The growth of breweries, cideries, and distilleries in Virginia are as much a part of history as our founding fathers and treasured landmarks. The next time you sit down to enjoy a glass of your favorite spirit, pause to consider the rich history behind the making of that beverage.
Take hard cider for example. Apples were grown in colonial times for cider. Early farming records show that in 1899 the farms of Loudoun County produced 2,304 barrels of cider. There is a cider mill just west of Hillsboro that operated in Loudoun County through the early 1900s and its foundation and walls are still standing.
Additionally, the Purcell Family (Purcellville was named after them) produced and sold barrels of fermented cider in the 1920s.
Our founding father, Thomas Jefferson, brewed beer and dry fruity cider on his Monticello plantation in Virginia. In his notebook, George Washington wrote one of the earliest recorded “recipes for beer” in the new world and also brewed cider at Mount Vernon.
Speaking of beer, in colonial times, it was a staple drink, much more so than water. Although they didn’t know why colonists observed that drinking beer seemed to prevent many diseases. This was true because the boiling of water in the brewing process killed off harmful pathogens. Virginia was the location of the first brewed beer, an ale brewed from corn in 1587. In 1607 the first import of beer to the colonies arrives in Virginia and in 1609 ‘help wanted’ advertisements were posted in London, England for brewers in the new Virginia Colony.
As a matter of fact, in 1623, all incoming colonists were required to bring enough malt on their journey to brew their own alcohol, at least until they adjusted to the “harsh” climate of Virginia.
Brewing was a large part of the colonial lifestyle in the 17th century, but the practice of brewing usually fell to the women, seen as part of feeding the family. Somewhere along the way, men must have figured out how much fun it was, since it became a male-dominated industry. The earliest documented brewery was in Richmond in the late 1700s. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in 1781 during the revolution. Loudoun County’s earliest modern brewery was Old Dominion, several breweries in Loudoun can trace their roots to Old Dominion.
Let’s not forget about the hard stuff. George Washington established a whiskey distillery on his Mount Vernon estate plantation. By 1799 his distillery was producing nearly 11,000 gallons annually and adding to his wealth. It was the largest whiskey distillery in America during that era. According to accounting records from Thomas Jefferson’s estate, Monticello, Jefferson was also distilling onsite and distributing whiskey as far back as 1774.
There are many current establishments built on historical sites as well. Loudoun County boasts three incredible cideries, all of them on historical locations.
Wild Hare Cider is located in an old mill at the end of Snickersville Turnpike, which used to be a colonial road. The cidery is in Bluemont, a historically significant town, originally established by Edward Snickers, a known acquaintance of George Washington.
Wild Hare Cider will be looking for a new location soon and offers some of the best local ciders. We recommend stopping by to try their Ophelia with citrus grapefruit notes and hops, ideal for fall, or the Hopscotch, a great dry cider for any occasion.
George Washington was the original surveyor at Corcoran Cidery in Waterford, the farmhouse location dating back to 1750. Corcoran was the first cidery to open in the county. Lori Corcoran, wine and cider maker at the location, runs a fascinating website, VirginiaCider.org that educates folks, promotes local cideries, and discloses history on cider.
We recommend stopping by the location for their Hop’n’Pop with a dry finish or Knot Head, sweet and smooth from the bourbon barrel.
Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery in Middleburg got their name from a civil war site just west of the tasting room. Additionally, the tasting room is built in an old service station. The location will also be having a soft open on their new cider barn in town soon. Forty-eight apple saplings, as well as absinthe herbs, are grown on the new property.
We recommend stopping by to try their Old Volstead, tart and slightly sweet or Hoppiness with a palatable fruit rind flavor. While you’re there, take a moment to taste one of their spirits. The establishment does brandies, rums, and even absinthe. Their Pommeau, a mix of apple juice and apple brandy is aged for a year and definitely worth a sip.
Many of our local breweries are built on historical locations. Black Walnut in downtown Leesburg was created on an 1895 farming property and Jack’s Run in downtown Purcellville is in the same building once known as the Benedum Tin Ware shop, opened by a Confederate soldier that fought in many famous battles including Gettysburg and Balls Bluff. The owner of the location is full of fascinating history.
Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Purcellville resides in a renovated, historic 1921 building, retaining the beauty of the exposed brick walls as well as the original windows. The case building was used originally in the 1920s by cabinetmaker, Samual Case. Later it was repurposed as an automobile dealership among other things.
In Loudoun County, Virginia, only the best cideries, breweries, and distilleries exist today. It’s no surprise with our abundant history and…even our forefathers on our side.
Cheers to us, Loudoun County.