Beyond Beer and Wine

Hinson Ford Cider & Mead

By Gary Carroll

Cider and mead are usually associated with autumn orchards and Renaissance Fairs. But the drinks are gaining popularity as more mainstream libations, fresh alternatives to beer and wine. You may be surprised — as was I — to learn there is a lot more to both beverages than you might imagine. You can experience a variety of both by visiting Hinson Ford Cider & Mead, located about 2 miles off Rt. 211 in Amissville, just inside Rappahannock County.

Hinson Ford Cider & Mead opened to the public at the end of September 2018, after several years of careful planning and local market testing by the three partners Dennis Kelly, Mary Graham, and Dave Shiff. Kelly and Graham have been making cider, beer, wine and mead together since the mid ‘80s; Shiff has been making cider for the last decade.

Two of the three Hinson Ford partners, Mary Graham and Dennis Kelly

Hinson Ford is located on Shiff’s 22-acre property at the end of the road of the same name, surrounded by woods with a delightful view of the northern section of Shenandoah National Park over acres of pasture land.

The team has found a niche in the increasingly competitive cider and mead market by producing mostly dry, sparkling products — not like the sweet, still offerings frequently found at your local grocery or bar. The ciders emulate traditional dry English cider styles, and are made from a blend of apples specifically selected for their ideal cider qualities, obtained and custom-pressed by Thornton River Orchards in nearby Sperryville.

Sampling the varieties of ciders can be quite a learning experience. I was offered four varieties with distinctively different tastes. My favorite was ginger cider — imagine less sweet apples with a hint of ginger. For those who enjoy hops, there is a hopped variety as well.

Hinson Ford Cider & Mead is enthusiastic about their new joint venture with the Honeybee Initiative of George Mason University. The Honeybee Initiative, founded in 2012 to promote the cause of our threatened pollinators, has recently installed 15 new beehives in the Hinson Ford’s apiary. Besides serving as a source of hyper-local honey for various meads, this cooperative venture will use the meadery/cidery as a venue for undergraduate and graduate studies in sustainability, entrepreneurship, environmental studies, and a host of other events.

Kelly said, “About 90 percent of our interactions with the public are as evangelists for drinkable mead — not the cloyingly sweet, heavy stuff you might have had at Renaissance Festivals — and for appreciating the amazing qualities of honey,” adding that few people ever taste anything besides commodity grade clover honey or maybe wildflower honey, when there are over 130 varietal honeys, each with their own distinctive flavor profile.

Honey bees select nectar from just one type of flower at a time, providing the unique honeys like goldenrod and orange blossom that are the foundation of Hinson Ford’s meads. The additions of fruits like strawberry and elderberry (picked from a single huge bush on Kelly and Graham’s nearby homestead) contributes a little something unique to the taste of the mead. The orange blossom varietal mead (made with nothing but orange blossom honey, from Windsong Apiary in Castleton) has a delicate floral nose with a strong citrus finish and the impression of sweetness. I sampled four varieties, which are not as strong as some market meads, and must admit my favorite was the slightly sweeter “Dark Skies Bochet” (made from caramelized honey fermented with maple syrup) — their biggest seller — but I also very much enjoyed the elderberry mead.

Visiting Hinson Ford in itself is a treat. A favorite of hikers returning from Shenandoah National Park, the tasting room has a rustic and inviting feel to it, and visitors can sit outside at one of the outdoor tables to enjoy the fresh air, peaceful atmosphere, and views of the mountains. Visitors are welcome to enjoy a free tour of the modest production facility and hear about the particulars of cider and mead making.

Hinson Ford Cider & Mead
379 Hinson Ford Road, Amissville
Facebook: Hinson Ford Cider & Mead
Saturdays and Sundays 12 – 6 p.m.

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