L.L. Draughon’s Fishing Creek Sparking & Dry Hard Cider
On an eighth-generation family farm in rural Edgecombe County, Michael and Anderson O’Brien turn bins of North Carolina apples into bottles of L.L. Draughon’s Fishing Creek Sparking & Dry Hard Cider. The small craft cidery produces about 4,000 bottles each year, using over 8000 pounds of apples and two 1000-liter fermentation tanks. They named the cider for both their farming ancestor, L.L. Draughon, and the scenic creek that winds past the farm.
Lyman Latham Draughon (pronounced “drawn”) ran the farm in the late 1800’s, as mules on farms gave way to tractors. All farms had apple orchards, but it’s unlikely Draughon made any hard cider, given his devout Methodist wife. Around the turn of the new century, Draughon’s descendants planted a new orchard of antique southern variety trees and trees grafted from the limbs of great-grandfather Draughon’s trees. The 600-tree orchard contains over thirty varieties, including Winesaps, Staymans, Limbertwigs, Russetts, and unidentified old-timers. The orchard is not certified organic, but the antique varieties need almost no additives except a little fertilizer and, occasionally, some irrigation water from Fishing Creek. The orchard doesn’t yet produce enough apples, so the Fishing Creek Cidery purchases additional apples from the NC mountains.
Companies that mass-produce hard cider often add flavors and sweeteners and sometimes use imported concentrates instead of actual apples. Small cideries, on the other hand, make small-batch, hand-crafted cider with local high-quality juice apples. Fishing Creek ferments their cider to completeness, leaving no sugar. The result is not sweet but retains the subtle aroma of apples. It is comparable to dry sparkling wines such as Cava or Prosecco.
A batch of cider takes about five months to make. The process begins in the autumn with 1,000-pound bins of North Carolina apples. Cidery staff wash the apples and grind them into pomace. A water-powered European hydro-press squeezes the juice out. The juice goes into fermentation tanks, and staff add pectic enzymes to ensure the clarity of the finished product. They eliminate wild yeasts from the tank by adjusting the pH with malic acid and them adding a weak solution of potassium metabisulphite. Two days later, they add the necessary yeast along with food-grade ammonium sulphate as a nutrient for the yeast. The cooled juice ferments for two to three months, and then rests in a new tank for another month or two.
Just before bottling, staff add a touch of sugar, which feeds the yeast and produces natural carbonation. Bottles are filled, capped, and set aside to carbonate, which takes about another month. When the yeast run out of sugar, they settle to the bottom of the bottle as a fine sediment. These sediments are complicated and expensive to remove, so Fishing Creek leaves them in the bottle. (They are drinkable, but if you want to avoid them, let your bottle settle for a week.)
Fishing Creek Cider's website tells us, “The best vessels for consuming hard cider are champagne flutes, Pilsner beer glasses, or wine glasses. Sparkling cider is best served as cold as possible, and don’t forget, our cider is under considerable pressure, so open carefully; some spillage may occur! Our cider is not aged, and we recommend that it be consumed within one year.”
Visit Fishing Creek Cider online at http://www.fishingcreekcider.com/ and on Facebook.