If you have spent time in the Mid-Atlantic, there is no doubt that you have seen Bold Rock Hard Cider. It is displayed on retail shelves and served in countless bars and restaurants across a nine-state region. It is a showcase-brand of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Look at any Bold Rock Cidery ad, case box or six-pack carton, and you see the brand’s tagline, “Crushed and Crafted in the Blue Ridge.” But what’s behind the taste?
I always want to hear the story behind an award-winning brand. To learn Bold Rock Cidery’s story, I only had to visit “The Chapel of the Apple” in Nellysford, Virginia. Over five years ago, Bold Rock Cidery’s co-founder John Washburn dubbed the Nellysford Cidery, “The Chapel of the Apple.” Since the award-winning cider is crafted from local apples, John’s heartfelt name for the cidery is on-point.
A field trip to Bold Rock in Nellysford, Virginia
Drivers down Route 151, in Nelson County, are treated to beautiful views of mountain ridges, rolling pastures, and the Rockfish River. The county has a long history in the state’s apple industry. I grew up with stories of my ancestor, John Loving, bringing apple seeds to the county and planting them near what is now the county seat of Lovingston, VA. My grandmother was often excused from school to help pick and pack apples. As I park at Bold Rock Cidery, I wonder what they would think of a Nelson cidery producing thousands of cases of hard cider a month.
When you enter the main cidery, you are greeted by a crackling fire in a towering stone fireplace and a warm, “Welcome to Bold Rock” from a team member. On the cold February day that I visited, I was also offered a sample of Virginia Apple, a granny-smith, tart apple based cider.
I think that my ancestors would have liked this place!
Visitors can order a flight of ciders to taste, pints and even food to pair with their favorite cider. There is a free tour available, just for the asking. Of course, there are six packs and cases of to-go cider. Lindsay Dorrier III, VP of Retail has crafted an exceptional customer experience.
A Visit to the Bold Rock Barrel Barn
But what’s behind the taste? To learn about the craft of cider making, I walked down to the Bold Rock Cidery Barrel Barn. The Barrel Barn opened to the public in late 2017. Constructed from the original red barn cidery, The Barrel Barn is now both a cider development lab and small-batch tasting room. If you want a glimpse “Behind the Taste” of Bold Rock, and sample unique ciders, walk into the Barrel Barn.
Myself, I am a big fan of the Bold Rock IPA. The IPA is a top-seller for the company and can be found across the mid-Atlantic. But, I was able to taste the limited edition Pearadise IPA at the Barrel Barn. Also on tap, I sampled the Oaked 5th. Neither cider can be found on retail shelves. Both small-batch ciders had a unique composition of flavors. To enjoy at home, I was able to get each in a Crowler to go. If you have never seen a Bold Rock Cidery Crowler in your favorite grocery store that is because only it is only available at the Barrel Barn. Limited edition cider, provided in a limited edition Crowler was a great souvenir of my visit.
Meet Cider Master Ian Niblock
To learn about the craft of cider making, I only had to step into the cider lab and meet Ian Niblock, Bold Rock Cider Master. Since I am a fan of Bold Rock Cidery, I had a few questions.
Well, my first question went unanswered. “What is the next Bold Rock seasonal cider?” The next seasonal cider is top secret. So, on to my next question.
Kim: The Bold Rock tagline is “Crushed and Crafted in the Blue Ridge”. Are the apples local and are they crushed on site, in Nellysford? (PHOTO)
Ian: All of the apples used in our Nellysford location come from a 35 mile (and increasing!) radius of the cidery. We press apples just about every week of the year.
Kim: Can you tell us the life of an apple as it becomes a bottle of Bold Rock Hard Cider? After the apple is crushed, then what happens? In terms that a cider lover can understand…
Ian: After an apple is crushed, the pomace (the dry, leftover bits) is taken by local farmers for feed, and we inoculate the juice with yeast so they can do the real work: turning juice into delicious cider! Post fermentation, we utilize multiple clarification steps in succession until we get crystal clear cider. Chilling the cider down to right above freezing is the last step before carbonating and putting it in a bottle, keg, or can.
Kim: To my taste, the Bold Rock family of ciders have more of sparkle and a pop of flavor on the finish than other brands. The cider dances in the glass and your mouth. How is that extra sparkle achieved?
Ian: Our bottle machine was custom made in Italy to champagne specifications. With this, we are able to achieve an incredibly fine carbonation mimicking a natural, champagne-like mouthfeel. You’ll notice that Bold Rock ciders have appreciably smaller bubbles than, say, a soda, which imparts a velvety smoothness that really helps our ciders pop.
Kim: Standing here in your small- batch cidery, I have to ask about the future of small-batch cider as a sub-brand of Bold Rock. I just tasted both the Pearadise IPA and the Oaked 5th. Now, I am craving insight into the future. I see oak barrels, a row of new tanks and a bottling line for 750ml bottles. And is that a still—are you going to be distilling spirits? What can you tell us?
Ian: All of us at Bold Rock are excited to see where the Barrel Barn takes us. At the moment, it is our pilot cidery, if you will. Here, we will have the ability to try new styles of cider and push the envelope of what cider is and can be. There is a freedom down here that the main cidery does not allow (it would be disastrous should one of our more esoteric yeast trials cross-contaminate a flagship cider). We will barrel age cider in a wide array of barrels, from Pinot Noir casks to whiskey barrels. And yes, the still! Some high test fortified ciders are in the works. The Barrel Barn is our testbed of innovation, and we are just as eager as anyone to see where it leads.
…High-Test fortified ciders are in the works. The Barrel Barn is our testbed of innovation, and we are just as eager as anyone to see where it leads”— Ian Niblock, Bold Rock Cider Master.
Now, I am positive that my Blue Ridge Mountain ancestors would have loved Bold Rock Hard Cider.
After spending an afternoon at The Chapel of the Apple, I had a better understanding, and appreciation, for the taste behind Bold Rock Hard Cider. Making hard cider, in the mountains of Virginia, really is still a craft. A craft brought to Nellsyford by co-founder and Chief Cider Master, Brian Shanks and carried forward by Ian Niblock.
The next time you pick up a bottle of Bold Rock, remember its “Crushed and Crafted in the Blue Ridge”.
Follow Bold Rock Hard Cider at BoldRock.com. The Nellysford Cidery is open seven days a week, and the Barrel Barn is open Friday-Sunday.