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Mt. Defiance: A Taste Of Colonial Times

© Leesburg Today - 07/30/2015

Mt. Defiance  managing partner Marc Chretien and his co-owners opened their cidery last summer while waiting for permits for the distillery, which opened in January.

Located in the heart of Middleburg, Chretien and his partners are focused on making beverages with historical significance: traditional dry ciders, rum, apple brandy and absinthe.

Chretien, who learned the craft of cidermaking as co-owner of Stowe Cidery in Vermont, wanted to bring traditional, dry cider to his home state of Virginia and knew that Middleburg, with its historic character and proximity to Virginia's prime apple-growing region, was the ideal location. Chretien runs the cider production side of the operation, while distiller Peter Ahlf is in charge of spirits.

On the spirits side, Chretien and Ahlf found a particularly interesting niche in absinthe. The anise-flavored spirit, derived from herbs and the flowers and leaves of the wormwood plant, had a sketchy reputation for years, and was illegal in the U.S. for nearly a century.

Popular in France at the turn of the 19th century, absinthe was thought to have dangerous, psychoactive properties. But absinthe's reputation has since been rehabilitated as rumors about its psychoactive properties were debunked. Distillation and importation of absinthe was legalized in the U.S. in 2007.

A handful of U.S. distilleries, including Mt. Defiance, have seized on the mystique and relative rarity of absinthe and begun domestic production.

""Our market edge is to do things that have a historical importance or historical context and absinthe is one of those. It was banned until just eight years ago-it was a misunderstood, maligned drink. It has a uniqueness to it, and it's not made by that many distilleries any more,"" Chretien said.

Mt. Defiance's absinthe is made according to 19th century recipes using herbs macerated in base alcohol. The distillery uses wormwood and herbs sourced from a farm in southwest Virginia. Although most of the herbs used are locally sourced, traditional absinthe recipes are strict about the origins of certain components, so Mt. Defiance brings in fennel doux from the Provence region in France and aniseed from Andalusia is Spain.

Mt. Definace's focus on rum was also an effort to pay homage to 18th century drinking habits.

""Rum was a classic colonial-era drink. If you come to our shop and ask for sample cocktails, we will give you historically correct cocktails that were popular in the colonial era,"" Chretien said. ""The main drinks that had alcohol in the colonial era were cider and rum and later the whiskeys. But only the wealthier could afford imported wine.""

Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery is at 207 W. Washington St. in Middleburg. Learn more at mtdefiance.com.

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