This is part of a series on West Chester entrepreneurs. Know someone that’s taking an innovative approach to the mantra, “Follow your dream?” I’d love to share their story. Thank you to Benchmark Federal Credit Union for making this expanded content possible.
A marketing dilemma of historic proportions
First came Woodchuck in 1991. Then a decade ago, Angry Orchard dropped an angry apple bomb on the market. Together they have simultaneously exposed millions to hard cider and dug a massive multi-decade branding hole some in the industry are just beginning to pull themselves out of.
“We are on a mission to reintroduce ciders to the consumer,” said Josh Lasensky, one of the three founders of Chester County Cider. Josh, fellow founder Manly Parks, and I are standing in the front room at their Bolmar Street cidery. While the accommodations at the newly formed cider company are modest, we are tasting at a small table (cough) barrel (cough) surrounded by the boxes and brewing equipment of a business very much in growth mode, the knowledge of cider is intense. Chester County Cider is part of a growing (and passionate) craft-cider movement that aims to return the drink to its early American origins and away from the sweet drink you’ll find on the (mass) market today.
“This is very similar to the cider you would have found on Ben Franklin’s table,” said Josh pointing to a generously poured sample.
The growing world of craft cider
Rapidly approaching its first anniversary, Chester County Cider was formed by friends and cider aficionados Josh, Manly, and Greg Ott, known among the set as “the professor.” The trio came to appreciate this historic drink not through the brand names but through the vintages of England, Ireland, and France – a caveat that was stressed early on in our conversation. This is not the cider you know, they insisted. This is small batch, locally produced cider. (If Angry Orchard is your Bud Light, this is your Levante, Artillery, Wrong Crowd.)
This process starts (and really ends) with the apples. Cider apples are different than eating apples and, much like wine, each apple variety will yield another end product.
“A different apple equals a different cider,” said Manly. The ones used by Chester County Cider are all local and mostly from Chester County farms.
Once picked, the apples are washed, pressed, and left to ferment. Then using a technique similar to Champagne the beverage is naturally carbonated with priming sugar and yeast. After pressing, clarifying, and aging the cider is ready for bottling.
The cider is sold in 750 ml glass bottles. At the bottom is a divot designed to catch some of that naturally occurring sediment. When it is poured it is a clear, pale gold color with light bubbles rising up. There are nuances, of course – a little more spice here, orange notes there, even a hopped batch (which I personally really enjoyed) – but uniformly the taste is light, crisp, and distinctly apple.
“We are apple forward. We are looking to celebrate the apples,” said Manly.
Because of this, there is a natural sweetness to the drink, but it is not the cloying sweetness you may have come to expect from big-name brands. “It’s almost shameful that cider was so well made in the past has somehow morphed into what we like to call ‘sugar bombs,’” shared Josh in an email. Insider secret: many large cider makers add sugar during the cider-making process to get that extra sweetness.
Spreading the gospel of cider
As temperatures cool and apples garner more attention and shelf space, Josh, Manly, and Greg, who brought their first batch to market in May, are hoping these selling points will resonate with consumers and convince them to give hard cider another chance.
“We want to introduce everyone to this kind of cider,” said Manly. “It feels like we need to spread the gospel.”
The guys already have their hands on what will become their 2022 vintage. “We are beginning our cidermaking season this weekend with some great cider-specific apples. I think this year’s ciders will be exceptional,” said Josh in an email.
While that next batch will not be ready until spring, there is no need to wait. The fruits of 2021’s harvest are ready to enjoy now and ciders, like wine, only get better with age.
Chester County Ciders are available locally at the Beermill, Wrong Crowd Brewing, or stop by Chester County Cider on 207 S. Bolmar Street for a taste and an education. Tell them Hello, West Chester sent you.
Cider Fun Facts:
- Crab apples are often used in cider making – they help counter the sweetness and add complexity. ”Cidermaking involves a variety of chemistry,” said Josh. “While single varietal ciders can stand on their own, a good blend will be balanced in acidity, astringency, tannins, sweetness, color, etc.”
- Cider was the most common beverage in Colonial America. That popularity held until the late 1800s when cheap grain and an influx of German and Irish immigrants pushed beer to the top. Now over a century later, cider is on the verge of a resurgence. It is one of the fastest-growing segments of the liquor industry.
- Ciders can be stored. Just cork them like you would a wine. Vacuum-seal sparkling varieties, if you have that option.
- Cider has an ABV of about 6.5% – similar to beer. This means with a friend it is fairly easy to finish that bottle – even mid-week. Cheers!
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