15 NoVA spots for amazing apple drinks

Apples are a gift that keeps on giving. Long after the fruit picking, baked pies and fallen leaves, apple juice, ciders, wines and cocktails keep the party going all year round.

The sixth largest apple producer in the country, Virginia has been producing cider since Captain John Smith ordered settlers in Jamestown to plant orchards for their own survival. Safer than contaminated water sources, nutritious hard cider was the settlers’ main drink, and apple cider vinegar was vital for pickling crops for winter storage. Cider was so critical to the growing colony that Lord Thomas Fairfax, who owned much of the land in northern Virginia, stipulated in his leases that tenants were to plant and maintain an orchard of at least 100 trees.

Luckily, orchards in Virginia remain plentiful today, so a locally sourced apple artisan drink is never far from hand.

hard cider

Hard cider is made when mashed raw apples are pressed into fresh juice and left to ferment, turning the sugars into alcohol. Like wine and beer, hard ciders vary widely in taste and character, so it’s fun to visit cider house tasting rooms to try different labels. Fire pits, shows, and social events like karaoke and trivia nights often add to the fun while getting to know those ciders on tap, bottle, or can.

Where to start? Head toward Lost Boy Cider in Alexandria to try the 2020 Returning Child, voted Best in Show at the 2021 Governor’s Cup competition in Virginia. Unfiltered, unpasteurized, and sugar-free, this dry, tangy classic is great on its own, as part of a flight, or packaged to go. Also try Lost Boy’s En Fuego Peppermint, Simple Wingman, or Strawberry-Basil Thai Rope Walker.

Wild Hare Hard Cider Pubs provides comfortable seating at locations in Leesburg, Middleburg and Warrenton, and offers containers and growlers for pickup. Check out their flagship champagne-like Hatch (dry with citrus notes) or the Saxby, infused with fresh ginger and a zest of lime.

Sharing ownership with family destination Great Country Farm, Henway Hard Cider Company at Bluemont offers great mountain views, as well as a food menu, fishing pond, live music and fire pit. Spend the day sampling the flavors, including Coop’s flagship semi-sweet, Blueberry Lavender or Brut sec, perhaps in a mimosa.

Mount Defiance Cider House in Middleburg offers classic and craft ciders, some infused with ginger or co-fermented, sometimes with honey, blueberries or peppers. Sit by the fireplace and try a flight; General’s Reserve, Ginger, and Old Volstead’s are excellent choices.

Old Town Cider House is a trendy outdoor tasting room on North Cameron Street in downtown Winchester, serving 100% cider grown, pressed, fermented and packaged by Glaize Apples.

Winchester cider house on North Frederick Pike has a flagship cider called Malice that follows English cider traditions, and its semi-dry Wicked Wiles Bourbon cider is aged in bourbon casks for at least eight months, imparting tart and sour notes when it is chilled, but hints of bourbon when warmed in your hand.

Mountain Cider Cobbler sells through Wegmans and other merchants, but visit Delaplane’s bar to sample more than three dozen ciders and creative small-batch blends, including Orange Cinnamon, Apple Donut, Cranberry Ginger and Harvest Pumpkin. It is located on 90 acres near Thumb Run Creek, with hiking trails, picnic tables, and fire pits.

Apple wine and cocktails

The biggest difference between hard cider and wine is the alcohol content, with wine being in the higher range of 8-14% ABV. Apple Jack (brandy) is made by distilling hard cider to further increase the alcohol content.

Corcoran Vineyards and Cider in Waterford offers craft ciders and port-style wines (aged for eight years in whiskey casks).

Fabbioli cellars in Leesburg has its Sparkling Chambourcin 2020, with notes of strawberries and cream, dark cherries and pomegranate.

The four provinces of Ireland at Falls Church serves Caramel Kissed Hot Cider, with vodka, brown sugar and cinnamon bark.

West Oaks Farmers Market in Winchester offers apple cider mimosas loaded with dipped apple pieces, to be enjoyed while listening to live music on the terrace.

real food kitchen in Reston lists its Common Bond made with bourbon, pressed apple, chai spices and lemon.

Limit things to Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern in Herndon, and its Captain Spiced Cider, mixed with rum and spices, will put apples on your cheeks in no time.

Try this at home

Shared with permission from Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority (VA ABC)

Cider and rum punch

Although its roots are in the cocktails of colonial America, this party punch came of age in the suburbs of the ’50s. It’s especially good for fall entertaining.


1 1/2 oz (44.36 ml) dark rum

4 oz (118.29 ml) apple cider

1 oz (29.57 ml) lemon juice

1/2 oz (14.79 ml) simple syrup


Heat the apple cider. Combine all ingredients in a glass or mug. Garnish with cinnamon stick and split apple rings.

This is the basic recipe. Easily scalable and tweaked – and open to improvisation: use a proportion of hard cider or add apple brandy or Calvados. Use bourbon instead of rum. Add a few dashes of cinnamon alcohol, such as schnapps or vodka. Use ginger beer or add a few dashes of ginger liqueur. Highlight the citrus with a few dashes of triple sec or another orange liqueur. Try it cold, instead of hot.

Just the juice, without the punch

Unfiltered pressed ciders and filtered apple juices contain no alcohol but are full of flavor. Industry giant White House Foods has been processing non-alcoholic juices, ciders and vinegar at its factory headquarters in Winchester since 1908, selling them to grocery markets in every state nationwide.

Local favorite cider house Rinker Orchards in Stephens City produces more than 100,000 gallons of its popular Rinker Pure Apple Cider each year, sold chilled at farm stands and area markets. Bringing a carafe home? Try this recipe from George Washington’s Mount Vernon:

Mulled cider


1 cinnamon stick 3 inches long

2 whole peppers

2 whole cloves

1 liter of cider

2/3 cup brown sugar


Place the spices in the bag. Boil the cider, spices and sugar for five minutes. Remove the bag of spices and boil for five more minutes. Serve hot. For six people.

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Elisha A. Tilghman