When Ben Wenk proposed launching Ploughman Ciders, he thought it could be a value-added product on his family’s apple farm. That thought went out the window, he said, when he learned that cider apples are really only good for making cider.
“You can’t sell them at farmers markets for snacks, you can’t make pie, you can’t make jam, you can’t make sauce, you can do nothing but ferment them into alcohol,” Wenk said.
Still, the Wenk family did it anyway, planting heirloom apple trees like Stayman winesap, Spitzenberg, Macoun, and Arlet that are now bearing more fruit than ever. They make crisp, wine-like brews that taste world’s apart from mainstream hard ciders.
Ploughman is in league with several other Pennsylvania producers fermenting fine ciders. Here are nine more makers to seek out.
The cider from Philadelphia Brewing Co. comes in four flavors: traditional dry, black cherry, ginger, and “Razzberet Tart.” Commonly found in bottle shops and beer distributors, they’re also available for pickup at the Kensington brewery.
2440 Frankford Ave., 215-427-2712, commonwealthciders.com
There are a handful of regulars in this Fishtown maker’s lineup of unfiltered ciders, including dry-hopped Earth, off-dry Bees (fermented with local honey), and Viejo, a wild-fermented, blended still cider that’s aged for six to 18 months in oak. You can find them in bottles and cans in area beer distributors and bottle shops. But you can also try seasonal one-offs in its Exploration Series — brewed in small test batches — at Kurant’s Fishtown taproom. Recent offerings have been flavored with pumpkin pie, cranberries, strawberries and habaneros, and sour cherries.
436 E. Girard Ave., 267-928-3620, kurantbrewandbrew.com
Made by Original XIII Ciderworks, these ciders run the gamut of styles, from English dry to semi-sweet and spiked with strawberries to a high-octane 11% ABV cider made with 16 types of heirloom apples. That last one, Ol' Scrumpy, was based on a recipe from founder John Kowchak’s grandfather. Swing by its taproom in Olde Kensington for a taste.
1526 N. American St., 215-765-7000, original-13.com
Kerry and Risa McKenzie were brewing cider in a tiny Old City apartment for years before they opened this Bella Vista taproom, where you can buy its ciders to-stay or to-go, offered by the glass, growler, and in cans. There’s Bee Sting, blended with ginger and local alfalfa honey; Goldberry, fermented with strawberry and finished with lemon; and POGA, made with passionfruit, orange, and guava.
613 S. Seventh St., 267-639-4334, haleandtrue.com
This Philly cidery has been in the works for three years. The crew behind it has been meticulously rehabbing a historic storefront on Germantown Avenue and hopes to make its soft-open debut this month. Be on the lookout for small-batch styles made from Pennsylvania-sourced fruit.
This Montgomeryville institution grew out of a homebrew-supply store into a winery and cidery. Its small run of ciders — Solely, Pineapple X-Press, and an extremely dry, barrel-aged Golden Russett varietal — use apples primarily sourced from Solebury Orchards. Visit the store, order online, or find it on draft or packaged at area restaurants and breweries.
435 Doylestown Rd., Montgomeryville, 215-855-4567, stoneandkeycellars.com
You can’t get these upscale ciders at a taproom, but they’re sold at restaurants, retailers, and farmers markets throughout the region, including the Bottle Room, Bottle Bar East, and Bloomsday. You can also get them delivered locally and out-of-state. Keep an eye out for limited releases like Wild Smokehouse, made with Wild Jonagolds and Smokehouse apples, and the annual Origin Manor blend, made with apples harvested in Downtingtown, where husband-and-wife makers Brian and Olga Dressler are based.
Another Adams County cider maker, Big Hill grows, presses, and ferments its own fruit. You can try it at its new tap house in Gardners, Pa., but Ben Kishbaugh and Troy Lehman, the farmers and founders behind it, also make routine pilgrimages to farmers markets in West Chester, Kennett Square, and West Philly. Their ciders — fruit-forward Standard, ginger-steeped Michaux Mule, the crabapple-based Manchurian, and tangy Marmalade to name a few — are found in bottle shops, beer distributors, and bars around the area, too.
338 Georgetown Rd., Gardners, 717-677-0250, bighillcider.com
You don’t have to drive to Berks County to get a taste of the ciders from this decades-old farm; it’s found in local bars and bottle shops, including the Beer Store locations and Tria in Philly. Frecon makes some “everyday” ciders, easy-drinking and lightly sweet, but keep an eye out for bottles of its estate ciders, including the slightly sour barrel-aged Farmhouse and Apfelwein.
501 S. Reading Ave., Boyertown, 610-367-6200, freconfarms.com