Michelle Larkin knew big changes were about to take place in her Lawrenceville home when she started finding fermentation carboys on the pool table. Her husband, Bill, had been toying around with making hard cider for a few years, but this was getting serious.
"It was a hobby, and I have an obsessive personality," says Bill Larkin. "That was a lethal combination right there."
Today, there no longer is a game room with a pool table: The space is occupied by fermentation vats. There's no living room either: It's now the tasting room of Arsenal Cider House.
Although microbreweries seem to be everywhere, production of the alcoholic version of apple juice remains a largely untapped market. "Cider's a niche product," Larkin says.
It wasn't always so: Before Prohibition, nearly all of the country's apples were used for cider; the modifier "hard" wasn't necessary because it was assumed that the beverage would contain alcohol.
Bill Larkin hopes to restore some of that tradition. Portraits of Union generals hang in the Civil War-themed tasting room -- an homage to the nearby Allegheny Arsenal and Cemetery, where some of those same generals have their final resting places.
Larkin makes a diverse selection of cider, ranging from "bone dry" to sweet. The refined, crisp flavor of the drink has more in common with wine than it does with a commercial cider like Woodchuck. The juice is locally sourced -- it comes from Soergel's, an apple orchard in nearby Wexford -- and all fermentation is done on-site.
Drinking is allowed in the tasting room, but the cider is sold only in one-liter growlers ($20 new, $13.75 refills). Arsenal Cider is also on tap at six Pittsburgh watering holes, including a selection of three at Fat Head's Saloon, in the South Side.
Being the only cider house in town has its advantages. Demand is increasing, the list of ciders and fruit wines is growing -- and room in the basement is becoming cramped.
"We're going to have to expand," Larkin says.
300 39th St., Lawrenceville. 412-260-6968 or www.arsenalciderhouse.com.