Mt. Defiance Cidery & Distillery in Middleburg, Virginia, has been making small-batch, hand-crafted spirits, liqueurs, and hard cider for three years.
It began with rum—white, amber, and dark—and now produces a wide range of spirits including absinthe, bourbon, vermouth, apple brandy, pommeau, amaretto, almond liqueur, and cassis.
Distiller Peter Ahlf is especially proud of his pontarlier absinthe, which blends traditional technique with local botanicals. The aniseed comes from Andalucía and the fennel doux from Provence, but the other ingredients—grand wormwood, génépi, Roman wormwood, lemon balm, and hyssop—are all from Virginia. In fact, nearly all the botanicals come from a dedicated garden just a short walk from the distillery.
Mt. Defiance has quickly proven itself to the industry. Its cassis earned a silver medal in 2017 from the American Craft Spirits Association. The absinthe and dark rum also earned silver at the 2015 Washington Cup Competition. In 2015, Mt. Defiance was named Absinthe Distiller of the Year at the New York International Spirits Competition.
Mt. Defiance’s success can mostly be attributed to Ahlf. A former NASA engineer, Ahlf brings a cerebral, tenacious approach to the job. According to Marc Chretien, managing partner and cidermaker, Ahlf makes sugar cubes—for the absinthe louche—by hand, because store-bought cubes dissolve unevenly. Precision, passion, and attention to detail allow Mt. Defiance to produce a wide array of unique, high-quality drinks.
Its cider is made exclusively from local apples and the new cidery will open in a few weeks. On a hilltop overlooking rural Middleburg, “the Barn” will offer charcuterie and serve as an event venue. Relentlessly hands-on, Ahlf is personally responsible for creating a steampunk sculpture to go over the bar. Soon, he hopes to launch a rye whiskey.
“Everyone that opens up a distillery does a vodka, a gin, and a white rye.”
– Marc Chretien, Managing Partner and Cidermaker
He doesn’t want their business to be “micro and hyperlocal.” Instead, the goal is to establish a niche and go national. With fresh local ingredients, superb drinks, and an inviting atmosphere, Mt. Defiance is well on its way.