Taste Bud Time Machine
*I would like to first thank, Jim Stasny of Va, and Distillery Lane Ciderworks for this very interesting story; Thank you!
History surrounds Robin Miller’s house in Jefferson, Maryland. On the near horizon you can see South Mountain fissured by Crampton’s Gap where Union and Confederate forces collided on September 14, 1862. Less than eight miles beyond the gap is the site of the Civil War’s most ruinous day that left 23,000 casualties on the field at the battle of Antietam.
“The land absorbs the past,” Miller says of the history around him. “When it’s quiet, you can almost feel it.”
Miller and his wife Patty Power own and operate Distillery Lane Ciderworks, located on 95 acres of land where Union forces camped briefly during the War Between the States (see story below).
They bought their piece of history at auction in 1998. Ten acres planted in apple trees produce 8,000 bushels annually.
Distillery Lane is Maryland’s first licensed cidery. From the very outset at Distillery Lane, the plan was to produce hard cider – the sort that packs a punch. Or at least a good nudge. Miller and Power wanted to make sure modern visitors would get an authentic taste of the past. In the 1800s, most of the communities in Maryland – including nearby Burkittsville – had cider mills and distilleries. Apple cider and apple cider vinegar appear often in Civil War lore. As author Michael Pollan put it in Botany of Desire, “Apples were something people drank.”
“It’s all about the apples,” Miller says. “We want our operation faithful to old times, to getting the cider bite and flavor right.”
“People buy our cider for the flavors of other centuries,” says Power. “We do everything we can to make sure that what they taste today is the way it tasted when the Country was just out of the nursery.”
The appeal of Distillery Lane’s cider has already reached beyond Maryland. The Ladies Auxiliary of Mount Vernon in Virginia bought 600 gallons of cider to make apple brandy in George Washington’s rebuilt stills. They bought it from Miller and Power because Distillery Lane grows three of the four apple varieties George Washington grew and used in his own cider.
To a layman, the names of those apples – Newtown Pippin, Roxbury Russet, Hewes Crab – might sound more like members of Parliament. In fact, the Newtown Pippin is a New York apple that dates to the early 18th Century. Thomas Jefferson called it the “Prince of Apples”, and it was George Washington’s favorite. Hewes Crab originated in the early 1700s in Virginia. The Roxbury Russet, a Massachusetts original, might be the oldest apple variety in America. These apples still grow today at Distillery Lane where the apples are as rich in history as the land they grown on.
Power mentions Ken Burns, the Civil War documentary film-maker. “If you brought him here blindfolded,” she says, “I like to think he would sense immediately where he was. With the blindfold off, I like to think it might take him a minute to be sure of ‘when’.”
Distillery Lane Ciderworks is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from late August when the apples ripen until the end of December. September 1st brings the “First Press of the Season” featuring cider tasting, apple picking, music, seafood, and ice cream. It is the beginning of the Harvest-to-Holiday season when all comers have a chance to enjoy the fruits of the orchard’s labor. From January through late August the farm is open on the first Saturday of each month. The farm is located at 5533 Gapland Road, Jefferson, Maryland, 21755. Phone: 301.834.8920; email ; Web site: Distillery Lane Ciderworks
Written by Jim Stasny and Distillery Lane Ciderworks
Robin Miller and Patty Power are acutely aware of the history that surrounds them. Their Distillery Lane Ciderworks is on property where Union forces camped, and from their window they can see Crampton’s Gap.
Crampton’s Gap and a large area to its East — including Brownsville Gap, the town of Burkittsville, and surrounding areas — were recently (January 12, 2011) designated an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. This honor primarily is in recognition of the Battle of Crampton’s Gap (as it was called by the Union Army) or Battle of Burkittsville (the term given it by the Confederate States Army). This battle was fought on September 14, 1862, between the forces commanded by Confederate Brigadier General Howell Cobb and Union Major General William B. Franklin as part of the Battle of SouthMountain during the Maryland Campaign of the American Civil War.
In September 1862, Union General George McClellan acquired a copy of Robert E. Lee’s Special Order No. 191 that detailed Lee’s plans to divide his troops on their march into Maryland. For once, the glacial McClellan did not hesitate: he ordered his subordinates to deliver the “utmost activity that a general could exercise” against the enemy and “beat him in detail.” The idea was to engage Lee immediately, attacking him at three South Mountain passes, one of which was Crampton’s Gap.
According to historian and Crampton’s Gap authority Timothy Reese, a force of 12,800 Union troops clashed with 2,100 Confederate soldiers. By day’s end, the Union forces had suffered more than 500 casualties, the Confederates nearly 900. The Union forces drove the Confederates out of the Gap, and ensured Union control of Maryland Heights and Harper’s Ferry. There was a more historic aspect to this battle, however: it helped persuade Lee to drive on to Sharpsburg and reunite his Army, a decision that would trigger the savagery of Antietam on September 17, 1862.