Hinson Ford Cider & Mead decades in the making

By Posted on Sep 23 2019 | By

From young lad to master cidermaker

One of the recent entrants into the surging cider and mead boom opened its doors in Amissville in the fall of 2017 and began welcoming guests to the local world of fermented apple juice and honey.

It was not its first foray in producing what some might claim is the highest and best use of the red orbs and golden liquid. “I made my first batch of cider when I was 17. I pressed it with a cider press I made myself,” said Dennis Kelly, a partner along with his wife Mary Graham and fellow cidermaker and neighbor, Dave Shiff.

“I made it in Old Hollow in Sperryville where my parents had a share in the Apple Hill Farm. We’d spend weekends there and I fell in love with Rappahannock. I would have been amazed back then to know I would end up living out here. It seemed like a far-fetched dream but here we are.”

Kelly, 60, went on to a career in government contracting in Northern Virginia and still wields a keyboard full-time to augment his passion for fermentation. But his love of the countryside and producing social lubricants is where his heart has been since moving to the county in 2006.

His good fortune continued when he learned his neighbor Shiff was also a cidermaker. Shiff proposed joining forces and going commercial and today their cidery is located on Shiff’s 22-acre farm next to Kelly’s property at 379 Hinson Ford Road.

Over the years mead entered Kelly’s hobby portfolio but the breakthrough came at his daughter’s wedding in 2015. “We served champagne, wine, and craft beer but the mead kind of blew everything away. We knew then we were on to something,” said Kelly.

Going local
Realizing the bountiful riches available locally, Hinson Ford focuses on locally grown fruit and honey to make their offerings. The first year they obtained apples from Lee’s Orchard and pressed the fruit by hand. “It was exhausting.”

Subsequently, they contracted with Thornton River Orchards. The orchardist Allan Clark and his daughter Megan select apples best suited for cider and press the fruit on their equipment. At harvest time pure apple juice is used to make cider saving considerable time and labor.

Clark had been considering producing hard cider himself but elected to supply the juice and let Kelly make the product. “Allan is very plugged into what apples make good cider and we’ve had great success with the fruit he’s procured for us.”

Windsong Apiary in Castleton is the source for their quality honey. As with any libation, the ingredients used in its production dictate the flavor and taste of the final product. Owner Bob Wellemeyer is a long-time apiarist and professional pollinator.

In addition to his own locally produced honey, each spring he travels to Fla. with his hives to help pollinate orange groves. Since pollination is the only thing the growers are interested in, he keeps the orange blossom honey for sale back in Rappahannock.

“It makes quality honey that produces quality mead,” said Kelly. “Also, he obtains nectar from Goldenrod plants in Pa. It’s the last nectar-producing plant in the fall enabling an additional crop of honey to be taken in before winter.

“It’s bright yellow with an almost vinegary smell and makes wonderful mead.” Henson Ford uses numerous 60-pound pails of honey annually to produce its mead.
This year Kelly’s own hives will start contributing to its mead. Moreover, his wife Mary Graham grows elderberries, blackberries, and raspberries to use as flavorings in the mead.

Dry is fine
One educational task the three partners engage in during tastings is explaining the rationale for their predominately dry line of ciders and meads. Unlike many commercial versions, the owners believe the most flavorful product is realized by not covering it up with sweeteners but letting its true nature shine through.

The result is beverages that are similar to dry wines.

As with many newbie wine drinkers who start off drinking wines with residual sweetness, cider and mead fans often gravitate to drier versions as their palates mature.

“I am an evangelist for dry ciders and meads. We have about a 98 percent conversion rate on the dry meads. Many people first tasted mead at a Renaissance festival where it’s typically sweet.”

The current bottlings of both products in the taproom are:
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.

“We are coming up on our first anniversary of participating in the Rappahannock Farm Tour. This year it will be held September 28 and 29. All three of us are kind of stunned how well things are going for us,” said Kelly.

Residents of northern Piedmont might also be a bit stunned at the elegant and flavorful ciders and meads this boutique establishment is producing. Its taproom is open Friday 5 to 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday noon to 6 p.m.

To learn more about their lineup and production techniques visit

Published in the September 18, 2019 edition of the Fauquier Times.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES