Bold Rock Cidery in Nellysford, coming off a deal to distribute its four varieties of hard cider through Anheuser Busch, has begun commercial-scale bottling its crisp tasting apple beverage.
Demand for the cider from Virginia beer distributorships caused cidery owners John Washburn and Brian Shanks to delay plans to construct two buildings designed for visitors to the operation and build instead a building that expanded the cidery’s capacity to crush and juice apples prior to fermentation. That building, which looks like a barn near the barn that houses the cidery’s original tanks and bottling line, now houses a continuous belt press apple crusher capable of processing up to one ton of apples per hour.
Five of Anheuser Busch’s regional distributorships in Virginia, covering nearly all the state except for Roanoke and a distant part of Southwest, have placed orders for roughly 55,000 cases of Bold Rock cider over the next year. Last year, total hard cider production in Virginia was just 16,000 cases, according to Shanks.
Two varieties of cider will be sold in longneck 12-ounce bottles. One named Virginia Apple, with a pale gold-green appearance, is 4.7 percent alcohol by volume. The other, called Virginia Draft, is amber tinted and has 6.9 percent alcohol. They will be in six-packs that sell for $8.95.
Two premium hard ciders will also be sold under the names Crimson Ridge Vat No. 1 and Crimson Ridge Vintage Dry. Those will be in 750 milliliter bottles, resembling champagne bottles, with foil caps.
“We’re trying to get [supplying] Virginia squared away before we think about going out of state,” said Shanks. “We believe we can satisfy Virginia demand.” Shanks said the distributors are looking for a cider that can meet customer interest in drinking a locally made product that also uses local apples.
“They all want us now,” said co-owner Robin Washburn. “It’s been marvelous. We’re thrilled. We’re feeling a little overwhelmed by the demand. We don’t want to disappoint anyone. We want everyone to like the products.”
Washburn said national brewing companies came calling on Bold Rock because of Shanks’ international reputation as a hard cider maker. A New Zealander, Shanks is living in the U.S. on an “O” visa, the designation for individuals who are among the world’s leading experts in their specialties. He has studied and worked out his formulas with precise care. Shanks is secretive and protective about his recipes for cider. That Virginia Apple “is a mix of varieties predominated by Granny Smiths,” was as much as he would say.
Virginia Apple gives off a clean apple scent when it’s opened, as if a pippin apple were being peeled, and it has a fresh, smooth thirst-quenching flavor with a light carbonation to it. Virginia Draft looks more beer-like. Neither style is particularly sweet. “They are tailored to majority tastes,” said Shanks. “We’re looking forward to the customer reaction. We think they’ll stand up.
“Cider is between beer and wine. It crosses over occasions. It’s a good thirst-quenching drink. Crimson Ridge is more toward the wine side. Ours will be on tap at hotels and taverns.”
The bottling line, built in Italy and set up in the cidery by an Italian technician, will label, fill and cap 55 bottles per minute. Bold Rock is also bottling in kegs.
“The cider market is moving bullishly and we expect the [sales] figures to double in the next couple of years,” said Shanks. “We’re just beginning here. Virginia has a wonderful climate for apples and there is no shortage of apples here. We have generations of experience in our apple growers and that was a big consideration in locating here.
“Cider has a history going back to colonial days. There’s been a resurgence of interest in it in the last four years. We’re adding something extra by being able to make it on a commercial scale while keeping its artisanal style, the handmade, craft manufacture.
“Our path makes economic sense. For Virginia to have its own cider brands, we need to move the goal posts a little. Eight months ago we were in Winchester and noticed a woman drinking cider on tap. We knew we have to move faster. We made a bold decision to invest in the [juicing] machinery and bottling lines.
John Washburn said construction of the timber frame cidery and restaurant originally expected to be underway now will begin as soon as possible. He expects it to be open in a year.