If Ben Kishbaugh had his druthers, his company would have released its first hard cider a year ago.
But he and Troy Lehman, who own and operate Big Hill Ciderworks in Tyrone Township, Adams County, had setbacks that often come with starting a business. So the release of their first offering, Summer Scrumpy, came this spring.
It turns out, though, they are catching a wave when it comes to hard cider. They are at least the fourth cidery in the county, already renowned for its production of apples and other fruits.
Also making hard cider are Hauser Estate Winery, maker of Jack's Hard Cider, in Franklin Township, near Arendtsville; Reid's Orchard and Winery in Franklin Township, near Orrtanna; and Good Intent Cider in Straban Township, outside Gettysburg. All four use locally grown apples.
Opportunities exist for Adams County to make a name for itself nationally in the industry — and draw in tourism dollars for more than just fruit and Civil War history.
“There is a lot of interest out there for hard cider. It's trendy, it's different, and it falls in line with the energy behind the food culture when people travel,” said Carl Whitehill, communications director for Destination Gettysburg, formerly the Gettysburg Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Hard cider is a perfect fit for Adams County and its apple industry. ... Consumers and vacationers realize the connection between the orchards and the finished product.”
Hauser Estate Winery began making Jack's Hard Cider in 2008, when the winery was established, said CEO Jonathan Potrono.
“We started the winery to save our apple farm,” he said. “We just shifted what we do with the apples.”
This year, the business is on pace to sell 100,000 gallons of hard cider. And Good Intent has seen its production more than triple in the two years it has been in business, from 400 gallons to 1,500, owner Adam Redding said.
Providing another avenue for apple growers to sell their product is a main driver behind the hard-cider movement, said Mike Becker, president of the United States Association of Cider Makers, which was formed in February 2013.
“I really want this whole hard cider thing to eventually benefit apple growers,” said Becker, who operates Uncle John's Cider Mill in St. Johns, Mich. “Whether the apple grower makes cider or not, I hope it starts creating more demand for apples.”
David Reid, owner of Reid's, which just planted another two acres of apples, said demand is starting to grow. Apples typically are sold fresh, put into cold storage or processed for applesauce, he said.
Pennsylvania is the fourth-largest apple producer in the United States. The region that includes Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia processed more than 234,000 tons of apples in 2013, according to a USDA report out last week.
Conor Roderique, Reid's nephew and cider apprentice, said Adams County ciders, which aren't sweet like the big names such as Woodchuck or Angry Orchard, are developing a following.
“There's a misconception,” Reid said. “Good cider can be dry. We have to get people educated. They need to approach ciders as they would a wine.”
That education seems to have taken hold in places like Michigan and upstate New York, which have booming hard-cider industries. Becker said Michigan alone has about 35 hard-cider producers.
Some think the same could happen in Adams County.
“Ultimately, I'd like to make this area a cider region,” Kishbaugh said. “It's helpful that we have the D.C./Baltimore/Philly markets close by.”
Destination Gettysburg is targeting much of its marketing toward the variety of experiences in Adams County, Whitehill said. Like its Civil War history, the cider-making industry is something that could set Adams County apart.
“The growth in cider-making is exciting,” Whitehill said. “As visitors look to broaden their vacation experience in Adams County, this is a great window into what makes this region so distinctive — the fruit industry.”
Hauser is one of the few wineries in the state that also has a brewer’s license. Jack’s is sold in stores, bars and restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast.
The winery’s tasting room is on a 170-acre farm, but the apples are grown on another 350 acres the family owns.
In its first year, Hauser made about 2,000 gallons. Today, the facility has five tanks that hold 5,200 gallons each.
It was one of the first, if not the first, in the nation to put hard cider in cans; the canning line produces 35 cans per minute.
Hauser is on pace to sell more than 100,000 gallons this year, CEO Jonathan Potrono said.
Reid’s started growing fruit in 1976. Owner David Reid always experimented with making hard cider “in the basement,” said his nephew, Conor Roderique, cider apprentice.
The winery and cider business started in 2009. Aside from selling at the farm and the tasting room at Jennie’s House in Gettysburg, Reid’s also sells at farmers markets in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
Cider accounts for about 20 percent of sales, but Reid expects that to grow. The winery will be moving Jennie’s House to a nearby spot in Gettysburg, and hard cider will be on tap.
“We plan to ramp it up,” Roderique said.
Owner Adam Redding and his cousins, Ben and Alex Redding, make four styles of hard cider on Good Intent Road. Adam Redding has a day job in Bellefonte, Centre County; Ben and Alex are still in school. They do much of the work by hand.
The cidery gets its juice from Kimes Cider Mill in Gardners.
The business went from 400 gallons in 2013 to 1,500 gallons this year — and it’s done making cider for 2014. Aside from some farmers markets, the cider can be found at a few local bars and restaurants.
Big Hill is actually two farms. Troy Lehman bought his 20-acre farm about five years ago. Ben Kishbaugh bought his 22.5-acre farm — the base of operations in Tyrone Township — in January 2013.
The barn in which the cider is made was built in 1997, but it had only a stone floor and walls. It took about 15 months to add the equipment.
They introduced their product at the Apple Blossom Festival at South Mountain Fairgrounds in Menallen Township the first weekend of May. This first year, they’ve made 2,700 gallons.
“We hope to be able to support ourselves in a year and build from there,” Kishbaugh said.