REVIEW: Cider Makers Dinner in Biglerville, Pa.
While I was on vacation, FOTB Lissa Richards filled in for me for last weekend’s Cider Fest events in Biglerville, Pa. The following is her report.
When you’re in a tent gathered around a collection of bottles pulled from the cellars of Pennsylvania’s cider makers and a vicious thunderstorm rolls in, the cries aren’t, “Take shelter,” or “Get inside.”
Despite gale force winds strong enough to send tables rolling and rain pelting sideways, the majority of the craftsmen at PA Cider Fest’s Cider Makers Dinner chose to stay clustered around the table overflowing with the gifts they’d brought for each other. So I stayed as well.
The invite for the event, hosted by Jack’s Hard Cider at their home, Hauser Estate, encouraged the cider makers to bring “something special” to share with their fellow makers. I wasn’t sure what to expect – would they actually bring anything? Would it be special? They did, and it was; I was more than pleased by the bottles that were passed around.
The first few ciders I tried were from A Few Bad Apples, a non-commercial group in Pittsburgh making sustainable ciders using ugly, leftover or unwanted fruit from neighborhood trees. Mike Sturges, who helps run the organization, was pouring a quince cider, an earl gray cider, and – of all things – a mushroom cider. I hesitated (not a mushroom fan) but the cider was nice and the mushroom flavor was subtle and well blended. He also opened a framboise (lovely!) and a few others.
Not all of the cideries attending the next day’s Cider Fest are big enough operations to have special projects to bring along, so they brought some of their standard ciders to share. I was glad of that, as it gave me an opportunity to try new ciders at leisure and talk to the folks that make them without the festival lines.
Dressler Estate, which makes just one cider, Modern Still, brought an aged bottle from one of their first pressings. The two-year-old bottle had developed rich flavors and had a nice tartness that differentiated it from the 2017 version they served the next day, which was very light bodied and mild.
A loud pop from the opening of a swing top bottle drew my attention; it’s sound so similar to one of my other loves, Champagne. Hank Frecon showed éme the label of the bottle of Farmhouse he was sharing, which read “Sparkling Barrel Aged Sour Cider.”
“All of my favorite things!” I exclaimed and eagerly held out my glass.
I was extremely glad to get the opportunity to try Frecon Farms’ Farmhouse that evening, as it turned out to be my favorite cider of the weekend. Given that the queue for Frecon’s the next day was the longest line of the festival all day long, I might not have braved the wait otherwise and missed my chance.
Cider Makers Dinner
Fortunately for the guests at the Cider Maker’s Dinner, the thunderstorm didn’t start overturning tables until after most folks had finished enjoying dinner.
Fidler & Co., from nearby in Biglerville, provided dinner. Keeping things casual, they served a delicious pulled pork sandwich, vegan mushroom sloppy joes, and a variety of homemade vegetable salads. Josh Fidler, the restaurant’s head chef, also served cider-spiked pickles that gave me ideas for how to use my garden’s cucumbers this summer.
(As an aside, I highly recommend a trip out of your way to Fidler & Co.. I’ve eaten there twice and was stunned by this gem of a BYOB in the middle of Adams County.) – Ed. note: Agree.
Fidler’s food was paired with special releases from Jack’s Hard Cider, including a standout strawberry rhubarb cider. I usually prefer my ciders drier, but though sweet, the fresh strawberry and rhubarb flavors tasted so seasonal that I didn’t mind one bit.
Once the storm blew over, Mary Bigham from Cider Culture said a few words. Cider Culture, a digital publication for cider lovers, was a sponsor of the dinner along with PA Preferred and Jack’s. Apparently the cider makers had participated in a closed “makers-only” vote, and Mary was announcing the awards.
Local Big Hill Ciderworks cleaned up, taking home three of the four prizes: Cider Maker of the Year, Cidery Where You’d Want to Work, and the Rising Tides Lift All Ships award. Jack’s Hard Cider won the award for Best Tasting Room, and I have to agree – their tasting room and the Hauser Estate are stunning.
Pennsylvania Cider Guild
Mary then handed the microphone to Hank Frecon, who spoke (with his adorable baby girl on his arm) on behalf of the PA Cider Guild. I didn’t know much about the guild, but learned that they are a fairly young organization aiming to “protect, promote, represent and educate its members and consumers.”
The cider festival is a fundraiser for the guild, and last year’s successful inaugural year has meant the guild can do more to support the growing hard cider industry in Pennsylvania.
For an antique beverage that has been a part of America (and particularly Pennsylvania’s) history, Pennsylvania’s laws regarding hard cider have been a surprising challenge to the modern comeback of the cider industry here. The PA Cider Guild has been fighting for changes to laws regarding how cider is classified and sold to allow more cideries to thrive and give consumers better access to cider.
Based on the attendance at this year’s PA Cider Fest (over 1000 tickets sold before the day of the festival) and the increase in the number of cideries attending, I’d say the Guild’s effort are paying off.