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State's growing hard-cider industry making Pennsylvania Farm Show debut

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An estimated 70 percent of Pennsylvania's apple production — the nation's fourth-largest apple producing state — comes out of Adams County.

It's only fitting then that Adams County apple farmers, several of whom have turned to hard-cider production in recent years, have taken the lead to help spread the word about cidery growth in Pennsylvania.

Cideries often are overlooked in the budding craft alcohol industry because they get licensed under a winery or brewery license in Pennsylvania. But the commonwealth has 43 cideries, up from about 15 just two years ago, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

That growth and advocacy from the Pennsylvania Cider Guild, a budding trade organization for the cider industry, has prompted the state to add a cider competition at this year's Pennsylvania Farm Show for the first time.

Even though the inaugural competition only features 26 ciders from eight Pennsylvania cidermakers, industry experts say it's a big deal.

Not only will the competition help broaden awareness in Pennsylvania among people attending the farm show, which could help increase sales and future cider production, it also may lead to national competitions and possibly help spur the creation of a separate licensing category for cideries.   

"It takes events like what the cider guild is doing at the farm show to really break through," said Ben Wenk of Three Springs Fruit Farm in northern Adams County.

Cider sales in Pennsylvania have already been getting a boost from last year's liquor law reforms. The 2016 law, known as Act 39, gives Pennsylvania beer, wine and spirit makers the ability to sell other alcoholic products for on-site consumption.

Wenk, a seventh-generation farmer, is a board member of the cider guild. The family fruit farm produces apples for his P&Q Cider Co., which is more commonly known as Ploughman Farm Cider, which launched last year.

At this point in its development, Wenk said, Ploughman is a different way to market the fruit the farm already produces. But as the cider brand grows, he said he expects it will help drive growth of new apple varieties that are best suited for cider production, which supports the farm's long-term future.

Three Springs has already planted new trees that are dedicated for cider use. Wenk has no plans to grow to a point where he has to buy fruit from other farms to make cider.

"We want to be a farm that has cider. This venture only makes sense because it helps the farm," he said.

The cider industry, especially in Central Pennsylvania, is getting as diverse as wine and beer production, said Mary Bigham, an Adams County native and president and co-founder of Dish LLC, which produces online culinary content under The Town Dish and Cider Culture.

Having the farm show competition for cider, with seven different categories, will help better educate consumers about what goes into cider production and where the fruit comes from to make it, she said.

That could give places like Adams County a bigger tourism boost.

"This is a destination for cider," Bigham said, referring to her hometown of Gettysburg as Cider Town. "There is more here than just a battlefield."

Cider Culture, which spawned from a cider column produced by her company, has been actively building its index of cideries for people that want plan trips, much like wine or beer tours.

"This state is making incredible cider varieties," Bigham said. "But there is work to do to get Pennsylvania cider distributed more."

If you go

The 102nd Pennsylvania Farm Show will be held Jan. 6 to Jan. 13 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center in Harrisburg.

The winning entries for the cider competition will be announced on Jan. 6. Judges from Connecticut and New York were in Harrisburg in late November to evaluate the submissions across seven categories.

There were 26 entries from eight Pennsylvania cideries. That list includes P&Q Cider Co., or Ploughman, which is based in Adams County, Big Hill Ciderworks, also from Adams County, and Winery at Wyndridge Farm in York County.

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Jason Scott

Jason Scott

Jason Scott covers state government, real estate and construction, media and marketing, and Dauphin County. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jscott@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JScottJournal. Circle Jason Scott on .

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