Booze | October 4, 2020 1:13 pm

Virginia Cidery Embraces 8,000-Year-Old Fermentation Methods

You might want to get to know qvevri a little better

Castle Hill Cider
A scenic landscape at Castle Hill Cider.
Castle Hill Cider

No matter what you’re making, there’s an art to fermentation — and there are literally thousands of years of techniques to study from all around the world. All of that might help to explain why a cidery in Virginia has adopted an 8,000-year-old technique from Georgia (the country, not the state) for the ciders they make — an approach that’s served them well so far.

Writing at Atlas Obscura, Eric J. Wallace has the story of how Castle Hill came to adopt this method, and how it’s helped them carve out a distinct place for themselves in the world of American cider.

Castle Hill makes use of massive underground vessels called qvevri. Wallace describes them as “egg-shaped terracotta vessels [that] are about nine feet tall and hold 300 gallons each.” And they’re buried underground to create a distinctively-tasting beverage — Castle Hill’s Levity cider has won its share of awards over the last few years.

Qvevri have a long history; they’re part of UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In Georgia, they’re primarily used for winemaking; the Atlas Obscura article notes that Castle Hill’s work evokes the farmhouse ciders of the past.

What does it taste like, you may ask? Garden & Gun honored Castle Hill in 2018, praising their ciders. “The clay and the subterranean storage maintain an ideal temperature for fermentation with wild yeast,” the magazine noted. “The result is a classic, dry cider with just a hint of orange peel, and a finish reminiscent of champagne.”

Blending ancient methods with a modern sensibility can make for a rewarding experience; the acclaim this cider has received in recent years is a perfect example of this.

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