Monday, October 3, 2011

An Apple a Day ... or Actually, about a Thousand

We are back in the brandy making business. As I type, we are in the midst of preparations to distill a batch of brandy made from the same types of apples that George Washington used more than 200 years ago. This latest batch of spirit will go along with the peach brandy that we distilled last year about this time, and means that we will have made all three types of "spirituous liquors" that were produced at Washington's distillery.

We know from the plantation records that several different varieties of apples were grown on the plantation, both to support cider and brandy making and for household consumption. Three of those varieties were particularly amenable to cidering: Hewes/Hughes/Virginia Crab, Newtown Pippin, and Russet (very likely the variety known as Roxbury). As it happens, growing heritage apples is making a major comeback in the region, with several orchards focusing on growing the classic varieties for producing their new/old boutique ciders.

Tom Burford, author of the indispensable reference book, Apples: A Catalog of International Varieties, former professional orchardist, and apple consultant to Monticello and other historic sites, agreed to help us with our plans for this latest experiment in replicating the product of Washington's distillery. Tom put us in touch with Rob Miller, who runs Distillery Lane Cider Works, located just west of Frederick, MD, where all three of those apple varieties are grown.

Working with our master distiller, Dave Pickerell, and with the input of old friend Ted Huber, President of Huber Starlight Distillery, in Indiana, we concluded that a mixture of Hewes, Newtown, and Roxbury juice would give us the sugar potency we needed, and that 500 gallons of fermented juice should yield as much as 50 gallons of brandy. As with the peach brandy we made last year, the idea is to put the new spirit away in oak barrels for up to a couple of years to age before offering it for sale to the public.

Dave and some helpers are planning to come and spend three days working with Steve Bashore and the other members of our Historic Trades department in distilling the cider in the reconstructed Mount Vernon still house. Because fermenting apples in open-air containers can be dicey (lots of stuff floating around in the air that could complicate things!) we decided to let the folks at Distillery Lane ferment the juice for us. Once it is finished later this week, we will pick it up and transport it back to Mount Vernon for distilling next week (October 10-11-12). Stay tuned for updates on our progress.

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