By Peter Milligan | Photo by Alexa Wolff
In addition to being the smallest ABC Store in the Commonwealth of Virginia, Marc Chretien and his team at Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery have been reviving the old-world ways of drinking – from small-batch, artisan-made ciders, to spirits like apple brandy, and dark, amber and white rums, since summer 2014. And, as of 2015, Mt. Defiance has been one of the few in the area to be crafting a wildly creative (and yes, totally legal) absinthe – made with Virginia-grown herbs like Grand Wormwood, Hyssop and Lemon Balm, and traditional European herbs like Aniseed and Fennel Doux.
Now, Chretien and crew are expanding their operation to another location in Middleburg, a beautiful antique barn where they will be growing, pressing, fermenting, flavoring and bottling Virginia-grown varietals of apples for farmhouse ciders.
Since its conception in 2014, Chretien and head distiller Peter Ahlf have been procuring the apples for their ciders from a local grower, who is the fourth generation of farmers producing local Virginia apples. Now, Mt. Defiance will be utilizing the land at its new location to develop orchards of what Chretien refers to as ‘antique’ varietals of apples, many of which are lesser known for general consumption, but have long been utilized for the production of cider. These include Ashmead’s Kernel, Grimes Golden, Gold Rush and Arkansas Black – which, despite its name, is deep red in color and grows beautifully in Virginia soil.
So why cider? While Virginia’s – and particularly Loudoun County’s – wine and beer scene is well established and considerably well-known, Chretien believes it’s important to remember cider’s place in our history – not to mention the fact that it is an extraordinarily refreshing beverage to enjoy in the increasingly brutal Virginia summer months.
From Mt. Defiance’s blog: Cider has a long legacy in human history and legions of enthusiasts all over the world. Normans are rumored to have brought their drink to England during their 1066 Conquest, but every European country enjoys cider in one form or another. Pakistan, Mexico, Argentina and South Africa all produce their own blends and today, in addition to the growing number of boutique cider breweries, large brewers like Sam Adams and Anheuser-Bush are marketing ciders.
Water simply was not safe to drink in early times, so beer, ale and cider were preferred for their sanitary properties. In 1634, Lord Baltimore instructed settlers of the new colony of Maryland to carry across the sea “kernalls of peares and apples, especially of Pipins, Pearemains, and Deesons for making thereafter of Cider and Perry.” Perry is the name of pear cider.
At its new cider barn, Mt. Defiance will continue producing the ciders that patrons have come to love at its original location, including dry, bourbon barrel-aged and blush varieties, as well as some flavored versions such as ginger, which is produced with fresh ginger root that provides that lovely little sting of a real, fresh ginger beer. The new location is set to open later this summer. ML
Mt. Defiance is building a new tasting room just east of Middleburg on Route 50.