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This Homegrown Cider Collaboration Is a Taste of History in Delaware

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Photo courtesy of Wilmington Brew Works

Wilmington Brew Works and Hagley Museum join forces on a line of homegrown ciders made from fruits grown in Hagley’s garden and orchard.

When Wilmington Brew Works cider maker Ryan Rice was looking for inspiration for his next batch, he didn’t know the fruits of his labor would be right in his backyard.

The brewery announced a new line of ciders this summer in collaboration with Hagley Museum and Library. Aptly named the Fruits of Eleutherian Mills, the beverage is made from fruits grown in Hagley’s Eleutherian Mills garden and orchard.

Also the brewery’s production assistant, Rice first experimented with Montmorency and black Tartarian cherries, and Oldmixon and Jones peach varieties. Now they’re brewing a third installment crafted with King and Calville Blanc apples, two historic cider-apple varieties originally grown at the orchard.

The use of these particular apples is special, as many orchards don’t grow these types.

“The fruits in Hagley’s orchard are unique,” explains Lucas Clawson, the museum’s historian. “They are heritage varieties, exactly the same as E.I. du Pont planted here in the early 19th century. E.I. du Pont kept amazing records on the types of plants and trees in his gardens and orchards, and even drew a map of where all these plants were planted. These records helped Hagley’s horticulturalists know exactly what E.I. du Pont planted here, and from there they located the exact varieties when restoring the garden and orchard.”

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Wilmington Brew Works’ inaugural Fruits of Eleutherian Mills cider was a co-fermentation of the Hagley Museum orchard’s Montmorency and black Tartarian cherries and apple juice./Photo courtesy of Wilmington Brew Works

Being able to repeat history in a new way is also meaningful for Rice.

“To take what they were growing from that same ground, and to kind of do what they were doing back in the early 1800s with our little spin on it, that’s really cool,” he adds.

Rice says he discovered Hagley’s orchard while chatting with Clawson and learned it was originally used to create alcoholic drinks. After a tour through the trees, he returned to work with a handful of cherries and a ripe new idea.

“The current iteration of Hagley’s orchard was planted in the 1970s as part of a larger restoration plan for the Eleutherian Mills garden and orchard,” Clawson shares. “It replicates the garden and orchard as E.I. du Pont, DuPont Company founder, planted them in the early 19th century.”

Paul Orpello, the director of gardens and horticulture, is leading Hagley’s mission to reestablish the orchard, where 50 of du Pont’s historic varieties still grow. Until now, the fruit of these trees was not regularly harvested but was picked exclusively by employees of the museum.

For his cherry installment, Rice co-fermented the fruit with apple juice from a Pennsylvania orchard the brewery regularly works with. The result was a light cider with a subtle, tasty cherry flavor.

He began harvesting the peaches in late summer and will start on the apples in the fall. Being able to work with a Delaware-based orchard with so much history is meaningful, Rice says, since he has typically sourced ingredients from orchards in neighboring states.

“The more control I can have on the product that we make, the happier I feel,” Rice says.

Clawson was equally excited to see a collaboration come together.

“It means working with a fantastic local business and with people who love local history,” he says. Promoting both establishments will “hopefully get people out to both places to enjoy some beverages and visit the museum,” Clawson adds.

While Rice doesn’t want to rush the process, he still hopes to see the cider in 22-ounce bottles and on tap by November.

Wilmington Brew Works, 3129 Miller Road, Wilmington; 722-4828; wilmingtonbrewworks.com

Related: Pick Apples and Pumpkins at These 7 Delaware Farms This Fall

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