Cider is my drink of choice, but I've found that not all cider is created equal. Unfortunately, it's still pretty rare to find a bar or restaurant with more than one cider option, if any, on the menu. Most places, it seems, think one cider is no different than the next. And so they believe that as long as they have one option available, they're taking care of their customers.
It took a visit to Threadbare Cider House & Meadery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to truly understand why all ciders are not created equal.
Whether you're looking for a great drink or a lesson in the history of cider, Threadbare has you covered — Photo courtesy of Threadbare Cider House & Meadery
At Threadbare, the cider is not an afterthought but an opportunity to delight, surprise and educate. Upon arrival, 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-based cocktails), I don’t know where to begin.
Take, for example, Fiesta, “a margarita inspired off-dry cider with tangerine, honey and lime zest” or the “funky” 412 City Cider with “strawberry, pineapple, and tangerine and Pittsburgh foraged apples.” There are sweet ciders, dry ciders, fruity ciders and funky ciders… I was in cider heaven!
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I decide to start with their traditional cider, the Farmhouse, and make my way down the list. Drink in hand, Bolzan takes me for a tour of their facility, where I quickly discover the Threadbare team is not just passionate about their own ciders, but also educating their consumers about the product itself.
“I love [cider] because it’s unexpected,” Bolzan tells me. “There’s so much more to cider than people realize. Not all ciders are the same.”
A fabulous cider, Bolzan helps me to understand, is defined by what goes into it. And ciders in the United States, he says, are rarely discussed because many American cider producers are not so picky about the types of apples used in their blends. Some are diluted or just use apple juice.
“Premium ciders set themselves apart," he says. Bolzan explains that “with a high-quality cider, you will hear about the apple (and other fruit) varieties that make it in there, the orchards that grew the fruit, the type of soil… the more information, generally, the more care is going into what is being used.”
Threadbare tours are family-friendly — Photo courtesy of Threadbare Cider House & Meadery
Such is the case at Threadbare. Not only is the Threadbare team knowledgeable and passionate about their craft, but they're also excited to share this knowledge. Bolzan says, “We’re trying to educate our consumers as much as we can because we’re really proud of our process, and we’re really excited to help them learn more about cider and how it is made.”
At Threadbare, the focus is on making innovative and “terroir-driven ciders” with the highest-quality local fruit produced in the region. Threadbare sources their apples primarily from Soergel Orchards, Trax Farms and Godfrey Run Farm, all farms with a rich and deep multigenerational history in fruit production that press custom 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 team up with local food waste non-profit 412 Food Rescue, whose mission is to raise awareness about hunger and food waste by redirecting food away from the landfill and onto the tables of the local community. With 412 Food Rescue, Threadbare creates a one-of-a-kind cider made from foraged crab apples and other wild apples from urban trees throughout the city of Pittsburgh that would otherwise fall and rot.
Threadbare offers great food options to pair with their ciders — Photo courtesy of Threadbare Cider House & Meadery
Bolzan’s knowledge and excitement, however, does not stop at 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 continue making my way through the menu as the discussion turns to America’s Cider Renaissance and the many other cider houses opening across the state.
Hoping never again to have to settle for a menu with just one mediocre cider, I ask him to share his top picks for places in Pennsylvania with great cider pairings.
He did not disappoint with his recommendations. Here’s where he said to go:
Abe Fisher - Philadelphia
Abe Fisher serves upscale Jewish comfort food and pairs it with an eclectic beverage menu — Photo courtesy of Abe Fisher
By serving upscale Jewish comfort food and pairing it with an eclectic beverage menu that features various local and global cideries, Abe Fisher does an exemplary job at showcasing how cider can enhance good food. Don’t miss Abe Fisher, a fixture in the Philadelphia dining scene.
Federal Galley - Pittsburgh
Federal Galley is an incubator for Pittsburgh's most exciting new restaurant concepts — Photo courtesy of Federal Galley
The Galley Group has multiple food hall locations across the Midwest and Northeast. The concept's emphasis has always been on craft beverages to complement the globally-inspired cuisine offered in their food hall.
That is especially true here in Pittsburgh, where they feature a series of fruited sour ciders in collaboration with Threadbare Cider. Additionally, there are usually multiple cider options to please every palate.
Grand Illusion Cidery - Carlisle
Grand Illusion produces their own variety of ciders — Photo courtesy of Grand Illusion
One of the only cider bars in the state, based out of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Grand Illusion produces their own variety of West Coast-inspired ciders. Think flavors like blueberry lavender, pineapple citra hopped and strawberry hibiscus, alongside 10+ Pennsylvania Ciders on draft, showcasing the vast range of flavor that the state’s cider has to offer.
Hale & True Cider Co. - Philadelphia
Hale & True Cider Co. maintains high quality by keeping things simple in their tasting room — Photo courtesy of Hale & True Cider Co.
The passion and meticulousness Hale & True brings to education about their cider is inspiring. Hale & True, the perfect place to take a date in Philadelphia, features a list of year-round offerings, as well as seasonal and one-off ciders that make for a unique experience each time.
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Martha - Philadelphia
Martha is a cozy neighborhood bar with a lot to offer — Photo courtesy of Martha
An intentional food and drink menu combining the best of what's made here and abroad, Kensington’s Martha is the best late-night spot to hang and get lost exploring an extensive menu of cider, beer, wine, mezcal and more.
Merchant Oyster Company - Pittsburgh
Merchant Oyster Co. offers a rotating list of local ciders — Photo courtesy of Ginography // Merchant Oyster Co.
What better combination is there than cider and oysters? Merchant Oyster is located in the hip Pittsburgh neighborhood of Lawrenceville, featuring an assortment of regionally specific oysters with detailed tasting notes. With a rotating list of local ciders, this joint is on the top of my list for casual seafood and cider.
Morcilla - Pittsburgh
Morcilla is a foodie's dream come true — Photo courtesy of Morcilla
Capturing the essence of traditional Basque fare, Morcilla pairs complex bite-sized pintxos with refreshing pours of cider to wash down each delicious morsel. With an assortment of fine ciders, sherries and cocktails, Morcilla is genuinely a Pittsburgh foodie's dream come true.
Ploughman Cider - Gettysburg
Ploughman Cider crafts a variety of ciders from local apples — Photo courtesy of Ploughman
With a newly opened tasting room on the square in Gettysburg, Ploughman Cider, hailing from Adams County (Pennsylvania's largest apple-growing region), is producing some truly exceptional ciders. Ploughman Cider crafts a variety of wild fermented, dry and heritage ciders from what they grow at Three Springs Fruit Farm and what is locally available at other farms.
The Knickerbocker Tavern - Altoona
House ciders are made through a collaboration with Threadbare — Photo courtesy of The Knickerbocker Tavern
The Knickerbocker is a regional hub for all things craft. Opening as a craft beer bar in the '90s, well before many household microbreweries were conceived, the Knickerbocker’s focus has always been on building relationships and carrying rare libations.
Their drive to offer unique experiences has led to a collaboration with Threadbare to create a series of house ciders featuring raspberry, pineapple, blood orange/ pomegranate and passion fruit. The atmosphere and knowledge of staff at this bar make it one of my favorites in Pennsylvania to enjoy a cider or three!