By Doug Williams
“You have reached your destination,” the monotone Google voice on my iPhone declared as my car rolled through the lush, green hills of Biglerville, Pennsylvania. I turned off the main road and onto a rocky path that led to a view overlooking the small township.
For eight years, Jack’s Hard Cider has called this place home. Their handcrafted, gluten-free ciders, like Jack’s Original, Helen’s Blend, Peach, Dry Hopped and Pear are made from apples grown on their very own orchard. After grinding away all that time, Jack’s is currently having a “boom” moment, with their products turning up practically everywhere in Pennsylvania, due to their excellent liquid. I made the trek to find out exactly why this once niche cidery is now a heavy hitter.
After the three-hour drive from South Philly, I was greeted by Joe Cuneo-Tomasi and Jonathan Patrono who welcomed me to their facility and took me on a quick tour, where I got to see some apple pressing. Soon we retired to their picturesque tasting room, complete with a 360-degree view of their hillside apple orchard, to try a few of their new concoctions.
“Right now, we’re seeing an explosion of interest in our ciders. Everyone seems to be drinking them,” said Cuneo-Tomasi. “Years ago, we were competing against craft beer, but now people want other flavorful options, and they’ve come running for our products.” Patrono agreed with a nod.
Both Patrono and Cuneo-Tomasi attribute Jack’s success to listening to what customers want, understanding how their tastes are changing and making sure their cider reflects that. “Consumers are starting to move toward ciders that are much drier,” says Patrono. “Palates are becoming more refined, so we’ve been aggressive at aiming our portfolio’s ciders to be as complex and eclectic as our consumers’ tastes.”
Jack’s is unique in that Pennsylvania is a national leader in apple quality and production. With over 100 apple varieties grown in the state, Patrono and Cuneo-Tomasi take full advantage to craft their renowned ciders. Jack’s Original Cider is dry, crisp and refreshing – like biting into the most perfect Pennsylvania apple. Helen’s Blend is fruit-forward, with a balance of natural acids and sugars that create a smooth finish, and their Peach and Pear ciders feature light aromas and the refreshing flavors of their featured fruit blends.
After discussing some of their more experimental, tasting-room-only releases (ever tried an Earl Grey cider before?) Cuneo-Tomasi and Patrono leaned forward to tell me about their newest endeavor: a brand-new facility. “With the way our sales have boomed recently, we’ve outgrown our current cidery,” said Cuneo-Tomasi.
Looking out across the view from their tasting room, it was hard to imagine a better location. “We love our spot here; you can’t beat the view. But just wait until you see what we’re working on now,” said Patrono. “When we cut the ribbon, we’ll have four different bars, an event space, a restaurant… and our production will be through the roof.” Cuneo-Tomasi added, “This new cidery will be a game-changer.”
Cider is a beverage that’s been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, so it’s no wonder it can get overlooked from time to time. As I pulled out of Jack’s orchard and back onto the main road (with a few cases of cider in my back seat) I was convinced that Jack’s Cider is not only proving that it’s a force to be reckoned with – its most exciting time, just might be on the horizon.
Doug Williams has been a contributing writer for Draught Lines Magazine since 2017. He is currently the writer in residence at Azuka Theatre. His work has been developed and produced by Orbiter 3, Theatre Horizon, Painted Bride, PlayPenn and the Great Plains Theatre Conference.