“When I think of the top 10 cider states, Pennsylvania is pretty up there,” say Michelle McGrath, executive director of the Oregon-based American Cider Association (ACA). “There’s a lot of amazing apples being grown in Pennsylvania. And it is lending itself to some amazing artisan cider.”
In fact, Pennsylvania is the fourth largest apple-producing state in the country, according to a 2020 report from the Center for Rural Pennsylvania. And we produce thousands of gallons of cider a year — though it’s not clear how many cideries we actually have because both breweries and wineries can make it.
For the past few years, cider has been having something of a moment, with a culture that’s grown well beyond the gluten-free trend that sparked a rise in popularity in the early 2010s.
So, where you can you go in the region to get a good glass? Here is what you need to know:
Different types of cider
At its most basic definition, cider is just fermented apple juice, but it can range from bone dry to sweet, low to high alcohol content, funky and pungent to crisp and clean, still to sparkling, and everything in between.
“[People] still frequently see cider as this one thing — one-dimensional, sweet, syrupy,” says Amy Hartranft, director of Philly Cider Week and general manager of Prohibition Taproom. “Which is unfortunate, because just like wine, cider is a great many things.”
There are also co-ferments, including cider-wine (vinous cider), cider-beer (graf), and cider-mead (cyser), which have become more popular in recent years, and widened the range of what you can try.
The ACA delineates five kinds of cider: — cider (made only with apples), perry (made from pears), fruit cider (made with apples and other fruit), botanical cider (made with apples and other plants, such as hops, hibiscus, or spices), and dessert cider (such as ice cider, pommeau, and apple brandy).
Another way of classifying cider: modern cider and heirloom cider.
Modern ciders are more akin to beer because they can be produced year-round, says Emily Kovach, editor of Cider Culture and partner at the Lunar Inn and Tinys Bottle Shop in Port Richmond. They can include other ingredients, such as fruit, hops, herbs, or spices. But, in general, they are made with culinary or “dessert” apples, like the kind you’d find at the grocery store.
Heirloom ciders are more like wine, and are made with apples exclusively — specifically cider apples, which are seeing a resurgence as cider becomes more popular. Cider apples aren’t necessarily great for eating, but can produce complex, flavorful ciders thanks to their relatively high amounts of tannins and acid. Sometimes, these ciders are made only during harvest season, when apples are at their ripest, and have vintages like wine.
One approach isn’t necessarily better than the other, Kovach says. “The apple can really be this canvas to paint with other flavors on, or it can be its own beautiful painting — and that’s really all about what the cidermaker wants to be,” she says.
And there is an added benefit: increased interest in cider is creating a reason for producers to grow apple varieties that haven’t been widely commercially cultivated because they aren’t considered good for eating. Which means greater botanical diversity.
Really, finding what kind of cider you like is easy: Drink more of it. “It’s hard work, but somebody has to do it,” says Jason Harris, co-owner of Montgomery County winery and cidery Stone & Key Cellars.
Where to get great local cider near Philly
Pennsylvania has plenty of great places to get cider, both in Philly and close by. Here are a few great options:
From their bar in Bella Vista, owners Risa and Kerry McKenzie serve fresh, dry, and off-dry ciders they make with apples from Pennsylvania orchards, such as Weaver’s Orchard in Morgantown. Start simple with The Standard (made with a blend of seasonal, local apples), get botanical with their Hail to the Hop (a dry-hopped cider featuring Citra hops), or go fruity with Goldberry (a cider fermented with strawberries and finished with lemon). Risa McKenzie is also board secretary for the Pennsylvania Cider Guild.
Original XIII’s line of Sir Charles Ciders comes to us from their Olde Kensington taproom, where the offerings range from classic, semi-dry styles and semi-sweet fruited ciders to high-ABV apple wines and cysers. Their Curmudgeon cider, for example, is an apple wine fermented with brown sugar, then aged a full year in white oak barrels to produce a cider that’s 14.4%-alcohol.
This spot is the newest kid on the cider block in Philly, its Germantown taproom having officially opened in late 2020. Working with Pennsylvania fruit farms like Solebury Orchards, Young American ferments fresh-pressed, local apple juice into small-batch dry ciders. Fruit ciders are the focus, including tart cherries, raspberries, and blood oranges, as well as hopped and traditional ciders.
Stone & Key makes a mighty range of ciders, primarily made from Solebury Orchards apples, that can appeal to a variety of tastes, including. Cherry Pie (cider made with tart cherries) and Pineapple X-Press (cider infused with pineapple). Seasoned cider lovers may want to try the extremely dry, white wine barrel-aged Golden Russet varietal. A tasting room in Ambler opened earlier this summer.
There’s no taproom location to get this Chester County-based cidery’s sophisticated (but still affordable) offerings, all of which are made from fruit from local orchards. But you can find them at a variety of local farmers markets, bottle shops, and bars and restaurants — or you can schedule a pickup from Dressler Estate’s location in Downingtown. Here, it’s all about single varietals, still ciders, barrel-aged options, funkier mixed-culture fermentations, and annual vintages, so it’s a good place to go for more unique and complex ciders.
This working Bucks County farm started making cider in 2018 after 35 years in the farming business, and only use the fruit grown at the farm. Primarily made from Comfort, Goldrush, and Stayman apples, Manoff’s dry, sparkling ciders come in about a dozen varieties, including barrel-aged single varietals, hopped and fruited styles, plus at least one cyser.
These folks have been in the tree fruit and berry-growing game since the 1940s, and the cider business since 2009. All of their cider is made from apples grown in their orchard, including dessert, heirloom, and cider apples. Check out the Everyday line for a range of easy-drinking, approachable ciders, or go for the Estate ciders for the wild fermented, single varietal, barrel-aged, and more complex offerings.
At it since 2016, this Chester County cidery focuses on British-style ciders made with a variety of heirloom apples from Old Stone Cider’s family-run orchard. Operating out of a restored former dairy barn, the cidery focuses on crisp, dry, refreshing, and balanced ciders, with single varietals of classic cider apples, including Roxbury Russet, Enterprise, Gold Rush, and Ashmead’s Kernel.
Nestled at the northern foot of Blue Mountain in Schuylkill County is one of Pennsylvania’s newest cideries, which opened in May — and already off to a good start. Made using all Pennsylvania apples, Cellar Beast’s current offerings range from spontaneous (or wild) fermented (like the Seafoam, which is fermented with kiwi and then dry-hopped with Huell melon hops) and botanical (such as the Greenflower, which has hibiscus and basil) to still and simple (like the Ordinaire).
Wyndridge Farm’s Wyndridge Cider Co. makes 16 varieties of cider, all from local apples. Year-round offerings are mostly fruit-infused (think black cherry, orange, and cranberry) and approachable, and there’s also dry-hopped and bourbon barrel-aged varieties. For something a little more unusual, Wyndridge makes Farm Exclusives — like Vitis, which has Gold Rush, Stayman, and Jonagold apples fermenting on Chambourcin grape skins for a cider/wine hybrid.
Set in the state’s “apple basket” of Adams County, Ploughman makes a wide variety of cider from American heirloom apples grown on its family-owned Three Springs Fruit Farm. Since launching in 2016, Ploughman has become a cider lover’s favorite, thanks to a line of ciders that run the gamut from classic single varietals and spontaneous ferments to off-the-wall options like the cucumber-infused Wodwo and Malaysian spice-centric Muhibbah, developed in collaboration with chef Ange Branca and cheesemaker Jamie Png, and which includes makrut lime leaves, star anise, cumin and coriander.
Also located in Adams County, Big Hill makes its ciders entirely from apples grown at its own orchards, growing classic cider-making apples like Kingston Blacks and several varieties of crab apples. There’s no one focus, with modern, traditional, and wild fermented ciders all on offer, and choices ranging from fruited (Farmhouse Cherry) and dry-hopped (Little Round Hop), to single varietal (Golden Russet) and barrel-aged (Manchurian).