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Fill Up on Hard Cider from Local Cider Houses

By Liz Petoniak
Photographs by Michael Fornataro
Styling by Samantha Casale

6 MILE CELLARS

Patrick Walsh and Barton Towell, owners and winemakers at 6 Mile Cellars in Erie, Pa., tasted and studied ciders from craft distributers as far as Vermont and Washington state before jumping into producing their own. “We decided to do it because it’s a nice alternative to our wine program,” Walsh says. “We get a lot of visitors and some aren’t really into wine — they’re more beer drinkers. So, we thought cider was a nice bridge between the two. It’s less pretentious than wine, and you don’t need a special occasion to enjoy it.” The result is two refreshing and crisp libations made from all natural apple juice: Old Snapper’s Original, with aromatic notes of green apple, and Old Snapper Honey Badger, sweetened with, of course, honey. When 6 Mile travels to farmers markets, people rave about the cider. Walsh tries to explain the phenomenon both on a local and national level. He says, “I used to think it had a lot to do with apples being gluten free. But somehow, I think it’s in our roots to want an apple drink. I always loved the taste of apple cider growing up. Having an adult beverage that’s made of something near and dear to me, something I grew up with, it’s very approachable.” Pack a snack and visit the vineyard’s onsite tasting room, or pick up a bottle at local farmers markets in Bethel Park, Market Square, Moon Township, and Sewickley.

6 Mile Cellars, 5727 Firman Road, Erie. 814.580.8375. 6milecellars.com.

6 Mile Cellars, Erie, Pennsylvania

6 Mile will add two new ciders to its line-up this fall: Old Snapper Barrel Aged, finished in oak barrels, and Old Snapper Yeti, an ice wine-style cider Walsh describes as having a “caramel apple or apple pie” flavor.

 

ARSENAL CIDER HOUSE & WINE CELLAR

Chances are, you’ve probably savored a glass (or two) of Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar’s cider at least once already this fall. To date, it’s on tap at more than 60 local bars and restaurants, making Arsenal the area’s most prolific cider producer. Owners Bill and Michelle Larkin, from Bloomfield and Polish Hill, respectively, began making cider in their basement as a hobby more than 12 years ago. Since then, their business has progressed substantially. Eight tanks for fermentation grew into 30; a device originally intended to carbonate soda at restaurants was switched out for an industrial-sized carbonator; and the first floor of their Lawrenceville home transformed into a cozy tasting space with customers lining up to refill their growlers. “People never say, ‘Oh, I have to buy a whole growler?’ We don’t even really have to tell them that it will only last a week in their fridge once they open it. It won’t even last two hours,” Michelle jokes. But, what makes people so crazy for Arsenal’s cider? The glaring answer is the taste. Arsenal sources the fresh juice for their cider locally from Soergel Orchards to produce their range of offerings from bone-dry to semi-sweet, and seven- to 12-percent alcohol. Compared to mass-produced ciders, it’s more nuanced, complex, full-bodied, and boasts a better mouth-feel. “You can judge it the same way you would wine, or even beer for that matter,” says Bill. “It’s been an under-appreciated product for a really long time.” Certainly not anymore. Arsenal’s success reflects an overwhelming shift towards hard cider consumption across the country. And this season, it’s safe to say we’ll be savoring lots of it!

Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar, 300 39th St., Lawrenceville. 412.682.7699. arsenalciderhouse.com.

Arsenal Cider House, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh

+ Fill up a growler and sip the nectar outdoors in Arsenal’s newly constructed cider garden! The space will host a cookout October 18 and 24, featuring Blowfish BBQ’s slow-smoked barbecue delights and bluegrass swing group Midnight Rooster on October 25.

 

REBELLION CIDERWORKS

A fourth-generation farmer, Derek Kellogg started as a home cider maker, collecting the fruit from wild apple trees in his family’s orchard in Slippery Rock, Pa., more than eight years ago. He took his interest to the next level with an in-depth cider making class taught by British cider expert Peter Mitchell at Cornell University’s New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, N.Y. After a few rounds of trial and error, he launched his own small, commercial-scale cider production. Currently, Rebellion offers three varieties of cider, with a fourth on the way this November called Wagon Wheel, made with Bittersweet apples and aged in bourbon barrels. All of Kellogg’s cider, which he describes as “apple-forward,” is comprised of 100-percent juice, pressed from whole apples in a 1921 rack and cloth press. When asked about the current cider boom, he says, “It’s interesting because it’s something that has a deep history in America. It was the most popular drink in colonial times by far, but it took a big hit with industrialization. Then, with prohibition, people were chopping down cider trees left and right. It takes up to five years for a cider tree to grow back, and the barley is just sitting there ready for beer.” Just how wine is made with drinking grapes versus eating grapes, Kellogg explains that there are apples for eating and apples for drinking. In an effort to bring back cider made from the latter, he’s planted 30 different varieties of high-tannin drinking apples in his orchard, some native to America and some from England and France, where he says “cider never quit.” “In fact,” Kellogg says, “Thomas Jefferson used Hewes Crab apples for cider. I can’t wait till they start producing because that’s gong to make really unique ciders.” Stop into the Rebellion’s newly opened tasting room and savor your choice of cider by the glass, or in a growler to take home. Rebellion Ciderworks is also available at Whole Foods in Wexford.

Rebellion Ciderworks, 499 Grove City Road, Slippery Rock. rebellionciderworks.com.

Rebellion Ciderworks, Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania

Rebellion’s “pub cider,” Haymaker, derives its name from the fact that in England, farm hands were often paid in cider. “They said that a good ‘haymaker’ drank a gallon a day,” explains Kellogg.

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