Arsenal Cider House serves drinks with Civil War names
There are many wives out there who put up with a lot when it comes to their husbands' hobbies.
Still, it takes a certain kind of wife to agree to turn the first floor of their house into a bar with a focus on his interest in hard cider.
Bill Larkin, 41, is just that lucky. The first floor of the Larkins' 19th-century red-brick rowhouse in Lawrenceville, across from Arsenal Park, has a rustic farmhouse feel, complete with a fireplace, barrels, Civil War photos, a piano, and walls of exposed brick and artfully burnt wood.
"This used to be our dining room," says Michelle Larkin, 38. "We had twins, and were shrinking our living space. I was a preschool teacher, and this let me stay home with my children."
Bill Larkin, an accountant by day, has made cider, mead and wine in his basement for years. The Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar opened in June. It's technically classified as a winery -- cider typically is closer to wine than beer in alcohol content. The Hard Cinnamon Apple Cider is 7.4 percent alcohol, and the Cannoneer's Bone Dry Sour Cherry is 11.4 percent, for instance.
Cider is fairly common in England, but still is a niche drink in the United States -- although, in recent years, Americans have become more familiar with brands like Strongbow and Woodchuck, which typically are sold in beer bottles.
"We're going to call it 'cider-style fruit wines,' " Bill Larkin says. "It's a niche product. When we decided to be a winery, cider was the first wine I ever made."
Years of taste-testing by friends and family have given Larkin a good idea of what people like. But the other considerations -- zoning approval (the most expensive part, so far), securing a "limited winery license" and production capacity -- were considerably more complicated.
Startup costs were significant -- and, in some ways, Arsenal Cider House already has been a victim of its success.
"It's probably in the realm of $60,000, and probably (needs) $100,000 more to do it right," Bill Larkin says. "We sold out in three months -- had to shut the bar for four weeks to get some more cider kegged.
"We turned down a lot of calls from bars. We want to be able to handle our own demand first."
Right now, they sell their drinks in 1-liter growlers, which are emblazoned with the title "Daily Rations" and cost $20. Refill prices vary, but $12.50, plus tax, for Hard Cinnamon Apple Cider is typical.
Since opening in June, Arsenal Cider House has sold more than 1,000 growlers.
Arsenal Cider House owes its name to the Civil War-era Allegheny Arsenal, which was across the street.
The Larkins have decided to take this association a little further in naming the drinks. The "Bone Dry" ciders and wines -- which are a lot less sweet than the regular versions, a "niche within a niche," according to Bill Larkin -- all are named after Civil War-era military jobs. There's Cannoneer's Bone Dry Sour Cherry and Powder Monkey Bone Dry Peach, for example. Powder monkeys were sailors who hauled gunpowder from the magazines below decks to the cannons -- a job usually given to children.
As much of the fruit as possible comes from local sources, like apples from Soergel Orchards.
Many of the ciders and fruit wines also have a sorbet version. Yes, the Cinnamon Hard Apple Cider Sorbet probably won't be found at your local ice cream shop -- or bar.
"Bill seems to really love working on cider, and trying to make it great," says regular customer Jason Ziglar, 27, of Morningside. "He talks about trying different things, tweaking different recipes. He's always experimenting and improving."
The Fairmont Pittsburgh, Downtown, is the first outside establishment to carry Arsenal's products. Andy's, the bar in the lobby of the hotel, carries Archibald's Amber Hard Apple Cider. The hotel's Habitat restaurant uses Picket Bone Dry Hard Cider for a variation on an old bourbon drink.
Meanwhile, Bill Larkin still spends a lot of time in the basement, which is stuffed with enormous fermenting tanks, working on new products.
Ziglar, a big fan of cider, found that his favorite drink so far has been something totally unexpected.
"There is one that he did (that's) not actually a cider," Ziglar says. "It was a honey-vanilla mead, honey-based instead of apple-based.
"He said, 'I tried this experiment at one point, and got a bottle if you want to try it.' It was just incredible. I'm still waiting for him to actually sell it. He's working on it."Additional Information:
Arsenal Cider House & Wine Cellar
Hours: 4-8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays; noon-8 p.m. Saturdays; noon-4 p.m. Sundays
Where: 300 39th St., Lawrenceville
Details: 412-260-6968 or website
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers notebook: Shazier returns just in time
- Zappala impersonation suspect arrested; stores offered reimbursement
- Homework: Hot exterior colors for 2015
- Linebacker Harrison coming along slowly since return to Steelers
- Foundation arranges free maid service for women with cancer
- Corbett, Wolf resort to sticks, stones to attract attention
- Daily Courier roundup: Greensburg Salem tops Uniontown in nonconference game
- Penn Avenue site tops group’s preservation list
- District 9 roundup: Redbank Valley QB sets state’s single-game passing record
- Hit-run motorist in Mt. Lebanon sought
- Roundup: PUC schedules hearings for FirstEnergy rate increase; New-home sales almost flat in September; more