A giant hand at the corner of Germantown Avenue and West Duval Street points down the road, to the doorway of Young American Hard Cider’s tasting room. “You have arrived,” reads the text above it.
It’s a fitting signpost for the newly opened cidery, which has been in the works for four years. It took the efforts of owners Kate Kaman, Stephanie Cole, and Jesse Bilger and their network of friends, family, artists, and neighbors to complete the gorgeous tasting room, which is still closed for seating because of the pandemic.
Instead, customers can sip Young American’s dry ciders and nosh on flaky, homemade hand pies on the fire pit-heated patio.
Germantown and neighboring Mount Airy is happy to settle for that. They’ve been anticipating Young American’s opening for a while now, sampling its ciders at community events and asking when the tasting room would be done. (“‘Soon, soon!’” the team would answer.)
“There were a lot of seeds, forgive the metaphor,” Cole says. It was “the longest tease.”
What’s it like to finally open in the midst of a pandemic?
“We don’t have something to compare it to,” says Kaman. “We went from making zero money, just investing, investing, investing to, ‘Oh my God, we’re putting stuff into the cash register!’”
The team quietly opened last month, but they’re viewing the remainder of pandemic life (however long it lasts and whatever form it takes) as a prolonged soft launch, which works out, because all three partners are relative rookies in the hospitality industry.
“We all have a little bit of restaurant background,” Kaman says. “This is allowing us to figure out how to operate.” (Bilger is currently enrolled in a restaurant management program.)
Kaman, a visual artist, bought the historic building in 2010. She initially used the centuries-old space as a design studio but wanted to turn it into something more community-facing (and lucrative). In 2016, she started making cider with Pennsylvania-sourced apple juice; shortly after, she applied and was approved for a Pennsylvania winery license.
She brought Bilger, an urban farmer, into the fold after meeting him at a Pastorius Community Gardens event where he was offering samples of homemade kombucha. They both met Cole, an artist with a background in marketing and graphic design, independently, and she became a partner in the project in 2018.
Renovating the onetime storefront at 6350 Germantown Avenue took work, but the results are gorgeous. Bilger’s dad made custom wainscoting and trim, the Young American bar, and a Dutch door that functions as a takeout window. The mustard-colored walls — which look wallpapered — are hand-painted with gold pinstripes. (Don’t miss the bathroom’s design, done by painter Kathryn Hedley.) Devil’s Pool photos by Sarah Kaufman adorn the walls, and blown-glass apple light fixtures by Nikolaj Christensen hang from the ceiling. A interior cutout window in the tasting room displays the building’s cellar, where the cider is aged. Barrels will eventually replace the plastic tankard that’s there now.
Young American sources fresh-pressed, unpasteurized juice from Pennsylvania fruit farms, primarily Solebury Orchards, then ferments it on site. “Pretty much in the beginning all we add is yeast and time and temperature,” Kaman says. “The juice has never been above 65 degrees. ... All the flavor’s in there.”
The three hard ciders on draft — a traditional dry, a tart cherry, and a hopped cider — are aged roughly six months. The crew has plans for seasonal ciders as well as kombuchas. Because their winery license allows them to sell Pennsylvania-made beer, wine, and liquor, they’re also selling hot spiced cider spiked with Simple Shine rum, from Red Brick Craft Distilling in Kensington.
“We’ve been talking about [the idea that] all of our alcohol could be Philly alcohol,” Bilger says.
Cole’s homemade hand pies currently anchor the kitchen’s offerings. She’s been perfecting her recipe for a few years and settled on three flavors for Young American’s debut: the spicy ‘shroom, a BBQ-spiced blend of mushrooms and kale; the tempenadah, a mix of tempeh, sweet potato, and kale; and the Route 23, a play on a cheesesteak — beef, mushrooms, caramelized onion, provolone — named after the notoriously long bus route. Dipping sauces are in development.