As promised, I finished up the cider and mead trail this weekend. If you missed my post on the first part of the trail, check it out here.
Fourth Stop: Millstone Cellars
While the first stop of the day, Millstone Cellars was the fourth stop on the two weekend tour of the Maryland Cider and Mead Trail. Much like traveling to Distillery Lane Ciderworks, the trip to Millstone Cellars took us through small towns and provided “middle-0f-nowhere” scenery. Upon arriving, we were greeted by a couple of fenced in turkeys in front of Millstone who happened to be mimicking a dog barking. It was a bit odd, but somehow appropriate for the setting.
When we entered Millstone, there was a group of five at the tasting bar and four other adults standing around waiting for the next tour. Within five minutes of waiting, Tripp, our tour guide for the day, showed us downstairs through a huge door in the floor (see the pics).
Millstone Cellars is owned and operated by a father and son, Curt and Kyle. Trip told us that Curt has a degree from UC Davis in Viticulture and used to be a winemaker. Kyle, we were told, just graduated from the University of Baltimore (UB) with a degree in Business and Finance. What is clear from the visit, is how invested this father and son team are in experimenting with locally grown ingredients to create unique ciders and meads.
Millstone Cellars operates out of the old Monkton Mill (circa 1840s), an old grist mill. Dress warm if you visit when it is cold outside, because it may be even colder inside! From the basement, we proceeded up to the second floor via a flight of stairs in the middle of the first floor tasting room. As you can see from the pictures below, Millstone cellars uses a variety of barrels. The light colored barrels are 59 gallon old, red wine barrels from California. The dark colored barrels are 49 gallon bourbon whiskey barrels, some from Jack Daniels. It seems a fitting use for bourbon whiskey barrels since they are only used once for aging bourbon and are then sold and used to age other types of alcohol.
The second floor of Millstone Cellars houses their ciders. Tripp indicated that Millstone Cellars gets all of their apples, crushed, from Brown’s Orchard because they don’t have a press big enough to accommodate doing the crushing themselves. The cider takes about three months to ferment and is then aged for another three to five months (or 5-11 months for the barrel blends). The barrels are not turned and long pieces of piping attached to a pump are used to extract the cider and mead from the barrels. In order to keep oxygen out of the barrels and from eating the alcohol and turning the cider to vinegar, Millstone uses CO2 tanks to kill the Oxygen off. Tripp also briefly discussed the temperature of the rooms, indicating that the optimal fermenting temperature is around 60 degrees, with fermenting stopping below 55 degrees and with refermentation taking place above 70 degrees. One additional thing that Trip noted is the calculation for the alcohol content of the cider, indicating that you take the Brix (a level of sugars in the apples used) divided by two to get the alcohol content.
Millstone is dedicated to using local ingredients and thus has a maximum sourcing radius of 150 miles. One interesting cider that Millstone makes in the spring is one infused with baby ginger. Unlike its parent, baby ginger has a more subtle and fruity flavor. Millstone will also have their “Hop Vine” cider out next week (or so I was told) that has been aged in dry hops. Using the dry hops is said to hold the aromatic notes of the flower (hops). Yet one more cider to look out for is the “Heirloom 30 Blend” which is a cider made from a blend of 30 different heirloom apple varieties predating the 1860s. If you like hot peppers, check out the cider that has been infused with Baltimore’s own fish peppers. This cider was done at the request of Woodberry Kitchen, a Baltimore restaurant who also uses fish peppers, including in their Snake Oil hot sauce.
Millstone also makes what they call Cysers: half cider and half mead. This mixture is sweeter and higher in alcohol content (4% RS and 10% alcohol). As you can see from some of the pictures, the barrels are labeled with “Cyser” and indicates what exactly has been added to the barrel.
The third level of the houses the mead barrels. Millstone uses local honey, diluted with cold water to make the mead. The honey is not heated up so as to keep the strongest flavor in the mead. Mead ferments for about twelve months. It takes about twice as long to make as cider, hence the higher cost for mead ($30.99 per bottle from Millstone) compared to the cider (about $16 a bottle from Millstone). Tripp noted that the yeast plays a primary role in the flavor, hence part of the reason that Millstone is experimenting with different types of yeast in their products.
After completing our tour, Tripp guided us back into the basement to complete our tasting in the room they call the “mad scientist room” (see pics below). The following are the ciders and meads I tasted from Millstone:
- Farmgate: A traditional, old-style cider. Still, very dry, and no RS. Farmgate has a slight vanilla note and is quite tart. This cider also boasts an oaky flavor profile from french oak chips added to the cider. This was my favorite of the ciders and meads I tasted at Millstone.
- Harvest: A semi-sweet cider blended with honey and triple filtered.
- Cheery Creek: A fall seasonal product. Tart cherries were fermented on the skins for 5 days, leaving 120 gallons of cherry juice that was added to cider. Blueberry honey and plum was also added. I found this very tart.
- Hopbrosia: A reserve single barrel dry hopped mead, created using dry hops (for 2 months) and raw clover honey. This is unfiltered. The aroma included floral, citrus and sweet notes. The flavor profile was quite tart with a bit of a bite. Information I found on Millstone’s website indicates this has 6% RS and 12% alcohol.
- Applewood Cyser: A combination of 40% smokehouse cider (that used smoked apples) and clover mead. Smoked wood chips for 2 days. I was not a fan of the aroma of this cider, it was very overpowering. I found the aroma akin to sulfur. However, there were two (of the 6) tasters who seemed to like it. While I didn’t like this to drink, I think it would be an interesting experience to use this for cooking to add that smoky flavor.
I enjoyed the learning experience at Millstone. Tripp was extremely energetic and passionate and was as great host. I did find it a little difficult to keep up with the amount of information he was giving out because I was trying to take notes. It would have been helpful during the tasting to have a tasting sheet that included the basic information about the ciders and meads. I didn’t end up buying any of Millstone’s products the day of the tasting. I did walk away glad that I had visited, but I also wondered that if, among all the experimenting on different mixtures, if Millstone has one or two signature products (perhaps the Farmgate traditional cider?). It does seem that the product offerings are always changing. In fact, only one of the five items we tasted are listed on the products section of their website. I think Millstone is doing great things and I LOVE that they only source local ingredients. However, as I said, I would just love a couple of signature products that I could always go back to. Tripp noted that they have only been open for tours since April, so perhaps that will come with some more time. I look forward to seeing what they have in store in the future.
Fifth (and final) Stop: Great Shoals Winery Tasting Room
The final stop on the Cider & Mead trail was Great Shoals Winery (or at least the tasting room in Silver Spring, MD). After driving by the location on New Hampshire Avenue three times, we finally called to find out that they are located inside Heyser Farms, so turn into the driveway where the farm’s signs are. Heyser Farms has provided Great Shoals with Bosc and Bartlett pears and orchard grown apples that they use in their ciders and wines. For those interested in the origin of the name, Great Shoals Winery gets its name from the Great Shoals lighthouse on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, near where the winery itself is located.
Upon arriving, we were greeted by Patrick who was enthusiastic about helping us through the tasting lineup. For those of you interested in craft beers, check out Patrick’s Blog: Crafty and the Beast. Patrick was actually responsible for getting the Cider and Mead Trail Scavenger hunt up and running in conjunction with Slow Food Baltimore, so I have him to thank for a great couple of weekends of cider tasting.
The hard cider tasting flight was $6. All of the ciders are 8% alcohol and range from $15-$16 per bottle. Here was the lineup:
- Spencerville Red Hard Apple: About 25 years ago, the Spencerville Red apple was discovered and is now produced by Heyser Farms and used to create this cider. The result was a dry, crisp, sparkling cider with a great balance of sugar and acidity. This was one of my favorite things I tasted at Great Shoals, and at $15, I purchased a bottle to take home.
- Black Twig Hard Apple: The 300 year old heirloom Black Twig apple, a favorite of John Adams, was used to create this cider. While this apple originated in Tennessee, it can mostly be found now in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. The apples for this cider were produced by T.S. Smith and Sons of Bridgeville, DE. This cider is acidic and has earthy components.
- Blazing Star Hard Peach: This sparkling cider is a 50/50 blend of Ginger Gold apples and Blazing Star peaches (also from T.S. Smith). Despite the 50/50 blend, this has a very subtle peach flavor, so don’t think cloyingly sweet peach when it comes to this cider. Patrick recommended letting this cider come up to room temperature to bring out the peach flavor. This cider undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle, creating natural bubbles.
- Bosc and Bartlett Hard Pear: This sparkling cider is a 50/50 blend of Bosc and Bartlett pears from Heyser Farms. This cider is crisp and acidic, so it would be very food friendly. An interesting piece of information that Patrick shared is that pears have a certain amount of unfermentable sugar. I really loved the crisp, peary bite of this cider and it was one of my top three favorites.
- Crispin Hard Apple: The still (non-sparkling) cider is a blend of Crispin and Stayman apples. This cider was balanced with French oak and has 0.6% RS. There is a huge burst of apples on the nose and tongue with this cider in addition to the very oaky and bold finish.
- Montgomery Sour Cherry: Released on September 3rd, this cider is a blend of Montmorency sour cherries and Stayman apples. 5% RS. There is a very sweet aroma to this cider with a clear cherry taste, though not medicinal tasting like many cherry-flavored products. Also look for the French oak on the finish.
In addition to the hard cider tasting, we also tasted:
- Spiced Apple: A dessert wine perfect for this time of year, infused with cinnamon, allspice, cloves and orange peel. 13.5% alcohol. While this does have a sweetness to it, it was not as sweet as I thought it would be which lends itself to being able to more clearly taste all of the spices. This wine can be served warm or cold.
- Apple Starboard: A port-style, fortified dessert wine made from apples. Great Shoals used a champagne yeast to bring up the ABV (alcohol by volume) to 20%. While I am not a cigar smoker, if you are, you may want to try this dessert wine the next time you light one up. This is a very full-bodied dessert wine that has a last finish of apples and a slight bourbon smell on the nose. Again, being one of my favorites, I purchased a bottle of this for Thanksgiving.
- 2012 Elderberry Sparkling: A sweet sparkling wine made with apples from Heyser’s Farm and elderberries from Walnut Springs Farm (Elkton, MD). I have never tasted anything quite like this before. This is very woodsy and has a very long finish with hints of pepper, though not in the style of a peppery wine like Shiraz. The pepper is much more subtle.
Great Shoals also produces wines in the Méthode Champenoise style. In this process the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation inside the bottle while placed on a riddling rack, creating bubbles. All Champagne and most high-quality sparkling wine is made by this process. Great Shoals offers two additional tasting flights, one of fruit wines done in the Méthode Champenoise style and another flight of standard wine varietals (grown on the Eastern Shore of Maryland).
This last stop was a fantastic ending for the Cider and Mead Trail. I didn’t taste anything that I didn’t like and I walked away with two bottles and a desire to return in the near future to do the other two tasting flights. I would highly recommend paying a visit to the tasting room and having Patrick guide you through the great product offerings. While you are there, feel free to shop the beautiful produce from Heyser Farms.