Virginia is for lovers, which made it perfect for us. Miracle and I have made many trips to Virginia over the past three years—most of them to see our buddy, Dustin, at his family’s mountain home.
Northern VA hogs the attention in the Old Dominion state. But the sheer busy-ness of the DC area is too much for us (and for Adie, for that matter). We prefer the more rural, cider-laden Blue Ridge Mountain area. Days of hiking coupled with evenings of cindering are the perfect way to while away a mountain day.
Dustin’s dad loves to smoke meat. I mean it is an art form for him that takes an entire day. He will put some giant hunk of meat in the smoker and you might think, “wow, that’s a lot of meat.” But then, after hours of smoking, it has turned into a delicacy. It’s like seeing the chunk of oblong marble being delivered to Michelangelo and then seeing the David at the end.
As tradition dictates, we went for a small mountain stroll to Spy Rock—an old civil war lookout point where you can take in a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge. Although the leaves had all dropped for the season and the hills were a matte brown, it was beautiful nonetheless. Nothing beats the temperature of the late autumn hike with the right company.
And then there was cider to be had. I fell in love with what cider could be when I visited the Nelson 151 Cider Trail. Three years ago it was a few solid stops along the county road. Now it is a booming highway for cider lovers with lots of stiff competition (as well as the addition of breweries, distilleries, and vineyards). Our two stalwart stops since the beginning are, and continue to be: Bryant’s and Blue Toad.
Bryant’s is a small operation on a family farm run by Jerry. There’s a lot to love here. The farm itself is laid back—the perfect spot to grab a cider and hang out with friends. When Dustin and I first started coming here, the barn was unrenovated and the January wind drafted through the place. Jerry had six (I think) flavors on tap including Coolbanero and Red Eye (a cucumber habanero and a coffee cider respectively). Sitting in that drafty, dimly-lit barn with those few ciders, I was sold. Jerry is a master cider maker and relentless experimenter. Each time I have gone back there’s more to the place—both physically (a fire ring! Video games! A full bar!) and in terms of cider (and seltzer and beer and cocktails). Do yourself a favor and make it a point to stop at Bryant’s for a good, long time when you’re in the area.
And then there’s Blue Toad—the cider place right across from the megabooze campus of Devil’s Backbone (a beer place that is amazing, but, again, a beer place). Much like Bryant’s, this place has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. They’ve always had generous flights of 5 ounce pours that either dare the drinker to finish them or encourage the drinker to share, depending on the spirit of your heart. They offered a slew of holiday ciders that were all delightful and surprising. (Really, I didn’t think I would enjoy the gingersnap peppermint cider, but that one was a winner.)
From there we headed south for a little family time with my sister and her family in Roanoke. Miracle has never seen the majesty of the Mill Mountain Star, so we looked at the star. We did some hiking. Then her husband, Steve, showed us how to mountain board—a version of skateboarding off road.
But, much like the past couple weeks, the cold is on our heels and we need to keep heading south.