Before Prohibition squashed the hard cider industry like a bushel of rotting fruit, the Golden Russet was a cidery star dating to the mid-1800s prized for its unique balance of tartness, sweetness, and tannins. But the Golden Russet, despite its gilded name, is a homely fruit with mottled skin that looks more like a misshapen Asian pear than the kind of rosy hued cliché that on your teacher's desk might win you brownie points. And so, when the 18th Amendment was enacted, the Golden Russet practically vanished, like so many other heirloom varieties with no grocery store future that had been grown for a product that was no longer legal. Fast-forward nine decades. Hard ciders are suddenly, finally resurging. And Pennsylvania's new generation is busy reclaiming their heritage of orchard-grown booze with an artisan spirit that draws equal inspiration from the craft beer and wine industries. Among the state's most impressive makers has been Big Hill Ciderworks from Gardners, Adams County, which, after half a decade of growing has begun fermenting and bottling all manner of heirloom apple ciders from its 35 acres of orchards. Among my favorites has been the Golden Russet, which, unlike many other apples, does not need to be part of a blend to hit a perfect balance and smoothness on the tongue. The added character of several months in old red-wine barrels adds distinct notes of caramel and vanilla that frame this golden juice as a Champagnelike fizz dries it out on the palate. No, it may not be a beauty on the tree. But the Golden Russet has returned to gorgeous apple glory in the bottle.
— Craig LaBan