Archive for January, 2020


Back to the Future

Posted on Jan 27 2020 | By

Hinson Ford Cider & Mead: A Walk on the Dry Side

Over 400 years ago, the first Virginians struggled to turn grapes into wine. It was a lost cause.

Between the humidity, insects, unpalatable native grapes and the recalcitrant European grapes, wine became a rare sight on a colonist’s dinner table.

Of course, beer and whiskey kept our hardworking early citizens happy but hard cider was the drink of the masses.

Thomas Jefferson produced a champagne-style cider made with Hew’s Crabapples. It was his “table drink” bespeaking volumes since the Sage of Monticello was the Nation’s first wine connoisseur.

Throughout the 19th century growing and producing cider in Virginia was an integral part of our agrarian economy.

Over time, however, the potion largely faded as other adult beverages gained popularity.

Today, hard cider is making a strong comeback in Virginia and nationwide. One of the newest producers is Hinson Ford Cider & Mead located in Rappahannock County, appropriately known for its sizeable apple production in the early 20th century.

But mead shares equal billing with cider at the Amissville establishment. Mead is the oldest known libation in the world dating to 11,000 years ago. Most bottlings of both at Hinson Ford are fermented to dryness meaning little residual sugar is in the final product.

“New Tasty” could best describe what is unfolding at this small but artisanal business dedicated to the art of fermenting apples and honey.

As is typical in Virginia, history is linked to the name of the cidery itself. Hinson Ford Road, where the cidery is located, was named after Hinson’s Ford, a shallow crossing across the nearby Rappahannock River.

In August of 1862, Stonewall Jackson led a force of 77,000 men through the ford to position his troops for the looming Second Battle of Bull Run.

With a little imagination, one can picture the troops tramping past the future cidery; too bad they couldn’t have paused for a glass.

Red Orbs & Liquid Gold
The beauty of cider and mead are in their rural provenance. The art and science of their creation are embedded in a bucolic environment. Transforming the gifts of the orchard and the bee into flavorful social lubricants might be considered the highest and best use of both products.

So how did Hinson Ford discover its calling? Co-owner Dennis Kelly explains the epiphany occurred during his daughter’s wedding.

“Our daughter got married in 2015 at our place in Amissville. As a long-time hobby producer of cider and mead, my wife Mary Graham and I made several batches of mead.
“Of course, we also served champagne, wine, and craft beer but the mead kind of blew everything else away. We realized then we were on to something. It was very popular.”

It was Kelly’s good fortune that his neighbor Dave Shiff was a cider maker. A decision was made to join forces and build a cidery-meadery on Shiff’s 22-acre farm. It opened in 2018.

The ingredients finding a home in their flavorful bottles all hail from Rappahannock County. The apple juice is procured from Thornton River Orchard that is managed by orchardist Allan Clark. “He’s a wonderful orchardist and a good guy to work with.

“Ironically Allan was considering producing cider too and said, “Now I don’t have to worry about it. I’ll sell you the juice and you can make it,” said Kelly.

Most of the products are free from residual sugar and have a wine-like profile. Kelly is grateful for the large commercial cider producers because the exposure they’ve created for the libation. But he eschews sweet cider like a farmer haying a wet field.

Out of his current 11 offerings only one, a caramelized honey and maple syrup mead, is semi-sweet. Most of the others are dry and some lightly carbonated. When guests come looking for the sweet stuff the owners explain dry is their game and proceed to educate them on the elegant and crisp nature of the delicate beverages.

To create an even closer connection with its cider production, Shiff planted some 60 apple trees on his land that will start producing fruit next year and will find a home in their tasting room.
So, can any apples make quality cider? No. Similar to wine specific varietals are deemed best for producing cider.

“Winemakers would not use table grapes and cidermakers would not generally use Red Delicious, as an example,” explains Kelly. “Cider is often a blend of several different apples. As a general rule, the better an apple is for eating the less likely it will be used for cider production.”

Characteristics sought by cidermakers are a blend of sugar, acidity, and tannins.

The legendary Johnny Appleseed, who planted over 100,000 square miles of orchards, favored planting “spitters.” The apples were hard, small, and bitter but made great cider and applejack which was Johnny’s objective. Smart guy.

Unfortunately, Prohibition wiped out much of his work. When the Nation went dry in 1920, there was little use for either sweet or bitter apples. American’s did not consume a lot of fruit back then and most of the orchards were plowed under for other cultivation.

The Renaissance
Until about 15 years ago cider and mead were as rare as snow in July. But the phenomenal growth of artisanal wine, beer and spirits triggered interest on the part of cider hobbyists to test consumer interest by going public.

Like the first couple up on the dance floor, it wasn’t long before the number of producers began to grow. And the public began taking notice.

Today there are 820 cideries in the U.S. and mead is quickly catching up. In 2003 there were a paltry 30 such establishments nationwide. In 2018 there were well over 500 meaderies producing the drink of Vikings with an additional 350 planning to open their doors.

Here in Virginia, there are 31 cideries and 11 meaderies.

A guaranteed sign of success is when the Governor gets involved. Starting in 2012 Virginia became the first state to proclaim an official “Cider Week”. This year the celebration will occur November 15-24 and feature special tastings, pairings, dinners, events, and workshops.

Since Virginia is the sixth-largest apple producing state, it’s fitting the cider industry is being showcased with Richmond support.

To your health
Similar to many consumer food products today cider and mead are gaining traction for their health profile. “I think part of it is simply the younger generation looking for a new experience with a certain portion driven by people who are gluten intolerant and have similar health conditions.

“They can’t drink beer and they want something they can enjoy and tolerate. That’s true for both cider and mead,” says Kelly.

Some claim the medical properties of honey convey to mead drinkers. Honey has long been used as a health tonic because of its probiotic traits. When consumed it can have a positive impact on immunity and intestinal health.

It’s also used as a topical treatment for skin wounds and infections or taken by mouth for coughs and sore throats.

Scientists have found evidence that cider conveys the benefits of health-enhancing antioxidants. A pint delivers the same amount of antioxidants as a glass of red wine.

As with many such health claims, there is often limited medical validation so imbibers need to enjoy the liquid refreshments responsibility and accept with gratitude any health benefits.

The Tasting Sheet
To set your palate watering here’s a list of the current offerings at Hinson Ford. All are dry and lightly carbonated except one.

Brehon: Blend of eight Rappahannock County apples. 8% abv.
Ciderhouse: Blend of a dozen county varieties. 8.5% abv.
Ginger: Flavored with fresh ginger. 5.6% abv.
Hopyard: Dry hopped with Cascade and Amarillo hops. 8.5 % abv.
Scrumpy: Named for a traditional English cider. 7.2% abv.
Ruby: Blend of Baldwin apples, Montmorency cherries, and bittersweet cider apples. 9.8% abv.

Dark Skies Bochet: semi-sweet with caramelized honey fermented with maple syrup. 14% abv.
Elderberry: Fermented with Elderberry juice. 10% abv.
Orange Blossom: Made with orange blossom honey. 9.1% abv.
Goldenrod: Made with Goldenrod honey. 9% abv.
Strawberry: Fermented with strawberry puree. 8% abv.

Boutique in a special way
As with most immerging industries, both cideries and meaderies are unique in that large and fancy tasting rooms are the exception, not the rule. They are cozy and informal with the producers themselves often pouring the products with the same hands that created the beverages.

Such establishments are the polar opposite of a large, established winery. The seating may be limited but the attention manifold. Since passion is the fuel that drives the producers, they are eager to share not only the nuances and flavors of their products but also the hows and whys of production.

During warmer months a tasting should be followed by a glass on the grounds. After all, it’s not just tasting cider or mead, it’s banking a memory that will draw you back for another visit.

For a list of cideries and meaderies in the Old Dominion, take a peek into their digital taprooms here:

Published in the October 2019 edition of Dine Wine & Stein magazine.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

Double your pleasure, double your fun

Posted on Jan 27 2020 | By

Marshall double-decker bus becomes region’s only “bustaurant”
A great way to build an appetite is to climb a set of stairs. It’s also the quickest way to enter into a unique world of dining if it happens to be a 1962 British double-decker bus. And no worries about food sliding off your plate. This bus does not fire up its engine, only the appetites of its lucky diners.

Two Fauquier County entrepreneurs are the “drivers” behind a successful and unique dining experience located in the increasingly foodie village of Marshall. With over a year of experience under their kitchen aprons, Brian Lichorowic and Lorrie Addison will soon launch Saturday evenings of music accompanied by its eclectic menu from the second floor of their “London on wheels” called Johnny Monarch’s.

Lichorowic is a former technology geek who originally hailed from upstate New York. He has six generations of dining history coursing through his veins. Scratch the man’s hands, and the aroma of a well-tended kitchen is likely to fill the air. He’s called Virginia home since 1989.

Addison is a Virginia belle born and raised. She grew up in Woodbridge and raised her children in Stafford County. As life moved on and she and Brian met each other on eight years ago. A befitting move for a techie in search of the right woman. It was a relationship destined to be centered on quality food.

So, how did the bus come into play? “I always wanted to get into the restaurant business. It was in my blood, and I was always thinking about it,” says Lichorowic. “But I wanted to do something unique other than a brick and mortar business.”

The idea—supported and pushed by Addison—sent the couple off in the search for an iconic double-decker bus. They found one for sale in Krakow Poland and had it shipped stateside, renovated it into a kitchen and dining room, and named the new business Johnny Monarch’s.

“My family hails from Krakow. That’s where my grandfather ran his first restaurant and where his grandfather ran his first restaurant. It was kind of a sign from heaven,” says Lichorowic.

The first level of the bus is home to a well-appointed kitchen, and eight steps leading to the upper level offers seating for up to 20 diners with a view of Main Street. An additional 1,000 square foot kitchen is located in a building behind the bus enabling the restaurant to double team their guests with a wide range of menu items.

One marketing hurdle the couple had to overcome was to shed the perception that the bus was a food truck. It is food served in a large vehicle, but it is not a food truck traveling from site to site.

Menu, wine & entertainment
Soon after selecting their site in Marshall, the couple began growing relationships with many of the town’s businesses. Domestic Aspirations, The Whole Ox, Joe’s Pizza, Field and Main, and many more, “are all friends of ours. We work together and buy products from them for use in the restaurant. We could not have picked a better place to plant ourselves,” says Lichorowic.

The menu ranges from rich comfort foods to vegetarian dishes. One impressive belly buster is the American Pie. It’s made from scratch using a thick layer of ground beef, herbs, spices, and topped with a heaping serving of Mac-N-Cheese, all baked to a toasty brown. Weighing in at 3,100 calories, the dish might be worth sharing with your fellow diner if you’re not up to tucking it away on your own.

For those who don’t want to punch another hole in their belt, a variety of vegan selections are available, including a Veetball Sub. Entries range in price from $12 to $18, but family size portions are available, making for a great family dining out experience.

The couple also offers a diverse catering menu for small and mid-size events.

The ultimate twofer is right next to the bus. It’s another double-decker bus devoted to wine. It’s owned by Randy Phillips, owner, and winemaker at Cave Ridge Winery in Mt. Jackson. The winery specializes in sparkling wines, so the bus is dubbed the “Bubble Decker.”

Phillips told them, “You do the food, and I’ll do the wine,” making for a gastronomic partnership that has worked well for guests of both buses. Glass and bottle sales are available on the second bus but can also be brought to dinner at Johnny Monarch’s.

Starting on January 11, a unique series of entertainment dinners called the Saturday Night Winter Music Series will commence with the appearance of Maddie Mae, a solo vocal act featuring the guitar playing Mae. She will perform acoustically in the dining section of the bus interacting with guests for an intimate, in-home like experience.

“The crowd kind of becomes part of the whole scene. They ask questions of the performer and even become background and rhythm singers. There will be two settings each Saturday; one at 4:30 p.m. and the second at 6:30 p.m.,” said Lichorowic.

For the full story on this unusual and successful marriage of buses, food, and wine visit Johnny Monarch’s at and the Bubble Decker at

Published in December 27, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Clickety-Clack is where it’s at

Posted on Jan 13 2020 | By

Model railroading relives yesteryear’s Christmases

Railroads built America. The embryonic beginning occurred with the first passenger and freight line established by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1827.

Networks expanded like kudzu smothering a southern forest, inexorably expanding west and fulfilling the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the belief American expansion was both justified and inevitable.

Over the ensuing two centuries, a series of bankruptcies, consolidations and a decline in rail traffic due to auto, truck and air travel have seen railroads fade as a major transportation cog. Route mileage peaked at 254,251 miles in 1916 falling to 140,000 by 2018.

But who hasn’t heard that “lonesome whistle blow” and been reminded of the legacy of the train and its contribution to the Nation? The decline in rail traffic parallels the decline in model trains popular during the middle of the last century and a former centerpiece of Christmas in millions of homes.

But toy trains lovers still exist and may well be more passionate than their compatriots of over a half-century ago. If you pursue the hobby today in the face of public disinterest, you might be on the leading edge of a revival. And if you’re not, who cares. Passion is always in fashion.

Today’s model train industry is truncated but thriving in places like Fauquier and Prince William Counties. One simply has to know where to look.

Virginia Hobbies Etc.
Located at 46 Main Street across from the Warrenton post office, Virginia Hobbies, Etc. is owned and operated by Burrell Stindel who has been the conductor behind his radio-controlled trains, planes, and automobiles for 35 years.

He moved to Warrenton in 2002 with the intent of selling only model trains but, “found out what the town needed was a more expansive hobby shop. Today, we sell about 800 major items and some 10,000 products supporting those toys.”

If you need a wheel bearing for a truck, a track pin for your choo choo, a doll baby, or a model airplane kit, it’s in stock. The toy maven explains that the popularity of model railroading has faded over the decades because “we’ve now raised three generations of people who have never ridden on a train. There’s no connection today between the miniature and the real deal.”

He acknowledges that movies have helped drive sales to the younger set for trains like the Hogwarts Express and Polar Express. But most of his sales are to folks in their 40s.

Trains can range from $90 to $1,700 for a locomotive car depending on the quality and features a buyer is seeking. A complete set from a trusted manufacturer like Lionel sporting four cars, track, and the controller will run from $350 to $450.

Stindel underscores he typically matches prices on websites; an important feature for parents purchasing a train set for the kids only to later realize they have questions about its operation and maintenance. His service doesn’t stop once the train is rolling down the tracks.

Toy Trains and Collectibles
Dan and Hope Danielson and their children and grandchildren run their shop dedicated to the world of model trains. Located at 7216 New Market Court in Manassas, Dan Danielson has been a model train buff for 65 years. You can try and stump him with a train question but why waste your time? He has a firm grip on the locomotive throttle.

He and his wife are collectors with different interests; Hope focuses on trains from the 1900s to the early 1940s. Dan’s passion is collecting trains sold from the late 40s to the late 60s. The modern era of model railroading began in 1970. “You can pay upwards of $8,000 for a mint condition pre-war locomotive.”

In addition to antique trains for sale, the couple carries a wide variety of modern trains, tracks, and accessories available in Standard, O, O-27, S, HO and N gauges. Their selections include respected manufacturers such as Lionel, MTH, Bachmann, Williams, Atlas, Athearn and Kato.

Dan explains that track gauge is important when purchasing a train for a youngster. “You don’t want to buy an HO gauge train for a seven-year-old. It’s too fragile and they’ll get frustrated in assembling and running it.

“Rather, buy an O gauge set that they are not going to easily break. Our passion here is to make sure we get the right train for the right aged child so he or she can get the most fun and enjoyment out of it. Not just for Christmas but year-round.”

From December 18th to the 22nd Dan recommends that anyone interested in model trains drop by the Manassas Center for the Arts at 9419 Battle St. and check out its Winter Wonderland Model Train Show. On weekdays it’s open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; weekend hours are from is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. “It’s a stunning layout and it’s all Christmas themed. It’s one dynamite train display.” Even better? It’s free.

One cautionary tale if you are considering a leap into model trains. Rod Stewart, the British singer, and songwriter spent 23 years building a massive model train and cityscape in the attic of his Los Angeles home.
Often while on tour he requested a separate room and had the bed cleared so he could work on the project while on the road. Might that have inspired his 1989 hit Downtown Train?

For those who want to leap from the miniature to full-blown, consider an overnight jaunt to Elkins West Virginia to hop aboard the seriously real Polar Express. The fun run unfolds each November and December and recreates the iconic movie in real-time. For information and tickets visit

If model railroading catches your imagination, no need to wander alone onto the tracks. In addition to the two valued shops in our area, stop by the National Model Railroad Association at Learn all there is to know about choo-chooing before donning your striped engineer’s cap. All aboard!

Published in the November 27, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : HAGARTY TALES