This tour of Virginia confused us a little. We were told to go to an orchard and cidery, which sounded great… But then we were directed to Downtown Richmond, on what looked like an industrial estate in the middle of the city. Umm…
Turns out Blue Bee Cider is an urban cidery, the first and only in Richmond! Run by Courtney and her team (including her Dad!), they produce a really diverse selection of ciders pretty much all year round in an old coffee warehouse built in the early 1900’s.
Courtney started the cidery a couple of years ago after growing bored with her office job and wanting to take control of her destiny. She was inspired by her uncle who has a winery in California, so after looking around the local area decided that cider would be a great world to jump into.
It was easy to see where Courtney’s inspiration came from, time after time she kept comparing her cider to wine – suggesting that people were choosing to drink cider over wine. This is completely different from any experience we’ve had with cider, in the UK it’s either compared with beer or alcoholic apple juice!! Their ciders are even presented in bottles that look like they’d contain wine or champagne.
Ok, so here comes the science bit… Although in Virginia the apple crop runs from August to October (and that’s when they do the majority of their grinding and pressing) the array of different fermentation styles and ageing means they are pasteurising, carbonating and bottling most of the year.
The incredible sunshine and climate in Virginia means that their apples have particularly high sugar content. The champagne yeast that they use for the cider (although they are currently experimenting with some ale yeasts with the help of a microbiologist) loves the sugar and can cope with the slightly higher wine-like ABVs that are created.
And now for the important part… How do they taste?! Well, like wine, they aim to create a cider for every palate and occasion… Here are a few of our favourites:
The Aragon – they call it their ‘gateway’ cider. The easiest transition from more common, big brand ciders to this crisp, semi-sparkling, slightly tart option. I could certainly enjoy this on a regular basis, it was very easy to drink!
Fanfare – infused with mulberries, I love the philosophy of this one. The local community are encouraged to pick and harvest wild mulberries and bring them to the cidery in return for a bottle of the cider once brewed. Flavour wise you get almost an apricot-like concoction.
Hopsap Shandy – my personal favourite. A citrus crisp cider that would be great on a summer day or paired with fish and seafood. Especially the local crab, clams and oysters. It reminded me of a ‘breakfast’ cider… Apple and grapefruit! (Ahem, probably don’t have this for breakfast!!)
Harvest Ration – this was new to all of us… A dessert cider! We’ve heard of dessert wines, but not cider. Getting its name from the tradition of each orchard picker being given a ration of cider and apple brandy each day… This brew combines the two. Sweet, sticky and syrupy, almost like toffee apple cider with a generous 18% ABV! Would be great in dessert recipes or served alongside in the cooler winter months.
Blue Bee Cider is quickly outgrowing its awesome urban space and on the look out for somewhere bigger – a testament to their fresh perspective on cider making! Their approach to experimentation and risk taking by creating new varieties each year (already up to 14 ciders in their 3rd year) means there will always be a tipple for everyone!
Whether you usually like cider or not, it’s well worth having a taster of theirs!