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Old Hill Cider
by
Terry Sullivan

Old Hill CiderSummary: Visitors will find the Old Hill Cidery at Showalter’s Orchard, an agri-tourism site. This is an experience the whole family can enjoy. In addition to sweet ciders and hard ciders, there are apples, orchards, vegetables and spectacular views.

We first discovered Old Hill Cidery at a cider tasting in Richmond in the late autumn of 2014. A year later we were able to visit the cidery and discovered an agri-tourism site hidden away among acres of orchards in a bucolic countryside. Our early November visit was on a cool, misty day; however, the weather did not deter several visitors picking the last of the apples clinging to the trees, shopping in the orchard store and tasting ciders in the tasting room.

Old Hill CiderWhen we arrived we met Kelli Lane who we met a year earlier at the Richmond trade tasting. Kelli took us on a tour of the orchard store, where we had a cup of warm sweet cider, perfect to take the chill of the air off. Kelli then took us to a greenhouse where lettuce, basil and tomatoes were growing in a hydroponic garden. Customers were in the greenhouse picking out heads of lettuce to purchase. They spoke highly of the product.

The Cider Journey

Old Hill CiderIn the tasting room we met Sarah and Shannon Showalter, owners. Shannon is also the cider maker. Shannon grew up on this farm, and with the exception of a few years, has always lived on the property. His father, Joe Showalter purchased the property in 1965. Apple orchards were already planted on the property including on the old hill. Shannon commented that the earliest apple trees were planted in 1913. The old hill is one of the oldest continuous orchards in Virginia.

At the time, the orchard was mostly commercial. The Showalters started making sweet cider and sold it to the local community in the 1970’s. Joe use to put some of the cider into a community barrel. Friends would visit and drink some of the cider from the barrel. Eventually the cider in the barrel fermented with the natural yeasts. Today, Shannon makes a hard cider that is fermented with natural yeasts in a former bourbon barrel. Observing the trends of the Virginia winemaking industry, the Showalters made some wine for personal use. They also notice that the cider industry was beginning to grow. Shannon and Sarah discovered the quality of good hard ciders made in the state. They decided to start making hard cider. Their first vintage was in 2011.

Shannon and Sarah want customers to know that they produce a large range of products. They want visitors to learn about the care they show the land, the art of cider making and their passion for the apples, land and products.

Old Hill CiderOrchard

The property comprises 40 acres. Orchards are planted on 20 acres and another 10 acres are in the replanting stage. The orchards have many varieties of apples. Some varieties used in making hard cider include Albemarle Pippin, Ashmeads Kernel, Dabinett, Esopus Spitzenburg, Golden Delicious, Grimes Golden, Jonathan, Pink Lady (pictured), Stayman and Winesap.

Old Hill CiderCidery

The cidery produces about 10,000 gallons of hard cider. Sarah commented that they control all aspects of cider production, “from blossom to bottle.” Although apples can keep in cold storage for months, Shannon likes to have the fermentation completed by January. After harvest, apples are placed in large crates in a cold storage area. Pressing starts early in the morning. The apples are washed and sent to the press room. The press is a rack and cloth press over 100 years old. Shannon tests the sugar levels and acidity of the juice that is going to be made into hard cider. He selects the apples for the blend. If more acid is needed, he will make the adjustment by adding a more acidic apple to the blend. The blend is created prior to fermentation. Different yeasts are used to ferment the juice. Most of the ciders are fermented in stainless steel tanks using commercial yeasts. One of the ciders is fermented in bourbon barrels using natural yeasts.

Old Hill CiderCiders

Old Hill CiderYesteryear is the driest of the hard ciders. It had a dark yellow color with a very appley taste. The finish was dry and crisp with apple flavor. This versatile cider can pair with white meats, fish and seafood, cheeses and salads. Betwixt was a dark yellow color with an apple taste. There was effervescence in the glass and mouth. The cider was slightly sweet and became drier on the aftertaste. The finish was fruity yielding to earthy notes. Enjoy this cider on a rocking chair on a porch.

Season’s Finish was a dessert cider. The dark gold colored cider reminded me of apple pie. The cider had a very smooth mouthfeel. The full-bodied cider was sweet and delicious. It took several weeks for this cider to ferment. Although this cider could be dessert, it can pair with cheeses.

We tasted Cidermaker’s Barrel in the cidery from a pressurized stainless steel tank. The fermentation was done with natural yeasts in bourbon barrels for four to six weeks, and then transferred to the pressurized stainless steel tank to complete the fermentation. The cider was a dark yellow color and was slightly effervescent at this point. The finish began with an apple taste then yielded to earthy notes and vanilla. Pair this cider with pork or Virginia ham.

For a unique experience, visit Old Hill Cidery. This visit is appropriate for the entire family. Taste the different ciders, observe the vineyards and the beautiful Virginia countryside vistas.

Old Hill Cidery
17768 Honeyville Road
Timberville, Virginia 22853

GPS: N38º 40.125’ W78º 47.780’

 

Article written November 2015



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