History on Tap: “Turn” and the Power of Interpretive Storytelling

“Storytelling is our process of telling who we are. We have to tell stories. […] Interpretation and imagination are absolutely integral to telling our history.”
– Dr. Edward Lengel, historian and author

“There’s a reason [storytelling] is a primal need for people and that’s because it humanizes history – we start to see things that we can relate to.”
– Samuel Roukin, actor


On April 25, 2016, we partnered with the Virginia Historical Society for another memorable installment of their “History on Tap” series. The event featured the Season 3 series premiere of AMC’s “Turn: Washington’s Spies.” Following the premiere, Blue Bee Cider’s own Cider Evangelist, Brian Ahnmark, took attendees through a tasting of our Hewe’s Crab Heirloom Series cider and President and CEO of VHS Paul Levengood moderated a panel discussion with Samuel Roukin (the actor who plays Capt. Simcoe in “Turn”), Andy Edmunds (Director of the Virginia Film Office), and Dr. Edward Lengel and Lynn Price (from the University of Virginia’s Washington Papers). The event concluded with a book signing by Dr. Lengel of his book, First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His – and the Nation’s – Prosperity.

As Blue Bee Cider’s Storyteller, it probably comes as no surprise that my favorite part of the evening was the discussion about historical storytelling. We learned that the writers for each episode of “Turn” are on set during filming, giving them a role not only in the creation of the story through script writing, but also as resources in bringing those words to life. Because there are multiple directors for each season, a showrunner – often also known as an executive producer – helps maintain a tonal continuity across episodes and ensures the core storyline is consistent.  

Throughout the discussion, Samuel Roukin spoke about his portrayal of Capt. Simcoe and Dr. Edward Lengel provided perspective about the real historical figure. Both Mr. Roukin and Dr. Lengel shared a commitment to interpreting history in a way that preserves the humanity of a person rather than creating archetypal figures simplified down to heroes or villains. In the case of “Turn”, this has included everything from the portrayal of George Washington shown in a state of controversial vulnerability during the Valley Forge episode in Season 2, to Mr. Roukin’s choice to give Capt. Simcoe – arguably the show’s most fearsome antagonist – a gentle, slightly higher voice.

One comment that particularly stood out was made by Dr. Lengel in response to a question by Mr. Roukin about historical records and accuracy of first-hand accounts. Dr. Lengel explained how historians are often unable to get a full emotional picture of a person in their first-hand accounts because you must always think about what influences may be at play. Is the writer unveiling all actions and feelings as they occurred or rather recording what they wish us to see in them (and what they wish to see in themselves)?

This is really the crux of any storytelling – how a story is told reflects something about the person doing the telling, and the way that story is then interpreted by the listener also speaks to the experiences and perspectives of that audience. At Blue Bee, we are committed to sharing our story with you, and that’s one of the valuable parts of this blog. You are able to hear our story from the diverse voices that make up our staff and community. And you in turn share your experiences with Blue Bee Cider, not only by reading about us here, but by actively taking part in building our story every time you drink a glass of our cider, visit our tasting room, or share us with others in your life. Here’s to you and here’s to our continuing story together!

For photos from the event, please visit VHS’s event album on Facebook.

And you can now get your very own bottle of Hewe’s Crab limited release cider at the VHS gift shop!

-Nicole Martorana

Wassail to Women! Our Historic Role in Cidermaking

Did you know that March is Women’s History Month? With the aim of “paying tribute to the generations of women whose commitment to nature and the planet have proved invaluable to society,” according to the event’s website, it seemed appropriate to focus this month’s post on the contributions of women to the world of cidermaking. At Blue Bee Cider, women’s contributions are almost immediately apparent in that our founder and owner is female. This is also the case for several other Virginia and American cideries. While women have been pioneers in helping to re-establish the popularity of craft cider with the American drinker, our predecessors first established the industry’s matriarchal tradition in this country.

In her book, Every Home A Distillery, VCU professor Sarah Hand Meacham explores how the first colonists brought their cidermaking traditions with them in the 17th century when they first settled in the Chesapeake. In the swampy Tidewater, colonists were (rightly) skeptical of water quality and its tendency to carry disease. As such, their main source of hydration was alcohol, most often in the forms of cider or small ale (a lower-alcohol beer). They began the morning with a glass and continued with mugs during meals and breaks throughout the day. This was true not only of adults, but children as well. These beverages were sources of nutrition as well as a sort of early all-purpose solution. Writes Meacham, “Women not only consumed alcoholic drinks, but they also cleaned houses and babies with them and used them as beauty products.”

Cidermaking was considered a part of cooking, thus placing it firmly within the female domain. As Meacham quotes from an early text, “it is properly the work and care of the woman, for it is house-work, and done altogether within doors, where generally lies her charge.” Meacham also recounts that “women in small-planter households made cider just as they made cheese, candles, and other household supplies.” This was the practice for small-scale farmers not only in making fruit ciders, but also beer and other fermented beverages from ingredients like molasses. English and New World cookbooks and pamphlets instructed women in the production of alcoholic beverages, and recipes were valued property passed down through families from mother to daughter. Women, or Ale Wives, were often imported as brides specifically for their cidermaking and brewing skills to an area were women were in short, and needed, supply.

While alcohol production did eventually transition to a male-dominated practice with the rise of beer brewing and larger-scaled production, women were in charge for much longer in the Chesapeake than in New England and Europe. This is mainly due to the intensity of tobacco production which diverted masculine labor. Whereas in the other colonies and across the ocean, populations were more urban, able to access imports, and have the economic markets to support them, rural Tidewater residents lacked these amenities. Hops, a Dutch-introduced phenomenon, oats, and barley required significant investments of time, land, and labor, which the Chesapeake’s tobacco markets could not spare. Meanwhile, the tools needed for brewing, including bottles, were scant in the area and expensive to import to a spread-out, rural population. Limited imports to the Chesapeake due to such banes as cost, unreliability from spoilage and leakage, and shipwrecks only further emphasized the need for a steady household supply of alcohol.

While women were not economically independent or able to find any power or prestige through cidermaking, their role in its production and distribution was essential to the sustenance of their families and communities, creating a legacy for today’s women in the industry. Stay tuned for a future post about women’s necessity in the licensing and operation of taverns!

-Nicole Martorana

Note: Thanks to the Virginia Historical Society for sharing a leaf from their collection of recipe and housewifery publications.

Appreciation of Craft

Working in this industry has filled me with an appreciation for the work and dedication that goes into every wine, beer, mead, and spirit that I come across. It has made me a self-proclaimed explorer that feeds off new flavors, new styles, and new types of alcohol. All producers are fueled by similar aspirations. A brewer and distiller walk into a bar and bond over each other’s creations. There is respect between a cidermaker and winemaker, there is admiration and a wealth of knowledge that each person holds. As a consumer over the years, I’ve realized that trying different beers is not enough. Making and drinking cider is not enough. There is too much variation in the world of alcohol to appreciate only a single approach.

There are wines of all regions and varietals created with different vessels, various blends, and innovative techniques. Wines with and without sulfites, wines so complex that one bottle isn’t enough to carefully unravel its mysteries. There are beers made with carefully selected grains, unique ingredients, and temperamental yeast that need special nurturing. Extinct beers are being resurrected, well-established styles are reinvented for the modern world, and new creations are springing from brewers’ minds. There are spirits that reflect a country’s history and ingredients, encompassing thousands of years in a single bottle. There is the distillation of fermented fruit, spirits that are aged for a lifetime, and other spirits that never touch a barrel. Other beverages are rooted in such heavy folklore that recipes are passed between family members and techniques are learned in childhood observance.

Alcohol is many things, a beverage that has been tightly knitted with civilization, ebbing and flowing with society’s needs and wants. There is casual and heavy consumption; there are beers at parties, champagne at celebrations, spirits in cocktails or straight in a glass among friends. Limitless in creation and reflecting more than just fermentation, alcohol morphs, it comes and goes, becoming what you make of it and representing different things to different people.

A single varietal cider we fermented with a Trappist yeast strain reflected our appreciation of Belgian Tripels. In 2014, we smoked Winesaps with applewood, hickory, and cedar and created something that many customers compared to the characteristics of Scotch whisky and a German Rauchbier. Our raspberry and blackberry infused cider, Mill Race Bramble, is a subtle homage to rosés. Our dessert ciders are inspired by Calvados and Pommeau.

We are connoisseurs of aromas, sensations, and tastes on our palates. We admire the patience, passion, and dedicate care that producers take with each product they create. Breathing in the world of alcohol, we take in all of its nuances, expressions, histories, traditions, folklores and translate what we discover into our own world of cider.

– Manuel Garcia


As craft beverage enthusiasts discover artisan cider, it’s worth noting that the current cider boom is not so much an arrival as a revival. Cider was the preferred table beverage of the American Founding Fathers, particularly in Virginia where spectacular cider apples were abundant. What happened? Prohibition and the Temperance Movement. With alcohol outlawed, cider apples served no purpose and were allowed to die off (or sometimes chopped down).

We introduced our Heirloom Series in December 2015 as a way of showcasing these revered cider apples, many of which are rallying back from the brink of extinction. Our first Heirloom Series cider was the single-varietal Hewe’s Crab, George Washington’s favorite apple and occupier of Thomas Jefferson’s entire north orchard at Monticello. On March 19, we will release the second cider of the series, Harrison.

Whereas Hewe’s Crab was a preferred cider apple in the South, Harrison was celebrated in the North. Noted pomologist William Coxe wrote in 1817 of its “high coloured, rich, and sweet cider of great strength, commanding a high price in New York, frequently ten dollars and upwards per barrel when fined for bottling.”

By the early 1900s, however, Harrison had vanished from apple-related publications and for decades was thought to be extinct. In 1976, fruit collector Paul Gidez went in search of the Harrison apple in New Jersey based on Coxe’s 1817 writings. The owner of a cider mill in Livingston, New Jersey claimed to have a Harrison tree, originally planted by his grandfather, in his backyard. The tree was slated to be cut down the following week to make room for a garden, and indeed it was – but not before Gidez salvaged scion wood from the tree.

Years later, orchardist and heirloom apple expert (and beloved friend of Blue Bee Cider) Tom Burford confirmed Harrison’s rediscovery. Our owner/founder Courtney Mailey grafted Hewe’s Crab and Harrison trees in 2011 during her apprenticeship with Albemarle Ciderworks, and those trees provided us with their first harvest this year. The 2015 vintage of Harrison, due out March 19, 2016, is limited to approximately 300 bottles.

While all of us at Blue Bee Cider are proud of the modern stamp we have placed on Virginia cider – introducing the Commonwealth’s first dry-hopped, berry-infused and smoked ciders – we are also profoundly respectful and in awe of the history associated with this mighty beverage. We are forever committed to honoring Virginia’s cidermaking tradition, and ensuring that these treasured cider apples are never threatened with extinction again.

– Brian Ahnmark

photo: Albemarle Ciderworks/Anne Shelton

Black History in Cider

In 2015, Blue Bee Cider and our distributor, Virginia Winery Distribution Company, co-hosted our first seminar about the roles of African Americans in our cider history. There are a few stories directly linking African Americans and cider, but for the most part we have to dig deeper to make the connections. Professor Sarah Meacham at VCU is a tremendous resource for this. Her book Every Home a Distillery is on our recommended reading list.

From Sarah’s research we know that alcohol production was often a side gig for enslaved people, one which paid well. Learning to make cider and spirits could become the means to earn enough money to buy one’s freedom. From Monticello’s records, we know that Jupiter Evans, one of Jefferson’s most trusted, yet still enslaved, servants was the only person Jefferson really trusted with the annual cidermaking production. One of Albemarle CiderWorks’ most treasured ciders, Jupiter’s Legacy, is named for him. By piecing together records from Appomattox Plantation, just south of Richmond, we are also able to follow the story of James Madison Ruffin. Madison, as he was known, was an emancipated slave who managed many agricultural projects before and after the Civil War, including the planting and maintenance of Appomattox Plantation’s apple orchards and its cider fruit.

These stories are our launching pad. We need more of them. As our seminar discussion opened up in 2015, we came to learn about an 80-plus year-old African American woman who has been making cider in Richmond since she was a child. She is the original urban cidermaking woman in our town, not me! I was delighted to learn more about her and her traditions.

Cider as an industry is just beginning to have these conversations about where our craft comes from and where it is going. Having conversations with a wide circle of people who love it now and have loved it in the past enriches the experience of our traditional and shared foodways. I hope that you join us in our next cider conversation!

-Courtney Mailey

Photo: The Winter White Pearmain was one of the apple varieties grown at Appomattox Plantation.

Urban Orchard 101: Which Apples to Grow

Choosing which heirloom apples trees to grow is an ongoing dialogue of trial and error, even for highly experienced growers. We talk to each other, we talk to our customers, we ferment things, watch how the trees survive pests and diseases and revise our plantings over and over again.

I am now planning the varieties for Blue Bee Cider’s second urban orchard in Richmond, Virginia. Like the first one, there will be a total of about 15 trees surrounded by hotspots (concrete and asphalt). If I don’t have a serious think about rootstocks, my default is M-111 or a semi-standard sized tree which is big enough to stand on its own but small enough to start bearing after about four years.

For apple varieties, I plan to go with eight Hewe’s Crab, three Winter White Pearmain and four wild cards. The first two varieties have proven themselves to be hearty and happy in our climate in the Manchester orchard. Hewe’s Crab has been a no-brainer from day one. It was originally cultivated in James City County, located one hour south (hotter and more humid) from Richmond. Winter White Pearmain was a wild card apple that I loved and wanted to test out four years ago. As luck would have it, just as this little apple tree was proving itself to be a strong performer in our orchard, Virginia Historical Society sent me a 19th-century era orchard planting list from Appomattox Plantation, located 20 minutes south of Richmond along the James River. This planting list prominently features Winter White Pearmains. Thanks to the archivists at VHS we continue to learn about the orchards and ciders of Virginia prior to Prohibition and keep finding new possibilities that will fuel the renaissance of cider here. So which wild cards will we choose? Smith’s Cider? Nickajack? Red Streak? Swaan? Give us and our friends at VHS a couple more months to work that one out.

-Courtney Mailey

Hewe’s Crab

The most celebrated Southern cider apple, the Hewe’s Crab was first recorded in 1741 and became a favorite of our founding fathers, including Washington and Jefferson. William Coxe included an entire chapter on “the system of management adapted to the peculiar qualities of the fruit” in his treatise on orcharding in 1817, during the early years of the United States.

Though cultivated for nearly two hundred years for fine cider, the Hewe’s Crab was lost during the Prohibition Era, joining the ranks of many other fine, but extinct, cider apples that we hear about from apple-lorists like Tom Burford. It was rediscovered by Rollin Wooley from Colonial Williamsburg in the late 1900’s disguised in a commercial orchard as a pollinator. Since then, Tom Burford has managed to convince modern cidermakers to re-propagate the apples in larger quantities. When I apprenticed at Albemarle CiderWorks in 2011, I had the good fortune to taste their one and only batch. Every year they hope for another chance, but the apple is strongly biennial. So you have to hope that the weather gives you a good year every two years. You have to be twice as lucky.

The trees that I grafted in 2011 were planted in a nursery in Tricycle Gardens and then moved to the country orchard in 2012. This year gave us our first Hewe’s Crab harvest, which came in early and full. As I write this blog, Manuel and the cellar team are patiently bottling our first-ever single-varietal. We followed Coxe’s directions and handled the cider very minimally from start to finish. As they run the bottler, I can smell the cider aroma wafting across the building and it is not like any other cider we have made. I am not going to ruin it for you. You must taste it for yourself.

-Courtney Mailey

PHOTO CREDIT: Anne Shelton, Albemarle CiderWorks

FAQ: When are You Moving to the New Location?

This is the most frequently asked question in our tasting room and when we are out and about in Richmond these days. As of this writing, we are planning to move in summer 2016 and nothing has derailed us yet.

The City Stables property was purchased by the City of Richmond when the Scott’s Addition neighborhood was first being developed into the first industrial park in our region. It was always for the purpose of supporting public works projects and it is listed as a contributing structure in the Scott’s Addition historic district. In order to conduct a historic rehabilitation of the property, we needed more information about the building’s history. But where to start?

Our architectural historian for this project is the amazing Debra McClane. City tax records claim the building was built in 1940. But were the tax records correct? The first thing that Debra did was to find Sanborn fire insurance maps to figure out when the buildings that are there now appeared. She was able to find a map for 1924 that showed the property was owned by the City, but the buildings were not there yet. The next map was in 1952 and voila! They are there.

If you have seen these buildings, you will notice that they are made with granite blocks and mortared with decorative beading in many places. It is a solid stone building and a bit overbuilt for mere horse stables. What was happening in architecture between 1924 and 1952 that would warrant an ornate, earthquake-proof set of stone barns in a region where stone barns are rare?

The Depression and WWII were the big events of that time period. Both events dictated that there was not a lot of money around for such frivolities. During the Depression, FDR created an agency called the Works Progress/Projects Administration, which hired skilled artisans and architects to build public buildings all over the country. In my previous career, I would find tiny ornate post offices and other public buildings all over rural America built through the WPA. So I posited, this must be a New Deal project. That was all Debra needed to hear to figure the rest out.

Throughout The Annual Report of the Director Public Works 1940 the City of Richmond details the purpose, sources of funding (thank you, WPA), timing (1940) and number of construction workers required to build the building (about 17). There is even a picture of a similar building built the same year in the same neighborhood. The Maintenance Utility Building complex at Summit and Clay was built from old stone cobbles that were pulled up from the streets. It was intended to be a place where public works staff could assemble, sleep and shower and where 20 mules could be stabled. The photograph shows which windows and doors of the current structure are original, and therefore to be preserved.

The stories behind this building are a window into our City’s history. We look forward to learning more as we know more questions to ask. But in the short term, the bottom line for the development of the property is that yes, it is a historic building built in 1940; and yes we are going to have to save all those adorable, creaky old doors and windows.

-Courtney Mailey