Sip of Cider: Arsenal Cider House and Wine Cellar has spirits, year round
Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 4, 2012 00:10
Apple Cider: the deliciously sweet older brother of apple juice and an undisputed fall favorite. For many, the chilly Pennsylvania autumn seems to bring a craving for this beverage along with it. In Lawrenceville, customers can find a more adult take on the fall favorite at Arsenal Cider House and Wine Cellar where home-brewed hard ciders are sold by the growler.
The business found its beginnings in June 2010 when owner William Larkin decided to turn his part-time hobby of brewing cider and wine into a full-time business. He and his wife Michelle decided to commit to the idea and converted the ground floor and basement of their home into the shop and brewery. The couple still lives above the store where they raise their three kids. While William’s passion for his hobby was one driving force there was another driving motivation for the Larkin’s career change – twins.
“Part of it was when we found out we were having twins” said Michelle. The couple wanted to spend more time at home with the expected twins and their oldest son Alex, Michelle said. William’s hobby seemed to be the solution to that problem.
What started with three flavors of cider and 10 brewing tanks has now escalated into a full-scale family operation. The store now offers up to 10 different seasonal based flavors and has 24 132 gallon tanks in its basement brewing the product.
The Arsenal also goes beyond just a hard apple cider. They rotate through 25 flavors each year and sometimes experiment with new flavors. They offer fruit ciders, such as apple, plum or peach, as well as mead, a honey wine and different flavored wines, including traditional grape and sweet berry wines.
Because the store utilizes a growler system, refillable jugs for alcohol, and does not serve their products by the glass or bottle, it encourages customer loyalty. Customers are always encouraged to refill their half-gallon or 64 ounce growlers and try the new flavors that are posted each week on the cider house’s Facebook page. The price of a filled growler ranges from $20 to $24 and refills from $13.75 to $17.50.
All of the Arsenal’s apples come from Soergel Orchards in Wexford and any other fruit is bought as locally as possible, according to Michelle.
William does all of the brewing in-house, Michelle said.
While most customers are locally based, the store’s reputation has spread through social media and word of mouth as far as West Virginia and Ohio, according to Michelle.
“I can’t believe it, I’m still in shock,” said Michelle who had some initial doubts about the business. “That’s what I was worried about, we would be relying on family and friends.”
William was more optimistic about the business’s potential.
“I get obsessed about something and I just pursue it,” said William, who didn’t find himself nervous about his new career until the day before opening.
The store sits across the street from what was the Allegheny Arsenal, a military arsenal that was used primarily during the Civil War period that now lends its name to the cider house. The Larkin’s also decided to give their store a Civil War theme to go along with the name. The ground floor is decorated with Civil War memorabilia and furnishings that give it a log cabin aesthetic, “without going overboard,” Michelle said.
Customers even get a Civil War military title written on their growler upon purchase, a personal touch that many customers enjoy, Michelle said. It also makes the growlers a great personalized gift. During the Holidays, customers can buy a growler full of one of the cider house’s seasonal favorites. At the end of October, the Arsenal will begin to offer their pumpkin cider and have a special Santa Cinnamon Apple in December. In spring, they offer a bunny vanilla honey in honor of the Easter season.
One of Michelle’s favorite things about the business is the loyal customer base that the cider house has built.
“I just think we have the nicest customers,” Michelle said, “so appreciative, so supportive…I think they are so genuinely happy for us.”
Jessica Diem, a part time sales associate, also appreciates the customers of the cider house.
“We have great customers,” Diem said, “ I look forward to my Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays.”
William had learned the craft of cider brewing from a friend about 10 years ago. Today, he says his favorite thing about the business is the independence it allows him to have.
“[I like] not having to do the 9 to 5,” William said. “Not having to put the monkey suit on.”