A cider session with cidermaker Stuart Madany of Castle Hill Cider
Local legend has it that Thomas Jefferson spent many hours on the grounds of Castle Hill as a young man—his guardian owned the place. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Doctor Thomas Walker built Castle Hill in 1764, a day’s travel on horseback from the land at Monticello where Jefferson would lay down his first orchard plantings five years later in 1769.
We don’t have a record of Walker’s orchards, but we know that Jefferson focused his attention on 18 different apple cultivars, including a concentration of trees renowned for cidermaking: Hewes Crab, Albemarle Pippin, Esopus Spitzenburg and the lost (?) and much longed for Taliaferro (pronounced “Toliver” by some accounts).
2013 Celestial • 750ml • 7.4% ABV • .8% residual sugar • The Celestial is an off-dry blend of bittersweet Dabinett, Ellis Bitter, and Yarlington Mill blended with heirloom Albemarle Pippin, Winesap, and Grimes Golden. Try it with the simple citrus notes of Patricia Wells Lemon and Rosemary Chicken »
The Virginia estate hosted many American luminaries in its early history, including Presidents Washington, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, and Buchanan. Time has passed, of course, and Castle Hill is now under new management. The current proprietors are making orchard cider that taps into the local heritage of American cidermaking—using regional varieties like the Albemarle, Winesap, Harrison, and Grimes Golden—in new and compelling ways.
In April, just a day after Thomas Jefferson's birthday, we spent the day walking the Castle Hill orchard with cidermaker Stuart Madany and tasting some of the remarkable Castle Hill ciders that he curated for our April cidrbox.
Castle Hill 2015 Serendipity • 750ml • 7% ABV • ~2% residual sugar • The arrested fermentation of the Serendipity gives it just a hint of residual sweetness which may be why, when we tasted it outside in the sunshine, it tasted to me of summer, and I was ready to pair it with a bacon burger. Madany recommends holding it back for the end of the meal and trying it alongside a simple flan, for dessert »
Among the techniques that Madany applies in his cidermaking is the fermentation of his signature Levity cider in egg-shaped qvevri vessels, imported across the Atlantic from the Republic of Georgia, where these vessels have been used to ferment wine for the last 8,000 years. Made of terra cotta and lined with beeswax, the qvevri are submerged in the earth (locked away behind OSHA required padlocked lids) which helps to manage the temperature acceleration that occurs during the fermentation process. The embracing earth absorbs the heat and cools the vessel to slow and help manage the ferment.
The qvevri vessels are submerged in the earth and protected via a padlocked lid
An architect by training, Madany was drawn to the qvevri as much by its form as by its historical application. The egg shape of the vessel appealed to his sympathies for the work of Viktor Schauberger, a 20th century naturalist and inventor whose inventions and theories were driven by the astute observation of nature and its natural energies. Madany spoke briefly to Schauberger's theory concerning levity, a complement to Newton's theories of gravity, and how he used Schauberger's theoretical ideas to approach the making of the cider that came to bear the levity name. We've shared that audio clip below, alongside our tasting notes of Madany's remarkable wild yeast, qvevri fermented, bottle conditioned Levity cider.
I hope you enjoy our cider tasting as much as we did, taped on a beautiful spring day in Virginia. Each tasting can be heard from this page, wherever you see the Soundcloud "play" button, and they're also available in their entirety on Soundcloud. You will need either the Soundcloud app for Android or iOS or Adobe Flash installed on your smartphone or web browser. The voice you hear is Castle Hill Cidermaker, Stuart Madany.
Castle Hill Cider 2016 Levity • 750ml • 8.3% ABV • variable residual sugar• Folks often hesitate the serve cider with red meat, but there's something about the unique character of the qvevri fermented Levity that suggests a possible pairing with beef or bison short ribs braised with pancetta – try substituting a dry, tannic cider for the red wine called for in this recipe »
Castle Hill 2013 Celestial • 750ml • 7.4% ABV • .8% residual sugar • Winner GLINTCAP Silver 2015 and 2016 • Celestial is a dry cider blended of classic cider apples, including Winesap, English bittersweet, and Albemarle Pippin – also known as Newtown Pippin. Consider pairing it with Carolina smoked barbeque or a simple grilled pork roast »
Castle Hill Cider 2012 Gravity • 750ml • 7.1% ABV • 1.2% residual sugar • Gravity is a semi-sweet still cider that pairs well with coconut milk based dishes – chill a bottle the next time you grab try take away Thai curry, or decide to try your hand at cooking up your own classic Green Curry Chicken »
Cidrbox.com connects people seeking orchard-driven cider with the artisans who make it. Each month we visit a single, distinctive American heritage orchard — where small producers grow, harvest, press, ferment and refine their cider — and we share their cider with our subscribers. In May we're sharing South Hill Cider from the Fingerlakes in New York. We also sit down for a cidertasting with the maker, which we share with you here at cidersessions.com.
p.s. When we say cider, we mean hard cider: Artful fermentations of heirloom apples by master cidermakers. You must be at least 21 to drink what we deliver, and you will be asked for your ID and signature at the door.