American Cider

A Virginia family brings sparkle to an apple classic.

Victor Schrager

Order a pitcher of cider in Normandy or elsewhere in France and you'll be served a tart, fizzy, unpasteurized apple drink with an alcohol content of about 5 percent. Ask for a pint of cider in a London pub and you'll get something similar but a bit stronger—around 8 percent alcohol. In America, though, a request for cider will most likely be filled with a flat, nonalcoholic version of the drink. What we call cider is basically unfiltered (thus murky), pasteurized apple juice. Hard cider—as the fermented juice of apples is called in America—was popular here in Colonial days, but has long since fallen out of favor.

Filtered cider that is sparkling but not fermented, on the other hand, seems to be growing in popularity—appreciated, among other things, as a nonalcoholic alternative to champagne. California-based S. Martinelli & Co. introduced its alcohol-free Sparkling Apple Cider in the early 1930s; more recently, other big juice companies have entered the market. It's hard to imagine, however, that any of the large-scale producers could turn out a beverage as complex and personal as Alpenglow Virginia Sparkling Cider, created by the Lacy family, owners of the Linden Beverage Company in Linden, Virginia. Theirs is a blend of the juice from several apple varieties—mcintosh, grimes golden, granny smith, york, stayman, winesap, golden delicious, and red delicious—all of which are grown on the Lacys' 725-acre farm in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The Lacys come from a line of apple farmers who first planted orchards in the area in 1906. For decades, the family sold their apples in bulk to grocery stores and processors, but Ben Lacy was to change that. As a teenager growing up in the 1930s, he'd heard his father waxing rhapsodic about the ciders he'd tasted—and grown accustomed to—while living in England, and the idea of replicating them had always fascinated him. In the late 1970s, encouraged by his business partners—wife Jean and their five children—and financed by a bank loan, Lacy bought his own cider-processing equipment. In 1981, the farm produced its first 10,000 cases of sparkling cider.

To obtain the cleanest-tasting juice, the Lacys opted for the old-fashioned, labor-intensive "rack-and-cloth" method of juicemaking, mostly abandoned by the larger producers: Chopped apples are spread on heavy cloths that are then placed between wooden frames, stacked about 12 layers high, and crushed by hydraulic power to express the juice. Their care paid off, and the cider became a hit.

Following the success of their original product, the family branched out with other carbonated apple drinks, some of which are made with grapes purchased from other farms: the Scuppernong Cider is a mixture of cider and scuppernong grape juice; their rich Mulled Sparkling Cider is flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel; their Classic Blush is a sophisticated beverage made from a blend of cider and the juice of a variety of black muscadine grapes.

Linden ciders are sold at the Lacys' store, The Apple House, and (under the Chowning's Tavern and Shield's Tavern labels) at Colonial Williamsburg's restaurants and stores.