As a young boy growing up just across the border in the other Virginia’s Highland County, Josh Bennett loved apples. From the age of 12 he was involved, like many in the mountains of this part of Appalachia, in cider making. Although infamous for the backyard still churning out ‘shine, at one time in this neck of the woods most every home actually had hard cider fermenting in barrels in the family basement. With this tradition steeped in his blood, Josh went on to secure a degree in horticulture (with a minor in agronomy) from WVU. While there he hooked up with his future business partner and fellow cider aficionado, Will Lewis, and after graduation they set about turning their mutual love for all things apple into a career.
In 2013 Josh bought Hawk Knob Farm near Hillsboro, WV, and began planting orchards in preparation for getting into the cider business. As luck would have it the ideal situation soon presented itself and, even though their own orchards were not yet ready for cider production, Josh and Will took out a lease on the former operations site of Watts Roost Winery in nearby Lewisburg. In 2014, using apples purchased from Morgan Orchard in Monroe County, they produced their first batch of WV apple cider. Although only 1000 gallons the quality of the batch proved that they were indeed onto something.
Now, three years later Hawk Knob Cidery, WV’s first commercial cidery, is using 60 tons of apples a season to produce 7500 gallons of cider. All using up to 14 varieties of heirloom WV apples and containing no sulfites and no added sugars. And make no mistake that these are all “hard” ciders meaning they have an alcohol content of between 8 and 11%. Through a distribution deal with wine distributor, The Country Vintner, their ciders are now available everywhere in WV and will soon enter the lucrative Washington, DC, market.
Josh and Will have also committed to buying a large quantity of apples from a very special project of the WV National Guard called Patriot Gardens. The program trains veterans and other West Virginians looking for a fresh start in agricultural production and business techniques. One of their projects is planting 100,000 native apple trees in orchards on abandoned mountaintop removal mining sites.
So, why am I telling you about all this, dear reader? I mean beside the fact that it’s a great WV agricultural success story (and we’re all about agricultural success stories here at Let’s Get Fresh) at a time when all we hear about our great state is that it’s going the way of the dinosaur? Here’s the rub. Josh will be spending the weekend in our fair city of Bridgeport debuting his products at Mia Market at Charles Pointe on Saturday with a tasting and food pairing menu next door at Mia Margherita that evening. Mia Market will be Hawk Knob’s first retail outlet in our area. And on Sunday he will be on hand at the BFM doing tastings and answering questions about his operation. If you want to experience a true taste of WV tradition don’t miss it.
Here is a short description of the four ciders currently in production at Hawk Knob:
Appalachian Classic – This is the only Hawk Know cider not aged in bourbon barrels. This accounts for its light but tart flavor. It is produced from 14 heirloom varieties of WV apples and, like all Hawk Knob ciders, it uses low carbonation levels and no filtering. Josh’s great quote about this cider, “primal, yet refined”. I love that.
Barrel Aged Appalachian Classic – As its name implies this is a barrel aged version of the above. The aging takes away some of its tartness and produces an almost baked apple flavor. Josh also notes that some tasters have said it has a “Chardonnay-like butteriness”.
Elderberry Infused Hard Cider – This unique cider is barrel aged for 6 months and then returned to stainless steel vats and infused with organic WV elderberry flowers. The elderberry flavor is very subtle and lends a chocolatey, coffee-like essence.
Wild Fermented Traditional Cider – This is the Workman family’s personal favorite and has the most characteristic apple flavors. It is the only Hawk Knob cider that goes directly to the bourbon barrel and also the only one that has no added yeast during the fermentation process. This is the way Josh made cider as a young boy.
If I’ve piqued your interest enough to make a trip to Lewisburg you can visit Hawk Knob’s operation and tasting room starting April 28 and 29. From that point thru the summer their hours are Thursday and Friday, 4pm t0 7pm, and Saturdays from Noon to 7pm.
And don’t forget that Sunday’s Winter Market is inside the Bridgeport Conference Center from 11am to 2pm. This is the last Winter Market of the season. Next month we move back outdoors for our 9th, yes 9th, Summer Season. Opening day is May 21. Until then, Stay Fresh!