Apple cider is my favorite drink, but I’ve found that not all ciders are created equal. Unfortunately, it’s still pretty rare to find a bar or restaurant with more than one cider option on the menu. In most places, it seems, one cider is no different from another. And so, they believe that as long as they have an option, they will care about their customers.
It took a visit to the Threadbare Cider House & Meadery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to really understand why not all ciders are created equal.
Whether you’re looking for a good drink or a lesson in the history of cider, Threadbare has it all – photo courtesy of Threadbare Cider House & Meadery
At Threadbare, cider is not an afterthought, but an opportunity to delight, surprise and educate. On arrival, the head cider maker Brian Bolzan hands me a menu and asks what I would like to try first. But with more than a dozen cider options (plus a handful of cider cocktails), I don’t know where to start.
Take Fiesta, for example, “a margarita-inspired, semi-dry cider with tangerine, honey and lime zest” or the “funky” 412 City Cider with “strawberry, pineapple and tangerine and Pittsburgh-picked apples”. There’s sweet cider, dry cider, fruity cider and funky cider … I was in cider heaven!
I decide to start with their traditional cider, the farmhouse, and add myself to the list. With a drink in hand, Bolzan takes me on a tour of her factory, during which I quickly notice that the Threadbare team not only has a passion for their own cider, but also educates their consumers about the product itself.
“I am in love [cider] because it’s unexpected, ”Bolzan tells me. “Cider has so much more to offer than people realize. Cider is not just cider. “
A fabulous apple cider, that helps me to understand Bolzan, is defined by what is in it. And cider in the United States, he says, is rarely discussed because many American cider makers aren’t that picky about the apple varieties for their blends. Some are diluted or just use apple juice.
“Premium cider stand out from the crowd,” he says. Bolzan explains, “With a good quality cider, you hear about the varieties of apples (and other fruits) that make it there, the orchards where the fruits were grown, the soil … the more information in general, the more care is put into that, what is used. “
Threadbare tours are family friendly – photo courtesy of Threadbare Cider House & Meadery
This is the case with Threadbare. The Threadbare team is not only competent and passionate about their craft, but is also happy to share this knowledge. Bolzan says, “We try to educate our consumers as best we can because we are really proud of our process and we are very excited to help them learn more about cider and how it is made.”
At Threadbare the focus is on the production of innovative and “terroir-driven apple wines” with the highest quality local fruits in the region. Threadbare sources its apples primarily from Soergel Orchards, Trax Farms, and Godfrey Run Farm, all farms with a rich and deep cross-generational history in fruit production that press bespoke apple blends for Threadbare to use in their award-winning ciders.
But they don’t stop there. The Threadbare team even goes so far as to partner with the local non-profit 412 Food Rescue for Food Waste, whose mission is to raise awareness of hunger and food waste by moving food from the landfill to the local community’s tables be redirected. With 412 Food Rescue, Threadbare makes a one-of-a-kind cider made from eaten crab apples and other wild apples from urban trees across the city of Pittsburgh that would otherwise fall over and rot.
Threadbare makes great dishes to pair with their cider – Photo courtesy of Threadbare Cider House & Meadery
However, Bolzan’s knowledge and enthusiasm doesn’t stop with discussing his own cider creations at Threadbare. After my tour, we return to the bar for dinner (also excellent!) Where I have the opportunity to sneak further through the menu as the discussion turns to America’s Cider Renaissance and the many other cider houses that operate in the open whole state.
Hoping never to settle for a menu with just one mediocre cider again, I ask him to share his top picks for places in Pennsylvania with great cider couples.
He did not disappoint with his recommendations. Here is where he said to go:
Abe Fisher – Philadelphia
Abe Fisher serves up fine Jewish home cooking and pairs it with an eclectic drinks menu – photo courtesy Abe Fisher
By serving fine Jewish home cooking and combining it with an eclectic drinks menu featuring a variety of local and global ciders, Abe Fisher is an exemplary demonstration of how cider can improve good food. Don’t miss out on Abe Fisher, a fixture in the Philadelphia’s food and beverage scene.
Federal Kitchen – Pittsburgh
Federal Galley is an incubator for Pittsburgh’s most exciting new restaurant concepts – photo courtesy of Federal Galley
The Galley Group has several Food Hall locations in the Midwest and Northeast. The concept has always focused on craft beverages that complement the globally inspired cuisine in the Food Hall.
That’s especially true here in Pittsburgh, where they partner with Threadbare Cider to offer a range of fruity sour cider wines. Additionally, there are usually several cider options to please every palate.
Grand Illusion Cidery – Carlisle
Grand Illusion produces their own variety of cider – photo courtesy of Grand Illusion
Based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Grand Illusion is one of the state’s few cider bars and produces their own selection of West Coast-inspired ciders. Think of flavors like blueberry lavender, pineapple citra hops, and strawberry hibiscus, as well as 10+ Pennsylvania ciders on tap that showcase the great variety of flavors of the state’s cider.
Hale & True Cider Co.- Philadelphia
Hale & True Cider Co. maintains the high quality by keeping things simple in their tasting room – Photo courtesy of Hale & True Cider Co.
The passion and meticulousness that Hale & True brings to educating people about their cider is inspiring. Hale & True, the perfect Philadelphia date location, has a list of year-round deals, seasonal and one-off ciders that make a unique experience every time.
Martha is a cozy neighborhood bar with a lot to offer – photo courtesy of Martha
Kensington’s Martha is an intentional food and drink menu that combines the best of both home and abroad. Kensington’s Martha is the best place to get lost late into the night and explore an extensive menu of cider, beer, wine, mezcal, and more.
Dealer Oyster Company – Pittsburgh
Merchant Oyster Co. offers a rotating list of local ciders – Photo courtesy of Ginography // Merchant Oyster Co.
What better combination than cider and oysters? Located in the hip Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville, Merchant Oyster offers a selection of regionally specific oysters with detailed tasting notes. With a rotating list of local ciders, this eatery tops my list for casual seafood and cider.
Blood sausage – Pittsburgh
Morcilla is a foodie’s dream come true – photo courtesy of Morcilla
Capturing the essence of traditional Basque dishes, Morcilla pairs complex bite-sized pintxos with refreshing apple wines to wash down every delicious bite. With a selection of fine ciders, sherries and cocktails, Morcilla is truly a Pittsburgh foodie’s dream come true.
Pflüger cider – Gettysburg
Plowman Cider makes a variety of ciders from local apples – photo courtesy of Plowman
With a newly opened tasting room in the square in Gettysburg, Plowman Cider from Adams County (Pennsylvania’s largest apple growing region) produces some truly exceptional ciders. Plowman Cider makes a variety of wild fermented, dry, and traditional cider wines that are grown on the Three Springs Fruit Farm and are available locally on other farms.
Knickerbocker Tavern – Altoona
House wine is made in partnership with Threadbare – photo courtesy of The Knickerbocker Tavern
The Knickerbocker is a regional hub for all things craft. Opened as a craft beer bar in the ’90s, long before many household microbreweries were conceived, the Knickerbocker’s focus has always been on building relationships and wearing rare libations.
Their quest to offer unique experiences has led to a collaboration with Threadbare to create a range of house wines with raspberry, pineapple, blood orange / pomegranate and passion fruit. The atmosphere and knowledge of the staff at this bar make it one of my favorites in Pennsylvania to enjoy a cider or three!