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Amy Hartranft has always been a hard cider fan. At first, she gravitated toward sugary, mainstream options like Woodchuck and Strongbow — for many years, the only options available in most of the U.S. As her tastes developed, Hartranft realized these overly sweet drinks also left her with terrible hangovers. And so began her quest for a dry hard cider.
“I happened upon a bottle of Etienne Dupont … and it blew my mind,” said Hartranft, who currently works as a bartender at Middle Child Clubhouse. “It wasn’t perfectly bone dry, but it was what my palate had been craving, like a funky, earthy, dry, tannic quality.”
Hartranft fell in love with the French and Spanish ciders introduced to her by Tim Kweeder, the sommelier she worked with at a.bar a few years back. The pair went on to launch the first Philly Cider Week in 2018, and Hartranft has since taken the helm.
The third Philly Cider Week runs Oct. 25-31, with more than 20 events along the way. There are a variety of offerings throughout the week, from seafood and cider at Good King Tavern to cider tasting in Reading Terminal Market to the finale Halloween event at Irwin’s Upstairs.
After a pandemic hiatus in 2020, this year’s Cider Week is more low-key than previous editions, in an effort to ease the stress on an already taxed restaurant industry. Some events are one and done, while other offerings span days, allowing for smaller crowds.
The goal remains the same: spread the good word about the diversity of hard cider while encouraging bars and restaurants to expand their cider offerings.
When bar managers tell Hartranft “cider doesn’t sell,” she often sees they have only one cider option available. “If a beer drinker went into a bar, and you [only] had an IPA,” she said, “not everybody’s going to be in the mood for an IPA.”
“Not showcasing the diversity of a beverage category limits your consumption by your guests,” she added. “It’s a lack of understanding that cider is so many things.”
When she was general manager of Prohibition Taproom, Hartranft grew the beverage menu to include up to 50 ciders. While it never outsold beer, cider quickly surpassed wine sales, she said. The American Cider Association in 2020 listed Prohibition Taproom as having the best on-premise cider program on the East Coast.
Sample local specialties and try cider-donut flights
Cider Week is an opportunity to expand your palate and explore local cider options, which are continually expanding.
From Wednesday through Sunday, Pennsylvania Libations in Reading Terminal Market will offer cider tastings and highlight canned ciders from Brother Monk Ciderworks, which is based in Indiana County, Pa.. There will also be cider cocktails to sample.
On Friday, Brother Monk founders will be on site for the debut of their single-varietal GoldRush Hard Cider, which is made from GoldRush apples aged in used bourbon barrels. “It gets this little bit of wood notes and vanilla from that, and really becomes a much more complex drinking experience,” said Arthur Etchells, general manager for Pennsylvania Libations.
While spirits can always be sampled at the RTM stand, cider usually isn’t available because it goes flat quickly, so interested drinkers will want to take advantage.
“It’s another way to see what we have and then try something, make sure you love it, before you drop your hard earned cash,” Etchells said.
If you’re looking for a sit-down outing, head to Hale & True Cider Co. a taproom just off of South Street from husband-and-wife team Kerry and Risa McKenzie. From Wednesday through Friday, you can try a flight of four different ciders accompanied by a mini donut from Okie Dokie Donuts. The $20 flight includes Hale & True’s Standard, Hail to the Hop, Bee Sting and Riverbend, and cider is also incorporated into the dough or glaze of each donut.
“I think one of the most exciting ones is Bee Sting,” said Kerry McKenzie, co-owner and cidermaker. “I use a local alfalfa honey and ginger, so it’s got this really nice balance of kind of spiciness from the ginger and then a little bit of sweetness from the honey.”
McKenzie experiments with each cider in five gallon batches by adjusting conditions like how much fruit is added during fermentation and at what stage. Once perfected, these hard ciders are ready to serve on draft.
“What’s really cool about owning a business and also being the cidermaker is that I get to make exactly what I want to make,” McKenzie said. “I don’t make anything that I wouldn’t love to also drink.”
Co-owner Risa McKenzie said cider education is important to the couple, as well.
“Often we’ll have someone come in and be like, ‘Oh, I don’t like cider. I’m going to get a beer.’ And then they try their friend’s cider, and they’re like, ‘Oh, but I like this,’” she said.
“And so the education component is really, really important to us, and something that we love doing,” she added. “So Philly Cider Week, of course, is really helping raise awareness.”
Find a full schedule of events online at PhillyCiderWeek.com.