by Liz Reid
WESA – Pittsburgh’s NPR News Station
Arsenal Cider House’s new production facility in Penn Hills is still under construction, with nothing produced yet inside the 17,000-square-foot warehouse. But outside, 110,000 workers are toiling away to create something that will one day end up inside Arsenal’s signature “daily rations” growlers.
“We’re on 2.7 acres here and we bought the building for production, so I’m thinking, what am I going to do with all this land?” said Bill Larkin, owner of Arsenal Cider.
Larkin recently installed 10 beehives behind the building and, along with production manager Andy Rich, is learning how to keep honeybees and harvest honey to create Arsenal’s own brand of hive-to-glass honey wine, called mead.
Each hive hosts about 11,000 bees, and Larkin said the total population will grow to about half-a-million over the next year, a nearly 400 percent increase.
“Right now we’re just feeding them,” he said. “Since they weren’t a colony when we installed them, we need to help them along to become a colony.” Mead represents the fastest growing segment of the alcohol industry, according to Michael Fairbrother, president of the American Mead Makers Association and owner of Moonlight Meadery in Londonderry, N.H.
“It’s been explosive,” he said. “My company alone … has been growing on average 77 percent per year for the last five years.”
Dave Cerminara, owner of Apis Meadery in Carnegie, said he has had a similar experience in the two years he’s been in business.
“We haven’t been able to keep up with demand,” he said. Cerminara is working on a second facility which would increase his production capacity 10-fold.
Laurel Highlands Meadery opened its tasting room in Irwin earlier this year and Wigle Whiskey will begin selling mead at its new cider house, Threadbare Cider, set to open later this year.