300 39th St., Lawrenceville
412-260-6968 or www.arsenalciderhouse.com
"Symington's Sour Cherry Blast" packs some firepower -- on several levels. First, there's the tangy bite, then the 7.8 percent alcohol. Finally, there's the name -- an allusion to the 1862 explosion at the Allegheny Arsenal, just across the street from where this fruit wine was made, at Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar.
"I'm far from a Civil War buff, but I appreciate the history immensely," says Bill Larkin, who recently opened the Cider House with his wife, Michelle, at their Lawrenceville home. "Originally, we were going to do a general Lawrenceville theme," he notes, but the location made for a natural combination.
The Larkins opened their retail location and tasting room on June 19, after a couple of years in the works, during which friends and family served as guinea pigs. Inside, barrels, flags and books of local history decorate a bar area and tasting room with antiqued wood walls, evoking a "log cabin look, without overkill," as Michelle Larkin says.
Currently on tap, in addition to the Cherry Blast, is "Fighting Ellec's Hard Apple Cider," a semi-sweet cider with 8.3 percent alcohol. "It's probably going to be our middle-of-the-road, as far as sweetness is concerned," says Bill. Also in the works, with no sugar, is another draft named "Picket's Bone-Dry Cider."
The names for the brews continue the Civil War theme, and when I order a small growler of the Fighting Ellec, it comes with a "Daily Rations" label. The growler is $20, refills are $12 -- and the refreshing beverage goes quickly among friends on a warm day.
Down in the basement, gleaming metal tanks hold grape, peach, cherry and two apple concoctions; large glass jugs of amber liquid sit nearby and in the walk-in cooler. "Probably most of it is going to be turned into carbonated fruit wine," says Bill. The difference between cider and wine is a bit blurry. "If you make an apple wine that's 12 or 14 percent alcohol, most people would call it wine. But I don't know where the cutoff is," he says. "In the end, [cider's] an apple wine, and I think that's how the government thinks about it."
A batch of cider can take two or three months, Bill estimates. "It varies from time to time, and we won't put it out until it's absolutely ready." Mead, which the Larkins hope to produce eventually, can take up to two years.
While they're working on distributing Arsenal beverages to area establishments, for now, they're "going to keep it as store-related as possible," says Michelle. Stop by to sample the brews, or bring friends and split a growler or two.