Hard ciders growing in popularity

WASHINGTON (AP) - Chances are, you've heard it all before: The Washington area is accumulating an impressive list of craft breweries, and vineyards in Virginia and Maryland are producing some notable wines.

But there's another beverage that's filling locals' glasses and the need for a homegrown, seasonal taste - and it's got a crisp, hard edge.

In the late '90s, Diane Flynt, owner and cider maker at Foggy Ridge Cider, acted on her dream to turn her farm, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwest Virginia, into a cider orchard.

She planted her first heirloom apples in 1997, acquired an Alcoholic Beverage Control license in 2004 and started selling artisan cider in 2005. Now, Foggy Ridge Cider makes six different cider varieties from 30 different types of apples grown in Flynt's three orchards.

What fulfilled a dream for Flynt, also satisfied a demand for beverage fans.

"Cider is the fastest-growing segment in the alcohol industry right now. The category grew over 60 percent last year," Flynt says.

There are a lot of similarities between making cider and making wine - a process that begins in the fields. Flynt explains that great wine is derived from great grapes, and the same is true for hard cider.

"If you want to make a really wonderful artisan hard cider, you need to start with excellent fruit," says Flynt, who began the Foggy Ridge orchard by grafting her own apples.

But apple-picker fans beware: Flynt says the apples used to make hard cider do not taste like the apples available at farmers' markets and grocery stores.

"Cider apples are more acidic. They need to have some tannin. And many of the varieties at Foggy Ridge . many of those are not good to eat. They're very tannic, they're very bitter, and quite tart, quite acidic," Flynt says.

Another similarity between cider-making and wine-making happens after the harvest of the fruit.

"Some people think of cider-making more like beer-making, but making beer is brewing and cider is fermented ... Just like wine is fermented grape juice, cider is fermented apple juice," says Flynt, whose orchard also comes equipped with a tasting room, like many of the area's wineries.

Cider fans can find Foggy Ridge Cider at stores throughout Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, but Flynt recommends making a trip out to a cidery, especially this time of year.

"The leaves are very beautiful and the orchard is really very evocative of fall," she says.

Tempted to try a sip? Virginia and Maryland have several cideries:

- Foggy Ridge Cider, 1328 Pineview Rd., Dugspur, Va. 24325

A bit off the beaten path, Foggy Ridge is situated in southwest Virginia, and is open on the weekends from April through December. Situated in the middle of a handful of orchards and wineries, Foggy Ridge will not disappoint with scenery and a homemade ambiance.

- Castle Hill Cider, 6065 Turkey Sag Rd., Keswick, Va. 22947

With roots and ties to Thomas Jefferson, this Charlottesville, Va., cidery offers four different varieties of cider. The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Sunday.

- Albemarle Ciderworks, 2545 Rural Ridge Lane, North Garden, Va. 22959

Founded in 2000, Albemarle Ciderworks is a family orchard. It's tasting room, just south of Charlottesville, Va., is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.

- Distillery Lane Ciderworks, 5533 Gapland Rd., Jefferson, Md., 21755

This Maryland cidery started selling hard cider in 2010, and all of the cider is produced on the farm. Distillery Lane Ciderworks offers self-guided tours, group tours and a cider-making class.

- Millstone Cellars, 2029 Monkton Rd., Monkton, Md. 21111

Millstone's ciders are oak barrel fermented and aged from heirloom cider apples. The cidery also crafts artisanal mead.