A couple of weekends ago, Steve and I decided to take a Saturday and drive up to Apple Hill. It has been several years since we’ve been up there, and we’d been talking about it for a couple of weeks. One Friday, I was looking at our calendar and realized if we didn’t go the next day, we’d just have to wait until the next year.
So, we got up and out of the house at a remarkably reasonable hour the day morning, and drove up to the Sierra foothills, arriving in Placerville just before noon.
While the apple butter, caramel apples, and various apple pies are always a draw, I admit that this year I was particularly interested in exploring the hard cider offerings. Ever since Aaron introduced me to the Untappd app that allows me to keep track of my cider explorations, I’ve taken a real liking to trying all kinds of new varieties, and I think my tastes are changing as I investigate the landscape. I figured, what with cider really having a bit of a renaissance, the orchards of Apple Hill would be foolish not to try to get in on it.
Investigating a bit in advance, I found a few likely candidates and we started making the rounds with my list in hand. By far, the best experience, if not the best cider, was at Jack Russell Farm & Brewery. This place has got it really figured out. Most tourists drive down the one main drag hitting a couple of large orchards and getting everything they want. The rest of the orchards are off on a side road that isn’t nearly as heavily traveled, and we didn’t find crowds anywhere we stopped on this stretch. Except for at Jack Russell.
Mainly a craft beer brewery, they also had a small separate section dedicated to cider and mead. After standing in line for about 30 minutes, Steve and I got a flight of their offerings and found a table to relax. The cider was not my favorite ever, just a smidge on the bitter side, but it was decent enough that I decided to stand in line again so that I could take home a couple of growlers, if for no other reason than that I really dug the design on the bottle!
Although I could do without the crowd, I was really happy to see how popular the cider area was, and I could definitely see sitting on their patio with a pint again on a slower day.
We found hard cider at a couple of wineries, as well, but I liked these less. They were brewed much more like a dry white wine, and I couldn’t taste the apple at all at one place.
One of our last stops was at Boa Vista Orchards, which is one of the big places right on the main drag. It was an absolute mad house, as we knew it would be, but I knew from my research that they had hard cider on offer as well.
Again, there was a long line, but it was worth it as we came away with three more growlers to take home. The cider I liked best of the day was Boa Vista’s blackberry apple. It was very light and refreshing, and quite tasty.
Of course, it wasn’t until they were filling up the third growler for us that Steve noticed the writing on the back of the bottles indicating it should be drunk within 72 hours. Suddenly faced with 5 growlers in 3 days, I had a bit of a panic, but fortunately Jack Russell replied to my inquiry that their growlers would last a couple of weeks unopened in the refrigerator.
After an early dinner in Placerville, we headed home, our car filled with pies, butters, and ciders. A very successful harvest!