cookbook was the first one printed in America in 1742 and was adapted to use ingredients more readily available to the colonists. In the early days of our country, with little potable water, ales and ciders were safer to drink than water, and provided needed nutrition, so brewing was a very necessary chore of the homemakers, rather than just a hobby.

Part of the challenge of recreating this cider was finding the same variety of apples that would have been available at the time of the recipe, most were hard to find or extinct. Using Pippin apples (which are readily available), raisins from South Carolina, and cane sugar, Blue Bee barrel-fermented for the first time in brandy barrels. While the recipe didn’t call for yeast, perhaps relying on wild yeast on the raisins and apple skins, Blue Bee did add yeast to activate fermentation.

On April 21st in Blue Bee Cider’s Manchester warehouse, history buffs and fans of fermented beverages gathered to hear more about the process. After presentations by Dr. Sarah Meacham, an expert in alcohol consumption in colonial Virginia and Courtney Mailey, owner of Blue Bee Cider, the audience sampled the uncarbonated brew that had rich flavors from the raisins and the barrel in which it was fermented. Fortunately we have the modern convenience of refrigeration, so it was cold and refreshing, but with an ABV of about 8.4% not as alcoholic as your evening chardonnay.

About the folks involved

Currently, the VHS is undergoing extensive renovations, and while their galleries are still closed, the research library and museum shop are open and are still presenting programs. They hope to reopen in the fall of 2015.

Blue Bee Cider was started by Courtney Mailey, who was eager to leave her desk job behind. Opening a cidery would allow her to apply her family’s winemaking heritage while also using a commodity (apples) that are plentiful in Virginia.

For a short time, you too can get a taste of our alcoholic history at the taproom at Blue Bee Cider located in Manchester starting May 2nd. Sample by the glass or purchase a “squealer” to fill and take with you.

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Page Hayes

Page is a VCU grad who came back to Richmond and runs her graphic design firm House of Hayes. Exploring the music and food of the city takes up most of her free time although there is always time for a beer at the pool.

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