While my first love is wine, I definitely enjoy a good hard cider for a change of pace. For those of you who aren’t familiar with hard cider, it is an alcoholic beverage made from fermented apple cider. Cider can range from dry to sweet, and depending on the producer, may have sugar added.
A couple of weeks ago, while having a delicious brunch at The Wine Market in Baltimore, I was pursuing the shelves of the wine store. Imagine my surprise when I saw some hard cider made in Maryland, from Millstone Cellars. Of course! It only makes sense. Maryland is home to some delicious apple orchards, so why didn’t I know about this local hard cider? I made note of the cider and decided to hop online to see if I could find someone to do a tasting. Upon heading to the Millstone Cellars website, I was excited to see that there was a Maryland Cider and Mead Trail Scavenger hunt taking place the following weekend. The scavenger hunt would take people to five different locations across the state:
- Distillery Lane Ciderworks
- Great Shoals Winery
- Linganore Winecellars
- Millstone Cellars
- Orchid Cellar Winery
Since Distillery Lane Ciderworks, Orchid Cellar Winery and Linganore Winecellars were in the same region, I made a plan to visit all of them on the same day, leaving the other two for this coming weekend (more to come in part 2, on the other two places).
First Stop: Distillery Lane Ciderworks
As one would expect when looking for an apple orchard, Distillery Lane Ciderworks was in the middle of nowhere. NOTE (for those of you planning a visit): The distillery was about a quarter of a mile down the road past where my GPS informed me that I had arrived at my destination. Don’t worry, just keep driving down the road until you see the sign.
When we arrived, there was a couple finishing up a tasting at the small bar. They were clearly regulars and recommended a couple ciders before they went off to pick some apples off the trees on the property. The tasting room is small, so I wouldn’t recommend going with a large group. I would say that the bar will comfortably fit 3-4 people for a tasting. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted by the young man behind the bar, Davis. Within a few minutes, Davis invited us up to the bar and told us about the tasting: Taste three hard ciders and one regular cider, for $5 each (and you get to keep the tiny stemless glass).
While I have certainly drank my fair share of cider in the past years, I had never done an actual tasting, so I was unclear of what I should be looking for. Davis told me to look for tannins, mouthfeel and creaminess. Upon getting home, I found a great website that discusses what to look for in cider tastings: Bramblewood Cider. This website also includes a cider flavor wheel that I wish I had when I done the tasting. The Bramblewood Cider website lists the following as the steps for tasting cider:
- Smell: Check aroma and bouquet.
- Look: Check appearance.
- Taste: Check flavor.
- Touch: Check body and mouthfeel.
- Reflect: Check final judgment.
The following are the ciders I tasted from Ciderworks:
- Vintage Hard Cider: A blend of three apples. 1.5% residual sugar (RS). Very tangy.
- Kingston Black, Barrel Aged: 1.5-2% RS. Single apple (Kingston Black). Cider is aged for thirteen months in bourbon barrels giving the cider a smooth and light bourbon flavor without the bite of bourbon. $20 for 750 mL.
- Kingston Black, Sparkling: 2% RS. Very light, like a prosecco. Effervescence comes from a CO2 pump. This cider has a light, acidic and clear apple flavor profile. This was my favorite of the three, followed by the barrel aged. $25 for 750 mL.
- Fresh-pressed apple cider: SUPER delicious! Each week, Ciderworks fresh-presses different apples to make fresh apple cider. This apple cider has no added sugar, but is naturally sweet from the apples. The cider is UV treated and will last in the fridge for up to two weeks.
I really enjoyed this tasting and found Davis very friendly and helpful. I took a ton of notes and asked even more questions, all of which he answered without missing a beat. After completing our cider tasting, we went into the next room which was full of apples (available for purchase). Ciderworks grows over forty-five different apple varietals (see some in the photo below). All the apples are available to purchase for $1.99 a pound. After tasting a few varietals of apples, I ended up purchasing several kinds. The following day, I used two of the Arkansas Black apples to make a bacon, onion, apple & cheese quiche for brunch. I would highly recommend these apples for baking!
Overall, Ciderworks was a great start to the day and I have already recommended the cider to at least ten people. I ended up purchasing three bottles of cider (The Kingston Black, barrel aged; Kingston Black, sparkling; and Winterfest at $19 for 375mL), a cider made in the ice wine style). We ended up drinking the sparkling cider the next day at brunch, paired with the quiche. I just wish that they offered more than just the three hard ciders for the tasting. It is hard to feel compelled to purchase ciders that I haven’t yet tasted. Also, as part of the Cider and Mead Scavenger hunt we were supposed to get a free 7 oz. glass of cider with bottle purchase. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that. So, the only other critique would be to make sure that staff are familiar with any promotions going on. If you live in Maryland, or are visiting, I would recommend a stop at Distillery Lane Ciderworks. Check them out on Facebook of follow them on Twitter @DLCider.
Second Stop: Orchid Cellar Winery
The second stop for the day was Orchid Cellar Winery to taste their Mead. Mead is an alcoholic beverage made from fermenting honey and wine. Meads have a higher alcohol content than wine (usually around 16%) because honey contains more natural sugar that is involved in the fermentation process. In other words, the yeast dies off during fermentation as a result of alcohol poisoning because so much sugar is converted into alcohol, leaving a large amount of residual sugar and a high alcohol content (compared to wine where the yeast dies off due to starvation from the lack of sugar).
I had the opportunity to try some of the Orchid Cellar meads at a wine festival in May. However, it was so busy the day of the festival that I didn’t get a chance to take my time, ask questions and take notes.
Upon walking into Orchid Cellar’s tasting room, we were greeted with a warm environment, including a decent-sized, l-shape tasting bar. When we approached the bar, a gentleman (I later found out his name was Andre, after asking) asked if we previously had their wines and explained how their tasting works: Taste their one dry wine (Merlot) followed by their five meads for $6 (including keep the glass). Shortly after we arrived, a group of 8 arrived. I had wished that we could have finished our tasting before they started, but instead we were asked to slide down to the corner to accommodate them. I have certainly had to wait my turn to do a tasting in the past, but oh well, everyone does things differently. We really did not get a lot of information about the winery or their meads, unless I asked a specific question (which is hard to do when one person is trying to do a tasting for 8-10 people at one time). Also, I would have loved to hear more about how each of the wines got their name. We were told about the origins of the Monk wine, but none of the others. The wine/mead list did provide a little bit of information about the meads.
Here was the lineup at Orchid Cellar Winery:
- 2011 Merlot: When asked, I was told that this was 100% Maryland grapes. The notes sheet indicates the wine was light and fruity. That is exactly how I would describe it. I found it overly dry without much of a lingering taste profile to speak of. Not a fan of this one.
- Blacksmith: A mead made with raspberry, blackberry and blueberry. I found this a bit similar to port, though more sweetness than alcohol came through on the flavor.
- Archer: This was my second favorite of the lineup at Orchid Cellar. It combines honey and spices. The tasting notes indicate that it can be served hot or slightly chilled. It was definitely chilled when I had it. I can see how the holiday spice flavor profile would come out more with a bit of increase in the temperature. I found this sweet, smooth and easy to drink and would definitely recommend it. While not told this the day of the tasting, I found this on the Orchid Cellar website, “We coined the name “Archer” for this wine because the recipe, made with spices, was popular among medieval military men.”
- Lumberjack: This mead is made with apples and honey. This was my third favorite of the tasting from this winery. The Lumberjack had a bit of a bite, I would guess from the apples. I wish I knew what kind of apples were used in this. Andre did say that the apples came from a neighboring orchard. When I pressed and specifically asked if they were from Ciderworks (since we just came from there), that was confirmed.
- Monk: This mead combines spices and red rose petals. The mead got its name because it was developed by European Bernadine monks. The Monk was my favorite of the tasting from Orchid Cellar and I ended up purchasing a bottle ($21 for 375 mL). This mead had an amazing smoothness and complexity, likely a product of the additional aging (two years, compared to one year on the others). The color of this mead was more a dark amber color as well. I would suggest trying it with dark chocolate. The spices really come alive with the combination of the chocolate.
- Hunter: This mead is made with chili peppers, so it definitely has a spicy bite to it. I thought it was an interesting mead to taste, but I could never see myself buying a bottle of this.
As you can see, overall there were some high points and low points. If you are looking to try mead for the first time, you will be in good hands with a purchase of Archer of Monk. While Andre was pleasant during the tasting, I do wish we would have been given more information. I felt a little rushed through the tasting, most likely given the large group that came in after we had had the first two items on the lineup.
Third (and final) Stop: Linganore Winecellars
The final stop for the day was Linganore Winecellars. When we arrived the parking lot was full and the large tasting room was crowded. Normally, when I have gone to wineries in the past, you just walk up to one of the tasting bars to get started. Here, after waiting for about 15 minutes to get the attention of one of the wine pourers, we were told that we had to go up to the cashier to get started and that she would assign us to a tasting bar. It would have been nice had there been some sort of sign alerting us to this fact when we walked in. Nonetheless, we waited our turn. I was glad that there was no longer a line at the cashier, so we didn’t have to wait yet again. It seems as though it may be more efficient for the winery to have a station where people check-in to get started on wine tastings and another station for the cashier for people to buy merchandise and pay for their tastings otherwise customers end up standing in line twice.
The cashier took us over to “Lynne” who was also serving five other people at the time. Despite how busy Lynne was, she ended up being a really great hostess and answered all (of my thousand’ish”) questions about the winery and the wine. She admitted when she didn’t know the answer to my questions and then referred to the tasting notes she had been given. While we were here as part of the cider and mead trail scavenger hunt, Linganore actually only has one mead, so we decided to taste some of the wines as well.
Since we tasted nearly all of the wines here, I will limit my post to wines I would recommend or those I found of particular interest. All in all, if you like sweet wines, you will probably like the majority of wines that Maryland currently has to offer.
- Medieval Mead: I found this mead to be a bit atypical of most of the meads that I have had in that, while it was sweet, it was not cloyingly sweet with 6% RS. Linganore Winecellars teams up with the Maryland Renaissance Festival in that their Medieval Mead is served every year at the festival.
- Indulgence: The tasting notes list this wine as a medium bodied red dessert wine infused with natural chocolate, creating the perfect velvety dessert in a bottle. This wine is made with the Chambourcin varietal of grapes. Chambourcin is actually a French-American hybrid grape that grows in the Mid-Atlantic region, so you will find it at many Maryland wineries. The juice of the Chambourcin grape, unlike most other varietals, is pink or red rather than clear and thus yields a very dark wine. Indulgence is an estate bottled wine at Linganore, indicating that the grapes are grown at the winery (per what Lynne told me).
- Sweet Chessie: A Late harvest (grapes harvested in November or December) dessert wine, similar to ice wines. 12% RS. I found this wine quite floral and tropical.
- Traminette: My favorite that I tasted during at this winery, though not my favorite Traminette. This is a full bodied wine with a spicy and sweet aroma. Traminette is a hybrid of Gewürztraminer that has been shown to have a hardiness to cold, more so than it’s parent grape.
Overall, the order in which we stopped at the three places were also the order that I liked them (best to least favorite), based on a combination of the atmosphere and goods they were offering. That being said, all of the places have their high points, so make a trip to the Maryland Cider and Mead Trail!