Hawks Knob Hard Cider and Mead Obtains Licenses to Begin Distilling
Hawks Knob Hard Cider and & Mead, a new Hillsboro area business has recently obtained both Federal and State licenses to begin producing hard cider and mead. One of the owners, Josh Bennett explains.
“We have two different lines of product and that is hard cider and mead, or honey wine” said Bennett. “This whole venture started with a partnership between myself and Will Lewis from down in Lewisburg. We went to college together back in 06.”
While in college studying apiculture, horticulture and agronomy they learned how to make mead from a Belgium professor, and learned they could make great wine from the honey their bees produced. This led to their dream of one day turning this into a commercial business.
Obtaining the Federal license was quick and easy, however because of archaic laws; they had to struggle to convince the State officials that their business qualified. Finally they have been granted a special class of license.
“What we have is a Farm Winery License” explains Bennett. “how that differentiates us from other wine makers, commercial winery, they can buy juice from anywhere out of state, from California, ship it in here, make their wine, sell it. Under our Farm winery License, we are required to grow 25% of our product, an additional 50% of our product has to come from within the State of West Virginia. So our focus is on having a local West Virginia Grown and heirloom heritage variety product both in our mead and our cider.”
And Bennett says their cider will be unique.
“Were doing several versions of hard cider” Bennett says. “One of them being a very traditional dry, bourbon barrel aged, wild fermented cider. That’s about as traditional as you can get to Appalachia. That was taught to me by old timers when I was growing up. There is no commercial cideries out there that’s got anything like what that is. People seem to like it.”
Bennett goes on to talk about their cider.
“Were going to have several varieties of that” Bennett says. “There will be some drier, some a little sweeter. We feel that most of what is out on the market right now heavily goes toward the sweet end of the spectrum and that’s not what we like to drink. I don’t care to produce that kind of product. So our stuff is not very sweet, it’s dry, it’s complex.“
It is Bennett’s belief that the market is ripe for the dryer ciders. There will be a variety of these ciders. In addition to the traditional wild fermented bourbon barrel aged cider made with a blend of heritage and heirloom varieties of apples there will be ciders infused with elderberry and carbonated like a Champaign and others.
Bennett also talks about the meads.
“The mead is a beverage that, honestly, a lot of people don’t know a lot about” Bennett says. “It is the first fermented beverage known to man. It is enjoying its largest resurgence in brewing right now. Those people who have come into contact with it have usually come into contact with something like syrup and is almost intolerable. Our meads are not sweet. Just like our ciders, they are dry, their aged, they are complex. We’ll probably have a blueberry, an elderberry. There are also versions of Metheglin where we use herbs. And we’re using bourbon barrels and oak aging on those as well.”
Bennett says that he is grafting 300 apple trees and has bee hives on his farm off Jacox Road in Hillsboro. Eventually he plans to do his product fermenting and processing on the farm but temporarily leases a location in Lewisburg for that.
The opportunities this new business presents for the area includes creating an established market for landowners willing to establish apple orchards to sell in bulk to Hawk Knob. Right now they buy from an orchard in another county, but would like to support Pocahontas County residents. The same goes for honey because even producing as much as they can from their own hives, they will need a lot more for making their mead..
“We are looking for other West Virginia Bee Keepers that would be willing to sell us honey in bulk” josh says. “We’re willing to talk to anybody about it because we would really like to focus on getting nothing but West Virginia honey in our mead.”
Bennett describes the process for making hard cider.
“Just basically beginning to end, is you wait for your apple crop to come in –so I like late season apples- grind em up, press em get the fresh cider” says Bennett. “There is a number of ways of doing things from that point. But the most traditional way was to stick it in a barrel and let it do its thing. That was a wild ferment. And on those apple skins already exists all the yeast that is needed to take those sugars and convert them to alcohol. After that you let it work and it does its magic and more or less after that you can either filter or strain or any number of things after that but after fermentation it goes in the bottle and you drink it. It’s a pretty simple process.”
Bennett hopes to have mead for sale in early august, and, using fresh cider they froze last year waiting for their license to come through, to have cider shortly after the mead. He hopes to sell to local businesses including the Irish Pub in Lewisburg, snowshoe and the Greenbrier as well as other regional places.