Americans have been tippling apple-y spirits since before we even set foot on this continent. Pilgrims drank hard cider on the Mayflower while crossing the Atlantic; John Adams enjoyed it for breakfast; and it was more popular than beer during the Colonial era.
Wines made from the forbidden fruit came to the New World with the Europeans settling along the Eastern Seaboard, who home-brewed new twists on old-world classics.
Now, all across Maryland, winemakers and distillers are reviving this beloved tradition by transforming the humble apple into buzzy beverages that appeal to modern tastes while staying firmly rooted in our epicurean heritage.
Rob Miller and Patty Power are surrounded by reminders of times gone by. The couple owns an historic Civil War-era farmstead in Jefferson that they’ve transformed into a modern-day pressing operation, Distillery Lane Ciderworks.
It all started 10 years ago, when the enterprising duo began planting 2,500 trees sporting 30 different heirloom apple varietals, including Kingston Black, Roxbury Russet, and Gravenstein.
“We didn't want to be crop farmers, and there's no money in cows,” Miller explains. “So we thought cider could be our little niche.”
At first, the budding entrepreneurs only made straight cider, but they wanted to expand their offerings. So they teamed up with longtime cider maker Tim Rose, who helped them come up with some fizzy alternatives.
In the autumn of 2010, they debuted their first three small-batch hard ciders: a dry, a semi-sweet, and a sweeter traditional brew.
The driest option is sandy colored with an almost vinous scent of fermented apples. It sparkles on the tongue with a crisp zing and is a nice complement to spicy curries or hearty cheeses. The most traditional offering is intended to echo classic recipes.
“It tastes like what Grandpa used to make out back,” Miller says. “It can bring back memories.”
It’s not just cider makers who are harnessing the power of Isaac Newton’s favorite fruit, however.
In Mt. Airy, vintner Anthony Aellen of Linganore Winecellars oversees the state’s oldest vineyard. What was once a basement endeavor on six acres has grown into 230 acres of rolling hills covered in vines and trees with a large-scale winemaking outfit at its center that produces over 600,000 bottles a year.
Almost 30 percent of Linganore’s vinos are made without using a single grape, including a spiced apple wine composed of a mix of varietals.
“You need the acid of one, the sweetness of another, and the flavor of another,” Aellen explains. “That gives you balance and a well-rounded wine.”
A heady infusion of cinnamon and cloves adds further depth to the smooth wine. Best served steaming hot during the coldest winter days, it pairs well with a slice of homemade apple pie, an easy chair, and a roaring fire.
Almost 60 miles away in the verdant farmlands of Hydes, Boordy Vineyards is using the pomaceous fruit to create its own wine.
Chilled Apple is made from Stamen apples, which produce a sweet, vinous, and fresh wine best served young and cold. Boordy’s manager, Rob Deford, believes that drinkers are attracted to its back-story as much as its flavor.
“There’s something about the traditional nature of it that captures the imagination,” he says. “Apple wine has always been the people’s drink, so it connects us back to our roots.”
The Flavor of Fall - Recipe
When it comes to serving apple-based spirits, think outside the glass! Try your hand at this autumnal delicacy, courtesy of Linganore Winecellars in Mt. Airy.
Roasted Pork Loin and Sauerkraut
1 pork loin (approx. 3 lbs.)
1 clove garlic, sliced and inserted into pork
2 apples, diced
1 onion, diced
1 lb. sauerkraut, undrained
1/2 c. Linganore Winecellars Spiced Apple Wine
Place sauerkraut, onions, and apples in a baking dish; mix and spread out in pan. Place seasoned loin of pork on top of sauerkraut mixture. Bake at 325 degrees until meat thermometer reaches 170 degrees. Remove pork from pan and let rest. Pour Spiced Apple Wine over sauerkraut mixture and return to oven for 5 minutes. Serve pork and sauerkraut with baked or mashed potatoes, butternut squash, and a glass of Spiced Apple Wine.