Adams County offers a taste of pints bittersweet, sweet and sharp, plus Confederates in the attic
In Adams County, Pa., strange bedfellows at a haunted inn, and a bumper crop of artisanal hard cider.
“We’ve had nine runners. Sometimes keys are left hanging on the door,” said Jack Paladino, owner of the Cashtown Inn in Cashtown, Pa.
A “runner” is a guest who flees in the dead of night frightened by ghostly encounters. During the battle of Gettysburg, the inn was the headquarters of Confederate Gen. A.P. Hill and later served as a makeshift battlefield hospital.
Apparently, some of those Confederates never checked out of the hotel.
Cashtown is in Adams County, the heart of Pennsylvania apple country. My wife, Carol, and I are novices to hard cider, and we traveled there during the height of the apple harvest to expand our palates. On our first night we stayed at the Cashtown Inn, noted for its resident spirits.
Jack and his wife, Maria, don’t play up the ghost angle; they seem more genuinely proud of the historical connection. After all, the inn has been around since 1797. Yet after nine years as innkeepers they have experienced strange things: a disembodied voice saying hello repeatedly; a presence walking through the hallway; something tugging on an employee’s leg in the early hours of the morning. They have learned to live with it. “We respect the ghosts, and they respect us,” Maria said.
I asked whether our room was haunted. It does have a lot of “activity,” she admitted. Is that a good thing, I wondered aloud?
“You tell me — after you spend the night,” she said.
Before retiring that evening, Carol and I drove over towards Biglerville to sample the ciders at the Hauser Estate Winery’s hilltop tasting room. Along the way, the signs of a bumper apple harvest were everywhere: acre upon acre of apple trees laden with fruit, stretching down into valleys and up the sides of the low mountains. Hauser’s produces many wines from its vineyards, but like several Adams establishments, it produces several ciders as well.
Not knowing where to start, we sampled several complimentary ciders at the bar under the guidance of Lara Kish, a tasting/brewing associate at the winery, who poured samples ranging from dry to sweet. I ordered a pint of Conewago, a dry, smooth and refreshing cider with a strong apple taste. Carol chose a Dry Hop, hoppy and citrusy, like India Pale Ale. We took our ciders to the patio and enjoyed the spectacular view of the valley below.
Back at the Cashtown Inn we were ready to face whatever the night brought.
My first mistake was reading the room’s guestbook. One entry, in a childish scrawl, read: Weve (sic) head [heard] noies [noises] last night and in the morning you do not want this room.” Did a childish hand — or a frightened one — write it?
As it turned out, we didn’t do a runner. I slept soundly, although Carol said that she heard what sounded like furniture moving in the wee hours.
At breakfast, I asked fellow guest Michelle Conwell of Millbrook, Ala., whether she had seen or heard anything.
“It’s been a bit eerie . . . I heard some walking,” she said. “I just kept my eyes closed.”
Later, we drove to tiny Gardners to visit the Big Hill Ciderworks, a small cidery that has been in operation since 2013, to continue our cider education. Co-owner Ben Kishbaugh said it has been a good year for apples, and the market for hard cider has been steadily increasing, partly fueled by the popularity of the microbrewing industry.
“We are experiencing a hard-cider renaissance,” he said.
Kishbaugh explained that the alcohol content in hard cider is determined during the fermentation process. Cider can be bittersweet, sweet, bitter-sharp or sharp, he said. It’s a question of tannins and acidity in the apples. Big Hill leans toward unusual varieties of apples more common in Europe, aiming for a dry, bitter-sharp and bittersweet profile.
We saw the apple press in the cider barn where liquid oozes from pressing mashed apples. Later, we walked through the orchards, where Greening and Winchester apples were ready to be picked, bunches of the fruit bending the trees downward, some already in crates.
It is hard to escape the influence of the Battle of Gettysburg in Adams, and one of the Big Hill labels is Little Round Hop, a reference to the site of the battle’s turning point. Because Big Hill doesn’t have a tasting room yet, we drove to nearby Boiling Springs to sample some at the Boiling Springs Tavern. This dry cider flavored with Cascade, Columbia and Centennial hops, and a hint of lemongrass, was perfect over lunch.
Our last cidery visit was to Reid’s Orchard and Winery in Orrtanna. Andi Amin, special events and sales coordinator, said that a lot of Gettysburg tourists come to the orchard after touring the battlefield, looking for something else to do. “They get the lay of the land with the battlefield and then branch out for other things.”
Reid’s has a tasting room at the orchard in a small metal barn filled with large tanks. One of the more interesting samples was Pippin Ice, a very sweet high-alcohol brew ideal as a dessert cider. We also tasted Black Bear, with a dry smoky flavor, and a sweet peach cider.
Reid’s offers entertainment on weekends on its patio overlooking the lovely Buchanan Valley. Jess Peters, 52, from nearby Mechanicsburg, came in for the show that day; Reid’s was hosting a local singer/songwriter. He also came for cider. “Sitting at a concert, it’s nice to have a pitcher of cider.”
And who can argue with that?
Lee is a freelance writer living in Virginia Beach.
Built in 1797, the Cashtown Inn served as the headquarters of A.P. Hill, a Confederate general, during the Battle of Gettysburg. Many believe it is haunted. For other diversions in Adams County, in southern Pennsylvania, cideries let you sample an alcoholic drink that’s experiencing a renaissance.