Virginia Hard Cider – our ‘Apple-A-Day’ has changed in many ways!

on October 12, 2016

We all remember the old adage ‘an apple a day, keeps the doctor away’, right? That still may be very true, however the taste and the essential nutrients that we get from apples today may be completely different than it was when we were knee high to a grasshopper and eating them. What’s even more surprising is that same variety of apple may not even exist at all anymore.


In a recent article by Megan Kelley, curator for Upworthy, a social media blog with a mission’, she writes about a very important fact. Her article is entitled, 100 years ago people were eating things that most of us will never taste. So what happened?’

She takes us back to 1905, when apple orchards were still pretty rare and apples were picked by hand. (see photo).


1905, image of an apple orchard in Oregon – courtesy of

In a book titled, The Apples of New York, we learn that many of the varieties of apples back then do not even exist anymore today.  Due to the huge growth of the industrial agriculture movement they have simply disappeared.  And not only that, but those big companies are placing patents on certain apple seeds which restricts ‘the little guy’ (local farmer) from growing that variety.  It’s a very interesting piece on Upworthy, (and a ‘lil scary).  The good news is there are a bunch of folks who are a community of small farmers and gardeners gathering to exchange seeds in a thing called SEED SWAP (wise souls!)…so all is not lost.  You can learn more about them at The Lexicon of Sustainability,

…and it really got us thinking about our apples here in Virginia. Have our apple varieties been disappearing too?

So we decided to ‘pick’ the brains of the pros, our comrades at Bold Rock Cidery. We include their tasty hard cider at a food stop on our Sunday Brunch walking tour in Roanoke, VA and guests often rave about it.  Our Nelson 151 Tour visits Bold Rock Cidery as well, and it’s always a guest favorite.

Many people don’t know that cider was the drink of choice back in the late 1800’s and up until Prohibition, the reason being the water was often contaminated.  Men, women and even children drank cider instead of water. Historians think it saved the lives of the colonists in those early days providing them with much needed nutrients.

According to co-founder and owner John Washburn and his partner, New Zealander Brian Shanks, (chief cider-maker) at Bold Rock in Nelson County, Virginia, the lucky apples that find their way into bottles go way back.   “The apples we use have been on that fertile land for over 150 years and their flavor is extraordinary”, cites Washburn.  The 1,000 acres, owned by Henry Childs, is where they get most of their apples.  It is a 25 mile radius from their cidery.  “The smaller the radius, the better”, says Washburn.  “We produce more apples here in the Rockfish Valley and Afton, than many other places in the nation.  There are 3 factors unique to this area absolutely perfect for growing apples. They are the climate, the soil content and the Blue Ridge slopes with a south easterly light.”

Many varieties of apples are common in Virginia, but the ones used mostly by Bold Rock are Granny Smith, Golden Delicious (used in their Virginia Apple Cider) and the red varieties (used in their Virginia Draft Cider) include Red Delicious, Arkansas Black, Red Chief, Empire, Rome Beauty, Wine Sap, Candy Crush and Braeburn.

Virginia is the 6th largest apple producing state by acreage in the country.  We are also the first state to have an official gubernatorial ‘Cider Week’ proclamation.  Gov. Terry McAuliffe, proclaimed each week before Thanksgiving, Nov. 14-23 to be Cider Week.

Bold Rock is an award-winning cidery and attributes much of its success to their craftsmanship, artisan-quality and modern technology.  Due to the original orchards Bold Rock’s Hard Cider is fresh, fruity and clean, ‘crushed and crafted’ in the Blue Ridge.  Tastings are available at their location and it makes for a great day trip!virginia_draft

Bold Rock began this great apple journey in June of 2012 and after just three years, they have grown their offerings to include the crisp & refreshing Virginia Apple and Carolina Apple, the smooth & mellow Virginia and Carolina Draft, the sparkling Vat No.1, Vintage Dry and most recently, adding to this great line-up is the Pear Cider, with pears from New Zealand!

John Washburn also tells us, Bold Rock just expanded to 1500 new stores in North Carolina, “a good problem to have”, he jokes.  They also send the leftover mash to local farmers for feed for their animals.

So, the good news is we can be assured that locally, here in Virginia our apples are still superior, nutritious and delicious.   And here at Tour Roanoke, we think perhaps the new saying could be…. ‘A Bold Rock Cider a day, keeps the doctor away’!

Cheers Everyone!

Email us and tell us what your favorite apple is, why and where you first remember tasting it.



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