Highland County Fair Will Have Cider Competition

Whether it be livestock, vegetables, baked goods, or flowers, competitions and ribbons are a staple of the Highland County Fair, and this year, Big Fish Cider in Monterey is sponsoring a new category. We spoke with Big Fish owner Kirk Billingsley to find out more.

“I guess, 2016, I went on a cider tour of England, and they had a big agricultural fair in late May, and it was an agricultural fair not unlike ours, except huge. And they had an entire tent set up for cider competition, and I just thought that was fascinating. I watched the judges, and talked to some of the folks over there, and I thought ‘you know, this might be something we could do.’

As an amateur cider maker for years here in Highland, I made cider – I didn’t know if it was good or bad. Well, actually, I know it was bad, I poured most everything I made the first probably 10-15 years out on the ground. But, it would have been nice to have somebody to say ‘yeah, this is really good cider’. And I really didn’t know until I really got serious, when I started thinking about going commercial.

“So this cider contest is a chance for people to put it out there, see what it looks like, or see what it tastes like, and get some advice from some really good cider makers. So I’ve got some judges for this particular one we’re going to have at the Highland County Fair, which is the Mid-Atlantic Amateur Cider Contest – MACC, we call it. I’ve got cider makers from Albermarle Cider Works, Chuck Shelton, as well as Stewart Maddeny from Castle Hill Cider – actually, there’s a cider maker from Pennsylvania, Kurt Henry, that’s also coming down and going to help me judge.

“Really what we’re looking for, as a cider judge, first and foremost, you want to taste the apple. Even if it’s a raspberry cider, or another fruit cider, the apple needs to shine through, and the other flavors are there just to support it. Overall, quality, I mean, there’s a lot of faults – as I mentioned earlier, as a home cider maker and a lot of mistakes I made, you can pick those up pretty easily in the aroma and the taste. But, we hope to offer suggestions, and I’ve talked to the judges, and I want them to write down comments, either what they’re picking up on, or things that we’ve learned over the years, that, ‘hey, you can improve this by…’ Just basically suggestions to the home cider maker.

“We’ve got some people outside of the area that are going to send their ciders in, but the normal registration for folks in the county that want to bring their cider in going to be Tuesday, the 28th of August, at the registration desk at the Highland County Fair – same place they do the foods and vegetables. The judging is not going to be until Thursday morning. I think we’re going to probably do it at the Big Fish Cider Company, because that way, we can control the temperature of the cider a little better. We’re going to have a spot in the vegetable barn where we’re going to be able display all the cider. So basically, each cider maker is supposed to present two bottles – one, we’re going to open for tasting and testing for the contest, and then the other bottle is going to be the display bottle, so people can see the different ciders. And we’re doing, really, three classes of cider- one class is just going to be a straight cider, with nothing but apples. Then, we have a cider with other fruit – we make a raspberry cider using Church Hill Produce’s raspberries, but some people make blackberry cider, some people make other fruit cider. And then we have ‘anything goes’ cider. As a home cider maker, I used to make a new England style cider, which, you put raisins, you put maple syrup, you put brown sugar in. And in makes a little bit different flavor, but it’s hard to compare that to a regular cider, so we decided to break in down in classes.

“I hope the home cider makers have a couple bottles still left in their supply. (It’s) sort of the wrong time of year, because most cider makers, about this time of year, about the time you start pressing apples for the next year, you’re out of last year’s cider. So I hope there’s a few cider makers that are still holding a couple bottles back that would be interested in entering it into the contest and getting some feedback on their cider.

“They can contact me – info@bigfishcider.com – or, you can look on the website, www.bigfishcider.com, and we have the rules on the contest and all the classes, and all the information there. Registration is absolutely free. And we do have cash prizes, as well as a medal.”

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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