With the sweet-tart crunch of apples and honey still lingering in our mouths, the summer behind us and the fall palette of flavors opening up, now is the time to enjoy the taste of apples and honey…in a glass.
While interesting local beers from Maryland’s microbreweries define the taste of summer, nothing complements fall like a crisp cider or a rich mead. Both mead and cider are truly ancient and generally universal beverages. Humans have been fermenting honey and wild yeasts to make mead since pre-agricultural days, and entire cultures have been built on the practice of fermenting apple juice to yield an alcoholic cider.
Cider in particular played a tremendous role in the settling and evolution of New England until various circumstances, including an influx of beer-drinking German immigrants, the rise of the Prohibition era and the Industrial Revolution, caused it to go out of style. These days, the exciting growth of the locavore movement and a growing interest in artisanal and “slow” foods are driving a renaissance of handcrafted local ciders.
When Teri and I got married over Sukkot two years ago, one of the highlights of our wedding was the Celebration cider crafted by Distillery Lane Ciderworks of Jefferson, MD. While most local ciders are still (not bubbly), the Celebration cider is bubbly and light like a local champagne. Rob Miller and Patty Power planted their first 1,000 trees in 2001 and started producing fruit in 2005. Today, they cultivate over 3,000 trees on their nine-acre orchard featuring over 45 varieties of apples, including numerous heirlooms, to help craft a host of unique and delicious ciders. DLC was the first licensed cidery in Maryland. They also have a tasting room and various other on-farm opportunities.
Millstone Cellars in Monkton, MD, is a farmhouse cidery that specializes in oak-barrel, aged dry ciders. They focus on the production of rustic-style ciders, cysers and meads, heavily influenced by the native yeast, microbes and local growing conditions. They proudly source all of their ingredients within 150 miles of the cidery. They also offer free tours of their beautiful cidery built into an old mill and free tastings every weekend.
But cider is only half the picture. To really experience the holiday season in a glass, you should make the effort to procure and enjoy a local mead. From Ethiopia to Eastern Europe, from Russia to Finland, people have been making mead since the dawn of time. Mead can be made using local fruits, spices, hops and numerous types of yeasts along with the basics of honey and water. It’s known as one of the simplest alcoholic beverages for home brewers to attempt. The final product can be sweet or dry, bubbly or still and can range in alcoholic content, so go easy! Orchid Cellar in Middletown, MD is one relatively recent (2010) local mead producer with a whole series of unique and delicious-looking meads to explore.
Wherever you find them this autumn, make sure to try some local fermented beverages and support the artisans who make them. L’chaim!
Top photo: Apple varieties at Distillery Lane Ciderworks (courtesy of Distillery Lane Ciderworks)