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South Mountain Showcase: Big Hill Ciderworks Profiling the award-winning cidery hidden atop the rolling foothills of Adams County, Pennsylvania.

Hidden in the rolling hills of Adams County, just a few miles away from the Appalachian Trail, you’ll find one of Pennsylvania’s most prestigious cideries perched atop the apex of an orchard-covered hilltop.

Aptly named Big Hill Ciderworks, the four-man (and one dog) operation has been regularly producing award-winning ciders enjoyed across the Keystone State since co-founders Troy Lehman and Ben Kishbaugh left behind the wrenches and ratchets of the auto industry for greener pastures in the late 2000s.

Big Hill Ciderworks' operation is based in this modern-style barn that houses the cider-making machinery and stores the fermenting liquids.

Starting with nothing but dreams of owning their own farms, Kishbaugh and Lehman, who now own farms that combine to form the roughly 40 acres of orchards surrounding the cidery, brought that dream to reality when Big Hill Ciderworks was founded in 2013.

"Troy had been making wines and ciders for three or four years before we met in 2006," said Kishbaugh, who began homebrewing while living in Detroit, Michigan. "So this was kind of a dream of both of ours to own farms. But then to also culminate wine-making, fermentation with beer, farming. This (Big Hill) kind of brings it all together."

Since then, Big Hill Ciderworks has exploded into the cider scene, utilizing their own grassroots approach to achieve new levels of cider production that celebrates carefully crafted combinations of the varieties of apples grown on their orchards.

Big Hill has continued to gain more recognition in the cider industry for their flavorful concoctions, winning Best in Show at the PA Farm Show in 2019 and 2018, the first year that the cider competition was introduced at the show.

Settling in Adams County for the unique microclimates and soil types that the area is known for and their personal histories with the area, Lehman's and Kishbaugh’s orchards are home to more than 40 varieties of apples chosen specifically for their ciders.

"Number one, it's the soil. Where we are is about 1,000 vertical-feet and its a silty-loam soil so it drains really well, retains nutrients and just caters to fruit growing — whether it be peaches or apples," Kishbaugh explained. "Number two, it's basically home for Troy and I.

'He grew up right at the bottom of the hill and had been playing through these orchards as a kid. For me, it's close to home (Dillsburg, PA), about 20-miles or so. But more of it is just about having the land and our ties to the land. Troy has said this before, 'There are other areas in the country where you can grow pretty fruit, but I don't think that they can get the flavor profile that we can get from this little area of the country, right on the side of South Mountain."

Every stage of the cider-making process is handled on location at Big Hill Ciderworks, including the bottling and packaging of the products.
There are other areas in the country where you can grow pretty fruit, but I don't think that they can get the flavor profile that we can get from this little area of the country, right on the side of South Mountain." — Troy Lehman, co-founder of Big Hill Ciderworks

Utilizing traditional, time-honored cider making methods, Big Hill Ciderworks not only grow their own fruit, but presses, ferments, packages and distributes every one of their wide-variety of ciders. The group usually presses and filters a round of apples once a week, producing around 1,000 gallons of cider.

"It's been incredibly awesome," Kishbaugh said of the operation's growth since starting from scratch back in 2013. "When we do rarely take a seat, sit down, drink a beer and think about what we've built in the five years we've been here it's amazing.

"We're perpetually moving, which is great. But when we do sit down and really think about it, we look at some of the relationships that we've developed with bars and restaurants from Chambersburg to Philly, customers that just continuously dig our stuff or comment on social media. I never thought about any of that stuff when we were starting out—back then all we wanted to do was make cider and farm."

The cidery adds no sugars, sweeteners, colors or flavorings to the ciders they produce, relying on blends of different apple varieties and other interesting fresh ingredients that add to their ciders' unique and distinct taste profiles.

"A lot of it is Troy," Kishbaugh said with a laugh, "I'll get a text at like three in the morning, 'Hey let's try this,' and then the next morning we'll try it and work on different variations.

"We use a lot of other different fruits from Troy's farm too (Rex Farms Orchards), strawberries, peaches, blueberries, all kinds of stuff like that. We pay attention to what's going on in the industry, but really a lot of it is what we look for. If we want something nice to drink we'll drink what we have or we'll come up with something new."

The apples are pressed in the machinery in the back left corner, then stored and fermented in the containers on the right side of the room before being bottled using the custom-designed machine in the left foreground.

Michaux Mule, the cidery's take on the traditional Moscow Mule, borrows the name of the 85,000 acre forest that blankets the mountainside producing the gorgeous backdrop of the property. Steeped with organic ginger and back-sweetened with a touch of apple cider for a “smooth apple character,” the Michaux Mule is just one example of the growing variety of Big Hill Ciderworks products that pay homage to and utilize the unique fertility of the South Mountain Landscape.

Michaux Mule is one of many unique varieties of cider that Big Hill Ciderworks has produced in the past few years.

While Big Hill does not currently have a retail space of their own at their Adams County Property—plans are underway for said space to be debuted next Spring—their ciders can be found in distributors, pubs and at events spanning Pennsylvania.

This project was financed in part by a grant from the Community Conservation Partnerships Program, Environmental Stewardship Fund, under the administration of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Bureau of Recreation and Conservation. The South Mountain Partnership is an alliance of organizations working to preserve and enhance the cultural and natural assets of the South Mountain Landscape in Central Pennsylvania. To learn more about the Partnership, please visit www.southmountainpartnership.org.

Created By
Noah Shatzer
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Noah Shatzer

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