The view from Two Story Chimneys Ciderworks, with a flight. Credit: Karen Nitkin

Ok, so, here’s what we want you to imagine:

You’re at Two Story Chimney Ciderworks, in Gaithersburg. It’s a beautiful fall day, and you’re sitting at a table in the sun with one or more of your favorite humans. Around you are other equally contented people, some with babies, some with dogs, many with snacks they brought with them or purchased at the “Cluck Truck” parked nearby.

Your view is blue sky and green grass. A few little kids race each other through a pumpkin patch. Everyone is wearing their cutest fall flannels and sweaters.

ln front of you sits four glasses, nestled in a cute wooden tray. The liquid inside, all shades of honey-gold, are different ciders, all made with nearby apples.

You sip the one called Over the Falls, which was aged in a red wine barrel. Flavors of oak and the wine linger. Like the other ciders, it’s crisp and a little tart, far less sweet than the big-name stuff you buy at the liquor store. You sample the others in your $12 flight – Proper Dry, Sweet Tart and Ruby Red – or seasonal ciders flavored with blackberry or pumpkin, and find subtleties in each.

Sounds nice, right?

As you may have noticed, we’re a little obsessed with cideries. We love the bright flavors and zippy fizz of locally made hard ciders, and the fact that they’re fermented from local apples. We love sipping and socializing and just hanging out, either outdoors or in a warm and rustic tasting room. We love the live music and trivia nights and food trucks, and we love the quieter visits too.

A Google search tells us that hard ciders date back to Roman times, and were quite popular in Colonial America, probably because pretty much anyone with an apple tree could turn their fruit into booze. Then came the industrial revolution; people moved into cities, and switched to beer.

Now, cideries seem to be having a moment.

Nationally, there are some 1,060 cider producers, up from 150 in 2010, according to Michelle McGrath, executive director of the American Cider Association.

And in Maryland, “there is growth in the cider industry,” says Jim Bauckman, communications director for Grow and Fortify, which represents the Maryland Wineries Association, the Brewers Association of Maryland, Maryland Distillers Guild and the Maryland Hemp Coalition. (Cideries can belong to either the winery or brewery association.)

“We think it is a de facto effect of the growth of craft alcohol producers, more broadly,” he says. “As the number of breweries, wineries and distilleries increases, so does the interest in and demand for cider,” he says.

We found three that we love, all within an hour of Baltimore, and all with tasting rooms for on-site sampling. The oldest of the three opened in 2018.

Spend an afternoon, and then pick up some bottles to take to Thanksgiving dinner. Unlike beer, ciders are gluten-free. Unlike wine, it won’t put you to sleep. And the bright flavors will cut nicely through the richness of turkey and mashed potatoes.

Our first visit was to Two Story Chimney Ciderworks, owned and run by Tommy Evans, who has experience making both wines and beers. Cider-making, he says, falls somewhere in the middle because it takes less time than wine-making, but uses equipment and fermenting processes that are similar to wine-making. His ciders use apples from his own and other Maryland orchards, including crabapples that add tartness.

Evans began selling cider in 2020, and opened the tasting room the following year. Events include teacher happy hours and trivia nights; check the online calendar for updates, including which food trucks will be on site. The cidery is open year-round. Etchison Country Store, across the street, sells sandwiches and other snacks, and in cold weather there will most likely be a fire in the fireplace.

From Two Story, we drove about 15 minutes along winding country roads to Doc Waters Cidery in Germantown. (We recommend a designated driver; these ciders are very drinkable and they pack a punch, with alcohol by volume that starts at 5.5 percent and goes way higher.)

This part of Montgomery County is so ridiculously scenic that it’s almost a parody of rural beauty, dotted with tastefully weathered barns and fat, shiny-coated cows grazing among rolling hills.

It was a Saturday afternoon, and Doc Waters was buzzing, with just about every table in the large field occupied. The band Rattle Root was rocking out, and people were playing corn hole, feeding babies, flirting, chatting, loving on their dogs, and generally having a grand time. The lines were long for ciders and snacks.

Doc Waters, which bills itself as the first cidery in Montgomery County, opened in 2018 as a value-add to the pick-your-own apple farm owned by Washington White and Susan Butler. They sold the orchard and cidery to their nieces and nephews in 2021.

The outdoor cidery, which sells cider made from its own apples, is open Friday through Sunday in season; check the calendar on it website for bands, trivia nights and other events. You can also reserve a fire pit.

Doc Waters Cidery. (Credit: Karen Nitkin)

Our third stop, Willow Oaks Craft Cider and Wine, in Middletown, was considerably less bustling but in many ways our favorite. It’s 45 minutes from Doc Waters, tucked out of sight off a gravel road, and probably best reserved for a separate outing.

Housed on the oldest organic farm in Maryland, Willow Oaks is open on the weekends March through December, and by appointment in the winter. Visitors can picnic with their own food on the patio or lawn, or can warm up in the lovely, welcoming tasting room, which also sells fruits, jams, pottery and other treats. Owners Eric Rice and Lori Leitzel Rice even have board games and baskets of Legos to encourage people to linger.

Their ciders, carefully crafted with their own heirloom apples, currants and other fruits, are tasting-competition winners. The critic’s darling is Gloaming, a tart yet somehow warm combination of heirloom apples and organic black currants, which sells for $25 a 500ml bottle. The Rices also make and sell perry, using organic pears, and sell grass-fed beef.

Eric and Lori both have been making ciders since 2013 and opened the tasting room in 2018. They both have outside jobs – he’s a professor and she’s a Craniosacral therapist – yet they take their cider-making quite seriously.  They are all about the terroir and the blending and the long, cool ferment of a year to 18 months that allows it to stabilize without sulfites.

The payoff for all that time and attention, says Lori, is seeing people enjoy their cider and hospitality. “We just love it when people come and settle in, enjoying each other and enjoying the view,” she says.

Other Maryland Cideries

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