Wednesday, March 21, 2018

☸️ Mt. Defiance Cider Barn, Middleburg

Four friends gathered at a bar for cider samplingWe shook things up this past weekend, beginning a beer excursion with a visit to the new Cider Barn just east of Middleburg, Virginia. It’s Mt. Defiance’s second location. This one focuses on ciders and other un-distilled products, while their original location on the west side of Middleburg offers craft-made rums and a lovely absinthe, as well.

The audio system volume was turned down for conversation so we missed its verbal cue that we’d arrived at our destination. The Barn can’t be missed, though. I remarked, “that’s new, oh, that’s it!” as we passed.

It’s perched upon a rolling hill along the south side of route 50. Parking is ample, and as you’ll see on their website the Barn’s interior is gorgeous.

We entered as the first customers of the day and, as is our custom, each ordered a flight of everything on tap. Blair delivered four ciders, a pommeau, and a sweet, white vermouth.

I was surprised to learn that the Untappd app can be used for checking in ciders, meads, and mead-like products in addition to beer, so this tasting was a lot like a craft brewery visit. I checked-in the four ciders, but the pommeau and vermouth were not listed.

We were joined by our friends Wayne and Barbara, who purchased a couple of fine cheeses and crackers for us all to enjoy.

Mt. Defiance’s Cider Barn is a comfortable, spacious, two-floor affair adorned with belt-driven ceiling fans, hand-crafted (by lead distiller Peter Ahlf) tabletops, a wide wood-topped bar and unusually comfortable wood-seated barstools. Most barstools make you want to fidget after a half-hour. These are crafted to sit like a well-worn saddle, if not in shape then surely in comfort.

The space lends itself to social functions as well as general sales and seating, holding as many two-hundred people. The grounds are well-manicured and I imagine quite beautiful in Spring.

Our first sample was the Farmhouse Style Hard Cider, a flagship product for Mt. Defiance. Mildly sweet on my palate, it finished slightly dry. That’s a fine combination for a straight-up cider, leaving the palate relatively fresh for the next taste even as the memory of sweet apples lingers. Champagne yeast in the fermentation is responsible for this.

Old Volstead’s Homemade Cider was up next. This one swaps in ale yeast, imparting a slightly funky, earthy, English ale-like flavor and dry finish. I wasn’t quite as sanguine about this product as the previous one, but as conversation swelled around me the ambient air temperature slightly warmed the cider, revealing more of the ale-like flavorings. I gave Old Volstead a rating equal to the Farmhouse Style for this pleasant example of craft variation atop what is otherwise an enjoyable cider.

The Triple-Berry Cider was of equal flavor quality to the Farmhouse, and I goosed my rating by a quarter-point for the mild berry flavor that complements without overwhelming the apple. Think of this as you might an Italian soda; the berries’ flavoring is a subtle addition.

One of the visit’s highlights was next: Sweet Spice Cider that tasted, in a word, like Christmas. By this time of the year, we’ve all had enough of winter holiday season flavorings, from Oktoberfest beer through Christmas cookie spices that hang around through New Year. One begins yearning for something fresh and less savory, yet this cider so nicely hit the spot on my palate it garnered four stars and an inquiry as to whether it was available by the bottle. Alas, it was not, and a half-growler (referred to as a growlette at Mt. Defiance) would not keep until next December. I guess we’ll have to go back for it then. Twist my arm.

A line-up of four samplers on a bar

One of our last two samples was Pommeau, a blend of cider and the distillery’s apple brandy aged for a year in used bourbon barrels. This combining and finishing is a little like jazz; an improvisation that can embellish the primary product or diminish it. We often see it in beer-making, and I have a love/hate relationship with it there. When it’s done well alongside straight-up (un-augmented flavoring) products, and both products have remarkable qualities, the barrel-finished product serves as a way to put the art of craft production on display. When a barrel-rested product outshines the straight-up beverages I’m left wondering what that whiskey aroma and wood flavor are covering up.

Happily, Mt. Defiance’s Pommeau is a deft blend of sweet apple cider, brandy’s alcohol warmth and depth of flavor, and just a bit of bourbon barrel wood and liquor. Unavailable for check-in with Untappd, I’d have given Pommeau four stars for its combination of flavors without any one dominating. In fact, I’d say the apple cider shines through both brandy and the remnant of bourbon in the barrel.

Our last taste was also a pleasant surprise. Mt. Defiance produces a very nice sweet, white vermouth. While most cocktail makers and drinkers are familiar with sweet red vermouth, and of course the dry, white variety known for its use in Martinis, sweet whites are less commonly available or called-for.

Vermouths are an example of an Italian aperitif, a fortified wine intended to arouse the appetite before dining. Most are sweet and taken over ice. Most are also less than delectable on their own. Not this one.

Mt. Defiance’s vermouth is replete with subtle spices among the sweet wine flavor, making this a palatable late afternoon drink. Vaguely reminiscent of Vya red vermouth—one of my favorites—a bottle accompanied me home for experimentation in my Manhattan cocktail.

Spring weather will be with us shortly here in Virginia. A weekend visit to Mt. Defiance Cider Barn, or its sister facility on the other side of Middleburg, is just the thing to begin a day’s wanderings.

(Photos courtesy of Neal Emerald.)

#cider #MtDefianceCider #OldVolstead #pommeau #vermouth