In the beer world, breweries are always looking toward the next trendy beer style. But Wilmington Brew Works (WBW), which also happens to operate as a cidery, is chasing history with their new cider collaboration with Wilmington, Delaware’s Hagley Museum and Library.
Lucas Clawson, the Hagley Historian, is a regular at Wilmington Brew Works. In addition to being a Cellarman (the Brewery’s exclusive annual membership program), he often brings visiting scholars and researchers to the North Wilmington taproom for drinks. One evening, he and Ryan Rice, WBW’s Cider Maker & Production Assistant, got into a discussion about the history of local cider production, specifically by the du Pont family at Eleutherian Mills – the family’s ancestral home on the Hagley Museum grounds. Clawson says “The Orchard was a source of pride for E.I. du Pont. The family used fruit from the orchard to produce alcoholic beverages for their family and close friends. They also sold some of the fruit to their employees.” By 1804, du Pont had established an orchard of nearly 400 peach, pear, apple, plum and cherry tree varieties. His orchard was one of the finest in early America, and highly sought after for the exchange of unique and prized fruit varieties that only du Pont had grown.
Hagley Museum and Library has been working to reestablish the orchard under the direction of Paul Orpello, the Director of Gardens and Horticulture. Fifty of those historic varieties still grow in the orchard at Eleutherian Mills today. Until now, the fruit on these trees were not regularly harvested. This year, under the guidance of Orpello and Rice, Wilmington Brew Works is utilizing the fruits of Eleutherian Mills in a new and exciting way. “When Lucas told me about the history of the orchard at Hagley, and that they had all this fruit available, I knew we had to find a way to use it,” said Rice. After two days of picking Montmorency and Black Tartarian cherries, there was enough to use in a new cider. Rice went to work with Craig Wensell, Wilmington Brew Works CEO and Brewmaster, to determine the best way to incorporate the locally harvested fruit into a cider.
The result was an exciting new line of cider from Wilmington Brew Works, aptly named The Fruits of Eleutherian Mills. Rice says the cider is bone dry and tart with subtle notes from the cherries in the finish. The limited run was available at the Wilmington Brew Works taproom July 2021, in 22-ounce bottles and on tap, with hopes that future batches will be available at Hagley Events.
October 2021 brings a new collaboration to the taproom. The next variation of The Fruits of Eleutherian Mills was made with Oldmixon and Jones peaches, both considered historic varieties. The fruits were picked at the Orchard over the summer by Wilmington Brew Works and Hagley Staff. Ryan then experimented with different ways of incorporating the fruit into the cider. “In addition to co-fermenting with peaches, we added puréed peaches after fermentation. The ending result is a semi-sweet cider that is much more fruit forward. It has a wonderful fresh peach nose and tastes like eating a peach right from the orchard at Hagley.”
The 22oz bottle of the cider will retail for $17.50, with 20% of sales going directly to support the efforts to rebuild Hagley’s areas damaged in the flood. On September 1, Hurricane Ida passed over the Brandywine Valley rivershed and dropped torrential amounts of rain over the area. The next day, all the water drained into the Brandywine River, which rose over 23 feet at Hagley and flooded the property along the river. While estimates of the damage from the flooding at Hagley are in the millions of dollars, Hagley plans to rebuild in the coming months to better withstand future floods. Despite the damage, Hagley is open to the public for tours of the historic estate, gardens, and barn via the 298 Buck Road entrance.
More collaborations are in store for the brewery and the historic site. The October apple harvest will be used for another cider this year, and the archivists at Hagley have unearthed some beer recipes that will be used this winter in the brewhouse. For more, visit www.hagley.org and www.wilmingtonbrewworks.com.