Virginia Cider Week started last Friday and runs through November 20th and we attended the kickoff event Cider Smackdown: Attack of the Crab at Albemarle CiderWorks. This event was a blind tasting of eight Virginia ciders composed of crab apples and the entries consisted of either Virginia Hewes, Wickson, or Rub Ted Crabapple.
Hewe’s Crab was the most common fruit variety grown in eighteenth-century Virginia. It is thought to be a cross between the native American crabapple, Malus angustifolia, and the domesticated European apple of horticulture. It produces a delicious cinnamon-flavored cider that is both sugary and pungent. Jefferson planted his entire north orchard exclusively with this variety and once wrote that crushing the juicy Hewe’s Crab for cider was like “squeezing a wet sponge.” Its small, round fruit, which ripens in September in Central Virginia, is dull red and streaked with green. (monticello.org)
Wickson Crab was developed by Albert Etter, an apple enthusiast best known for his work on pink-fleshed and red-fleshed apples. Wickson was the result of crossing two other crab apple varieties. Confusingly Etter refers to them as Spitzenberg crab and Newtown crab in his patent papers, but it is not thought they are related to the mainstream apples of the same names but were crabs developed by Etter himself…Like most crab apples Wickson is very small and is also a hardy and problem-free tree. However, that is where the resemblance to other crab apples ends. Wickson is unusually sweet, but at the same time has a strong acid component. The result is an apple that has a very strong flavor, making it an excellent component for cider blends. (orangepippin.com)
Ruby Red is a chance seedling that actually originates from the property. The tree was found behind an old cabin at the base of Priest Mountain by John Saunders and after noting the apples’ intense flavor and colored flesh, they chose to propagate the apple for commercial purposes. (Troddenvale at Oakley Farm)
The Cider Smackdown was a blind tasting where attendees voted on their two favorites or a single favorite getting both votes. Each of the ciders was completely unique even those composed of the same apple varieties, as cellar techniques varied among the cideries. The Albemarle CiderWorks Wickson Crab received the most votes followed by a three-way tie of the Sage Bird Cider Virginia Hewes Crab, Halcyon Days Cider Occam’s Razor, and Big Fish Cider Virginia Hewes Crab. I had recognized the Sage Bird Hewes Crab from opening a bottle a few weeks previously when studying for the CCP. Love the fleshy tart and bittersweet notes. My other vote went to the Potter’s Craft Cider Wickson Crab (which finished in a three-way tie with the Lost Boy Cider Cellar Series: Hewes and Courthouse Creek Cider Crabtree Falls. The Potter’s Wickson Crab was aged in French oak wine barrels and was able to retain tartness and acidity while providing red currants on the nose and a full body palate. The Troddenvale Grower Series, Silver Creek Orchards – 2021 rounded out the entries and this was my first taste of a Ruby Red Crabapple cider. There was an interesting farmhouse hoppy flavor combined with creamy lees and a bittersharp finish.
We came home with a bottle each of the Albemarle CiderWorks Wickson Crab and Halcyon Days Occam’s Razor but hope to revisit all of these ciders during the BevFluence® New Perspectives on Cider, Perry, and Brandy campaign. All ciders are welcome for the campaign. Cheers.