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Keystone Cider Treasure Hunt

Most folks don’t need too much prodding to venture out on a treasure hunt. I certainly fall into that category. So when news of the PA Cider Fest drifted onto my screen in early April, I didn’t hesitate to buy my ticket for the June 23rd rain or shine event. A 3+ hour car trek wasn’t going to deter me.

Cider in the Keystone State has come a long way over the past five years. Credit to the PA Cider Guild for working with the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program and the Penn State Extension to recognize that promoting each other’s efforts is a benefit to all. My previous experiences were limited to Jack’s, Wyndridge and some winery ciders. The former two have been making very good cider for more than a few years now and have figured out some of the keys to selling their cider like beer. After all, the Commonwealth does force them to keep it at 5.5% ABV or lower in order to be sold to and by beer distributors. Over that magic 5.5% and you’ll need to submit it to the state for distribution through the state-controlled wine and liquor stores.

Cider Fest was an impressive event as approximately 30 cider producers offered samples at their tents. Some of them offered bottle sales and growler fills. And if you found the cider you wanted but didn’t care to drag it around in a growler all day, you could stash it safely and securely at the Cider Check. A brilliant idea to remove one potential objection to bringing your own growler.

What really impressed me were some of the producers that had started venturing into wine-like ciders. Dressler Estates had sold out of their Modern Still cider by the time I was able to get to their tent. I got to try the Modern Sparkling though. It had this nice astringency and effervescence; very balanced. Imagine my surprise at tasting Killarney’s Heritage-Dathuil, a “beautiful” bright oaked cider that gave off these great toasted vanilla and caramel notes from aging in medium toast new American white oak barrels. Not to be outdone, Big Hill Ciderworks offered a single-varietal Kingston Black from Pennsylvania-grown apples. It was as wonderful a representation of the Kingston Black apple as I’ve tasted.

But wait, there’s more!

Banter’s, Hale & True, Arsenal, Threadbare and Hardball all poured ciders that stuck out in my mind as good, quality products; cider I’d be happy to order on it’s own or pair with a meal. That’s not to say there weren’t other great ciders there, those were just the ones that stood out in my mind.

Certainly not least, Ploughman Farm Cider had this amazing Sour Peach Cider that balanced this great acidity and with dry peach notes. The PA Cider Guild voted Ploughman the PA Cidery of the Year and the PA Cider Innovation Award for 2018. With the dry and funky ciders they’ve been producing, It’s not hard to see why.

The festival itself was organized and well run. There was free, cold bottled water, food trucks and other farm vendor booths offering cheese, fruit, jerky, spiced pretzel nuggets and the like. They also had hourly shuttles running to/from Gettysburg. Credit to the Hauser Estate Winery/Jack’s Hard Cider for hosting this great event.

Next year, do yourself a favor and get on out to PA Cider Fest. Even if you have to stay overnight in Gettysburg, make a weekend out of it. It’s well worth it.

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