Lawrenceville-based Arsenal Cider House and Wine Cellar has provided Pittsburgh with a singular honor in the world of ciders, wineries, and breweries. At the recent 2020 U.S. Open Cider Championship, Arsenal topped the field in this seventh annual competition, being named Grand National Champion.

    Arsenal won gold in Modern Cider, Sweet (for its Event Blend) and gold in Apple Pie Spiced Cider (for its Grant’s Flying Pumpkin). It won silver in Modern Cider, Dry (for its Fighting Elleck) and silver in Spiced Cider (for its Grierson’s Ginger). Arsenel joins such prestigious past champions as Angry Orchard (Boston Beer) and Vermont Cider Company.

    The talent behind the kegs is comprised of President/Secretary Michelle Larkin, originally from Polish Hill, and Vice-President/Treasurer Bill Larkin, hailing from Bloomfield; both are graduates of Robert Morris University. Of their 2020 championship, Bill says, “We owe the honor to having a great production staff led by Andrew Rich and Nicholas Nagy. We are always innovating and striving to source high quality regional fruit to make the best possible products.”

    The first cidery in western Pennsylvania, Arsenal opened its doors in June 2010. In addition to the obvious quality of its products, Arsenal Cider House boasts a distinctive and fascinating connection to Pittsburgh history, drawing inspiration for its offerings from its Lawrenceville and arsenal-building roots. Arsenal Cider House and Wine Cellar is a U.S. Civil War thematic winery specializing in small-batch, hand-crafted hard apple cider, “cider-style” fruit/grape wines, and mead. It is located just a few steps from the historic Allegheny Arsenal.

    The Allegheny Arsenal, established by the U.S. Army Ordnance Department in 1814, was a manufacturing and supply center for the Union Army during the Civil War. It was located on 30 acres of land bordering the Allegheny River in Lawrenceville. Today the site is Arsenal Park.

    Local history, notably Civil War, has also inspired Arsenal’s ciders. For example, in the early days of the Federal Allegheny Arsenal, troops were given three four-ounce rations of whiskey every day, at the order of Lieutenant Colonel Abram Wooley. The Cider House’s growlers are named Daily Rations to commemorate this series of events in our local history.


    Their Fighting Elleck hard apple cider (“pure, crisp, and refreshing—an able companion to a wide variety of foods”) is named for Alexander Hays, aka Fighting Elleck. A native of Franklin, Venango County, and a graduate of West Point, Hays had served during the Mexican War. When the Civil War broke out, he joined the Union Army, as colonel of the 63rd Pennsylvania Infantry. After 32 battles, General Hays was shot in Virginia in May 1864, one of the casualties of the Battle of the Wilderness. He is buried in Allegheny Cemetery in Lawrenceville.


    Archibald’s Ado® hard apple cider (“semi-sweet amber”) honors Arch Rowand from Allegheny City (now Pittsburgh’s North Side). A member of General Philip Sheridan’s “scouts,” Archibald Hamilton Rowand Jr. was awarded the Medal of Honor, issued by Congress in 1873, for his work as a Union spy during the Civil War.

    Murray’s Mead® (“bone dry to semi-sweet”) bears this Cider House description: “Rotating line of honey wines including traditional meads … using several types of honey including orange blossom, clover, alfalfa, buckwheat, and wildflower.” Rear Admiral Alexander Murray was born in Pittsburgh and joined the U.S. Navy as a flag officer in 1835, serving during the Mexican-American and Civil Wars. During the Civil War Murray commanded the steamer Louisiana, which in 1862 was part of the naval forces supporting Ambrose Burnside’s North Carolina Expedition.

    In addition to its Lawrenceville location, Arsenal Cider House and Wine Cellar has other tasting rooms at Soergel Orchards (Franklin Park/Wexford), at Trax Farms in Finleyville (seasonally), and in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. Plans are currently underway to open a taproom on West Liberty Avenue in Dormont.

    Locations: Lawrenceville: 300 39th St. (between Butler and Penn); 412-682-7699 / Wexford: Soergel Orchards, 2573 Brandt School Rd.; 724-777-2402 / Finleyville: Trax Farms, 528 Trax Rd. (Rte. 88) / 412-403-6174.

    Greg Suriano edits The Strip! and writes on cultural and historical subjects.