Now a Kenzo ‘export’: Commonwealth Ciders

Two glasses of cool cider brewed up by Com­mon­wealth Ciders. BRI­AN RADEMAEKERS / STAR PHOTO

Com­mon­wealth Ciders, a new cider-brew­ing ven­ture star­ted by East Kens­ing­ton’s Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Co., is tak­ing off onto loc­al bottle shop shelves and in­to cider-lov­ers’ hearts.

When people think of apples and cider, they prob­ably think of fall and cool weath­er. But East Kens­ing­ton’s Phil­adelphia Brew­ing Co. is shak­ing up that as­so­ci­ation with a crisp new thirst-quench­er that’ll go just fine with warm­er weath­er.

Bottles of the Com­mon­wealth Ciders’ “Tra­di­tion­al Dry” have been on the shelves of beer dis­trib­ut­ors and bottle shops all winter, but the fruity of­fer­ings from Hagert and Martha streets are just be­gin­ning. A re­cent re­lease saw kegs of lem­on­grass-ginger show up at area bars for test run. And, in the tanks right now, a rasp­berry-apple brew is hap­pily fer­ment­ing along its way to loc­al tap­rooms.

Des­pite the city’s boom­ing brew­ing cul­ture, these hard ciders (with la­bels boast­ing “Ex­por­ted From Kens­ing­ton”) are some of the few be­ing made loc­ally. The only oth­er com­mer­cial maker in the city is Re­volu­tion Cider, based out of Frank­ford.

So, what led Philly Brew­ing Co. to get in­to the cider busi­ness? Co-own­er Bill Bar­ton is quick to point out that PBC isn’t mak­ing the cider, ex­actly.

“Philly Brew­ing makes beer,” said Bar­ton. “Com­mon­wealth Ciders makes cider.”

The dis­tinc­tion, though, is mostly a bur­eau­crat­ic one; dif­fer­ent fed­er­al agen­cies over­see the mak­ing of beer and cider, with the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion tak­ing charge of the lat­ter. It’s why you don’t see the PBC name on the bottles, while you do see nu­tri­tion­al facts that (per­haps, for the cal­or­ie-con­scious, thank­fully) aren’t on beer la­bels. Still, when it comes down to it, the same brew­ers who make the pop­u­lar beers like Ken­zinger and Walt Wit are also mak­ing the brews at Com­mon­wealth Ciders.

Bar­ton said the first Kens­ing­ton ciders ap­peared as a test batch back in 2011. “It was really well re­ceived, so we de­cided to take a shot at it,” Bar­ton re­calls. At first, they wanted to make the new Com­mon­wealth Ciders with loc­al apples, but a rough grow­ing sea­son turned them off.

“We looked at the crop re­port, and it was about the worst re­port in 75 years,” Bar­ton said. “The prices were just out­rageous.” They ended up us­ing apples from Ore­gon, but are keep­ing an eye on loc­al grow­ers in Bucks County to see if an af­ford­able op­por­tun­ity arises. For the rasp­berry-blen­ded batch now brew­ing, PBC drivers trucked in ber­ries that had been pur­eed by a Le­high Val­ley sup­pli­er. Bar­ton said the batch, along with the ginger-apple cider, should be avail­able in bottles in late May or early June.

One of the driv­ing factors for cre­at­ing Com­mon­wealth Ciders was the sur­ging pop­ular­ity of glu­ten-free di­ets and glu­ten-free bever­ages. Be­cause most beer is made with grains, which con­tain glu­ten, people on the diet are of­ten left with few choices at the bar and at the beer dis­trib­ut­or.

That’s even truer for people who try to sup­port loc­al brew­ers like PBC and Yards, the only two com­mer­cial brew­er­ies in the city.

Com­mon­wealth Ciders al­lowed PBC to break in­to that mar­ket, provid­ing ciders for the glu­ten-free crowd while also mix­ing up their of­fer­ings and giv­ing something new to fans of their beer. And, even with­in the wider world of ciders, Com­mon­wealth stands out as be­ing drier and crisper than com­monly avail­able brands like Wood­chuck.

“We really wanted to make a very dry cider by fer­ment­ing al­most all of the sug­ar out it,” Bar­ton said. “We did tast­ings of oth­er com­mer­cial vari­et­ies, and they were just too cloy­ingly sweet for out palette, and I don’t think that’s what our cus­tom­ers like either. We wanted to make something dif­fer­ent.”

They were able to achieve the dry char­ac­ter us­ing the same yeast – the mi­croor­gan­isms that turn sug­ars in­to al­co­hol – they use to make beers like their Pennsylvania Pale Ale. But one big dif­fer­ence they came across between mak­ing beer and cider was the amount of time it takes for the cider to change from sweet juice to dry booze.

“We were start­ing to get nervous, the first batch we made,” Bar­ton re­calls. Beer will typ­ic­ally start to fer­ment with­in a few hours, a pro­cess signaled by lots of frothy bub­bling in the tank. “The cider just sat there, noth­ing hap­pen­ing.”

But soon, the cider also took off too, and Bar­ton and his brew­ers were happy with the res­ults. It seems the re­gion’s cider drink­ers are just as happy, with cases selling “very well,” ac­cord­ing to Bar­ton. The new bever­age also has lot of people ask­ing ques­tions dur­ing the brew­ery’s free Sat­urday tours (noon to 3 p.m.). Some, Bar­ton noted with a laugh, want to know how they get the glu­ten out of the nat­ur­ally glu­ten-free apples.

“We just tell them we have a very ex­pens­ive glu­ten re­mov­ing ma­chine right here at the brew­ery,” Bar­ton said.

Re­port­er Bri­an Rademaekers can be reached at

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