Late last month Blackledge Winery, a new research winery based in Center Valley, started selling their first ciders. Certainly not your typical stop that you’d find on the Lehigh Valley Wine Trail, Blackledge is a small operation focused on producing historical recipes, naturally fermented products, and modern variations on those themes for research. We stopped by recently to have a look at their operation and taste their first releases.
Blackledge is run by Damian Siekonic, whose day job includes historical prop fabrication, research, and other history-related gigs. Situated in his 17th century farmhouse, he is currently working with guest ciderist Mark Turdo, who was also on hand to talk about the unique ciders Blackledge is producing.
As we mentioned, Blackledge, whose name comes from a family who lived on the land (deeded to them by William Penn), is a little different from the likes of Clover Hill. They’re mostly experimenting with different wines, apples, yeasts, and historical recipes. Mr. Siekonic doesn’t seem to particularly care when a wine or cider or mead makes it out the door, only that it tastes good when it does. They’re not open for public tours or tastings, and the only way to get their products are to purchase them online and pick them up at the winery. They can produce around 500-1000 gallons a year and are working in 63 gallon batches, based on a historical measurement called a hogshead.
Their apples are sourced from an orchard that grows heirloom apples, bringing back old varietals that have long been forgotten and working to keep them growing into the future. This, combined with the focus on natural fermentation, combines to make cider that is far from Angry Orchard and Woodchuck. We tried two of their offerings: their Eliza’s 28 cider and their Fisher’s 58 ginger cider.
The Eliza’s 28 is based on a recipe from The Compleat Housewife from 1728. Added in were small amounts of raisins, sugar which combine to make a 7.8% ABV cider. The nose on this will remind a lot of beer lovers of a wild ale, as the natural yeast adds a great layer of funkiness to it. The cider is still and bone-dry. The slightly tart flavor, again, is in stark contrast to the majority of overly sweet commercial ciders on the market today. Lovers of dry white wines, orange wines, oak aged saisons, and blonde wild ales will enjoy this.
Next up was Fisher’s 58, a cider based on a 1758 recipe from George Fisher’s The American Instructor. Blackledge originally used the proportions from the 1758 recipe but found that the ginger was completely overwhelming, so they back-blended with the uninfused Eliza’s 28 to deliver a smoother drink. The still cider maintains plenty of ginger flavor that comes out in both the aroma and the flavor. When heated up you can taste a bit more heat from the 8.1%ABV, but it makes for a perfect winter drink for sitting by the fireplace. Both the Fisher’s and the Eliza’s are bottled in 500ml bottles and retail for $8.49 plus tax.
What else is coming down the line? Blackledge currently has a few wines (a cab franc and a viognier
among them) and more ciders in the tanks. A modern spiced cyser, a combination of honey, apples, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove is set to be released on February 1st. Coming in at 12.1%, the cyser is packed in 750ml bottles and will retail for $15.99 plus tax. On our visit we also saw a Golden Russett cider in the works as well as a Eliza’s 28 aged in an apple brandy barrel. Additionally, another cider is in the works based on a 1795 recipe, this one clocking in at 11.9%.
Overall what we tasted at Blackledge was very impressive. Their offerings certainly aren’t for everyone, but they’re reminiscent of the beautiful farmhouse-style ciders from Normandy’s Etienne Dupont, a favorite of ours. If you’re a craft beer lover into saisons and sours, these are definitely worth a try.
For more information or to order Blackledge’s offerings, check out their website here and to stay up to date on their releases, head over to their Facebook page here. Mr. Siekonic and Mr. Turdo will also be presenting a lecture on their research and fermentation experiments at the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society’s Sigal Museum on April 30th.
Editor’s Note: The original headlines referred to Blackledge ‘shipping’ ciders, which is incorrect wording, as they only allow for pick-up at the winery.