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Strengthening Virginia’s Cider Sector

By Jalmer Johnson | April 19, 2011 | No Comments

Virgina is increasingly known around the country for the quality of our wine, and wineries have created hundreds of jobs around the Commonwealth.  Twenty years from now could Virginia also be known across as a hard cider state?  That was the hope of the Virginia General Assembly on February 3, 2011 when they unanimously passed House Bill number 2295, sponsored by Del. David Englin (D-Alexandria), intended to redefine the law governing the production and distribution of hard cider in Virginia.  The bill eases restrictions on the industry across the board, including by raising the maximum allowed alcohol content.

This change would allow Virginia companies to produce a beverage closer to the historical roots of cider because, after all, cider’s roots in Virginia go back hundreds of years. During the 18th century transportation issues made it difficult for colonial Virginians to acquire the proper ingredients to produce beer, so they instead utilized Virginia’s bountiful apple crops, and made large quantities of cider, usually with alcohol content higher than beer.  Founding fathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson even joined in, famously producing their own cider at Mount Vernon, and Monticello.

A lot has changed since then, as cider fell out of favor, and legislators passed laws restricting restricting cider produced in Virginia to no more than seven percent alcohol.  This presented a problem to Virginia’s historic cider makers, because Virginia apples — which are growing in a dryer climate than some other cider-producing states — ferment naturally to between four and ten percent. Virginia cider with over 7% alcohol was required to be called “apple wine” — hardly an appetizing name, given the rich history of cider in Virginia.

The new legislation increases the limit on alcohol concentration to ten percent, allowing Virginia cider producers to make a beverage more historically accurate, and — many fans would argue — simply better.

Five companies currently produce cider in Virginia, including Foggy Ridge Ciders in tiny Dugspur, south of Pulaski and east of Galax, and Albemarle CiderWorks in central Virginia.  The Virginia legislature is hoping that relaxing restrictions on cider companies could help these pioneers launch a new industry in the Commonwealth, putting Virginia hard cider on the map.

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