The story of three alumni from three different generations who craft three different fermented beverages
By Steve Neumann; Photography by Katie Creighton, Fall 2023
America’s Founders, like most colonists of the time, consumed alcoholic beverages from dawn to dusk. George Washington was a known beer lover. John Adams, on the other hand, loved hard cider—he actually drank it for breakfast every morning. Thomas Jefferson, though a failed winemaker himself, enjoyed French and Portuguese wine.
Benjamin Franklin loved, well, just about everything. All in moderation, of course.
Today, three Moravian alumni-run businesses—Hardball Cider, Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery, and Lost Tavern Brewing—are carrying on the venerable colonial tradition of producing fermented beverages right here in Pennsylvania, home of the signing of the nation’s founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Geoff Deen ’04, founder of Hardball Cider, pours a cider from the tap for a guest at his cidery.
Geoff Deen ’04, a former baseball player at Moravian, founded craft cidery Hardball Cider in 2013 on his family’s farm in Mount Bethel. “The farm has been in operation for about 125 years, and we can date cider making here to 1934,” Deen says. “In the early 1980s, my parents bought a commercial cider press, and we can produce about 1,000 gallons a day with it.”
Deen’s route to the craft cider business was a circuitous one. After graduating from Moravian with a self-designed major in business information systems, Deen spent the next 10 years in corporate America, working various positions in the telecommunications industry. But his first love has always been the hardball diamond.
After his own college baseball career, Deen coached softball at Moravian for seven years and did a year in a professional women’s softball league. However, after his corporate career began taking more and more of his time, and after incurring a shoulder injury that limited his participation in the sport, Deen started to miss the energy of the baseball stadium.
Around that time, hard cider was starting to gain popularity as a “new again” beverage. “It was the drink of colonial America up until the time Prohibition hit,” Deen says. “So I thought, ‘Okay, I’ve got a farm here, and a cider press—now’s a great time to try this.’ ”
Deen began by taking viticulture courses at Harrisburg Area Community College and completed an immersive weeklong hard cider workshop at Cornell University with 20 other cider producers from across the United States and Canada and an instructor from the UK.
“Fast-forward to today, and we just had our fourth-anniversary party for the opening of our taproom here on the farm.”
In addition to the taproom, Hardball Cider’s property includes a two-acre lake and outside seating for more than 300 people. “Folks bring their whole family along with their own tables, chairs, and pop-up tents and make a day of it,” Deen says. “On Friday nights, we do live trivia. On Saturdays and Sundays, we have live music, and there’s a different food truck every day.”
The first three ciders Deen created of course had to have baseball-themed names: the semisweet Splitter, the sweet Curveball, and the dry Fastball. “I started getting more creative after that. This year, we’ll probably produce close to 30 different ciders. Our most popular one today is White Wash, which has a white peach flavor.”
To go from wondering if there’s a car coming up the lane to asking where we’re going to park everyone is a pretty cool story to be able to tell,” Deen says. “We’re a small family business on an old family farm, and to see it come back to life is really awesome.”
—Geoff Deen ’04
Currently, Hardball’s original cider press grinds between 15,000 and 20,000 pounds of fruit a day from the farm’s 25 acres, but that’s not enough to meet the demand the cidery has generated. “We also source apples from other Pennsylvania and New Jersey farms,” Deen says. “My parents have done business with those growers over the years, so we know the families and their farms, and we know the quality of the fruit.”
And the growing demand for Hardball Cider extends beyond the beverages themselves. Deen says he keeps getting inquiries to host bridal showers, wedding receptions, and other private parties. To accommodate this new service, he plans on moving the taproom into the property’s large 1838 bank barn after he renovates it. The current taproom would then be converted into its own rentable space.
For Deen, the most satisfying part of creating Hardball Cider isn’t that he was able to merge a lifelong sports passion into a viable business but that the business has had its own “Build it, and they will come” moment. On Mother’s Day of this year, cars were parked up and down both sides of the property’s half-mile-long pastoral lane.
“To go from wondering if there’s a car coming up the lane to asking where we’re going to park everyone is a pretty cool story to be able to tell,” Deen says. “We’re a small family business on an old family farm, and to see it come back to life is really awesome.”
Hard Cider Pancakes
One of Geoff Deen’s favorite hard cider food pairings is Hard Cider Strawberry-Banana Pancakes. Using your favorite pancake mix, incorporate some Strawberry Hard Cider into the batter along with slices of banana and strawberries before you cook the pancakes. You’ll get some of the sweetness from the cider and the strawberry flavor to complement the fresh strawberries and bananas in the pancakes. Instead of maple syrup, reduce some fresh apple cider into a glaze and drizzle on top of the pancakes for an extra kick of apple flavor.
Hardball Cider • 805 Orchard Rd. • Mount Bethel, PA 18343 • 484-341-3101 • hardballcider.com
Jan and John Landis, both Class of 1974, are pleased with the fruits of their vineyard.
Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery
In the spring of 1974, Moravian sweethearts John and Jan Landis, both of whom graduated in 1964, purchased a small tract of land with a house and barn in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, after Jan—an English major who was working for Rodale Press at the time—had edited a book titled Homesteading: How to Find New Independence on the Land. “I got hooked on that book,” Jan says, “and we both got enthused about the idea.”
The couple created a very large garden area, so in addition to the usual fruits and vegetables, they decided to grow grapes. “We took courses and seminars in Penn State’s agricultural department and started selling our grapes to home winemakers,” Jan says.
After a few years, however, the Landises saturated the local market for home winemakers and began having to give away the grapes they grew. “We got the hint that perhaps we should take it a step further and become a winery,” Jan says. “John was a chemical engineer at Air Products, so he knew all about distillation and the lab side of making wine.”
At the time, the wine-making industry in Pennsylvania was in its infancy. The state legislature had only authorized home wineries in the late 1960s, so the Landises were tilling untested ground—figuratively and literally. “Back then, no one had any real experience about what grapes would grow well in the Lehigh Valley, so you had to experiment,” Jan says. “Over the last 50 years, we’ve grown more than 30 different varieties in the vineyard, trying to see which ones do well and which ones don’t. It takes three or four years before you actually get a crop, so you can’t get too impatient.”
Vynecrest officially became a licensed winery in 1989. Today, after having the opportunity to acquire more land over the years, the Vynecrest estate consists of 75 acres—25 of which are dedicated to grapes. The winery currently makes about 22,000 gallons—roughly 9,000 cases—of wine a year.
Over the last 50 years, we’ve grown more than 30 different varieties in the vineyard, trying to see which ones do well and which ones don’t. It takes three or four years before you actually get a crop, so you can’t get too impatient.”
—Jan Landis ’74
Among some of Vynecrest’s top sellers are its flagship wine, Lemberger, a full-bodied dry red; a blend called Vynecrest Red; a blend of white varietals called Autumn Gold; and Naked Chardonnay.
Since their youngest son, Sam, joined the family business in 2002, the Landises have been gradually moving away from the everyday operations of the vineyard. Jan still keeps the books and manages PR and social media, and John has been active with the Pennsylvania Wine Marketing Research Board, an organization that aims to have the state be recognized as the premium East Coast wine appellation. “It’s under the jurisdiction of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture,” John says. “We assess member wineries 20 cents per gallon of wine, and that money goes into a fund for us to invest in either marketing or research—most of which is done at Penn State.
“I’ve seen the whole industry grow from 60 wineries to more than 300 right now in the state,” John adds. “That’s pretty amazing growth.”
Red Wine and Wilbur Buds
John Landis grew up in Lititz, home of Wilbur Chocolate, so the preferred candy in the Landis house was Wilbur Buds, a semisweet chocolate. Another Landis family favorite was sour cherry pie, so when Vynecrest first decided to make a fruit wine in 2000, John’s first thought was to make a sour cherry wine, which became Vynecrest’s Cherry DiVyne wine. To this day, Vynecrest serves Wilbur Buds with its Cherry DiVyne.
Vynecrest Vineyards & Winery • 172 Arrowhead La. • Breinigsville, PA 18031 • 610-398-7525 • vynecrest.com
Ken Rampolla ’79, CEO of Lost Tavern Brewing, enjoys his favorite brew, Odd Fellow.
Lost Tavern Brewing
Local folklore says that when Pennsylvania German settlers established a community in the 1740s in what is now Hellertown, one of the first buildings commissioned was a tavern. That wasn’t surprising for the colonial era—it was in the tavern that the most pressing business and political issues of the day were discussed.
While the location of Hellertown’s first tavern has been lost to history, Moravian alumnus Ken Rampolla ’79 decided to honor that legend by forming a partnership to open a craft brewery called Lost Tavern Brewing in the Hellertown building that houses Rampolla’s sales and marketing company, Responsive Marketing Inc.
The partnership began when childhood friends Robert Grim and Anthony Gangi, after years of home brewing and honing their craft, brought the idea to Rampolla and his son, Kenny. “Anthony went to high school with my daughter, and he approached us because they thought [our building] would be an ideal place to have a craft brewery,” Rampolla says. “My son is a beer lover and knew the industry a lot better than I did, so we thought it made sense.”
After the meeting, Rampolla—a longtime member of the Moravian University Board of Trustees—became CEO of Lost Tavern Brewing, with Grim as president, Gangi as head of operations and brewmaster, and Rampolla’s son Kenny as vice president of sales and marketing.
That was seven years ago. Since then, Lost Tavern Brewing has been voted the Lehigh Valley’s number-one brewery a couple of times and continues to expand into new markets and venues. “If you go into the Moravian Book Shop, there’s a restaurant and a taproom in the space,” Rampolla says. “That’s our craft brewery.”
For the first four years of its existence, Lost Tavern Brewing grew at a fast pace, with only limited distribution outside of its own taprooms because it didn’t have enough capacity. But with the addition of a new production facility located just down the road from the main taproom in Hellertown, Lost Tavern Brewing is poised for a substantial increase in the availability of its beer, says Rampolla.
“Kenny and his team have now opened up some significant distribution chains that weren’t there before. We make the signature beer for Saucon Valley Country Club, Wind Creek has made a major move towards us, and several local country clubs are now looking at private label beer from us, as is Blue Mountain Ski Resort. Those are significant growth opportunities that will push us ahead pretty significantly in the next year or so.”
Lost Tavern Brewing’s motto is “honor the past, craft the future,” so customers can expect a wide range of brews on tap, from hoppy IPAs to refreshingly tart wheat beers to fruited cider. Rampolla’s personal favorite is Odd Fellow, a variant of a Belgian ale that tends to be about 8 percent alcohol.
“It’s so flavorful,” Rampolla says, “and I think the name fits me pretty well.”
A Rendezvous with Spice
Kenny Rampolla, VP of sales and marketing for Lost Tavern Brewing and son of Ken Rampolla ’79, loves spicy food, and he loves IPAs, and he loves that the two go really well together. Rampolla particularly enjoys pairing the Korean Fried Chicken from Zach Umstead’s Randevoo restaurant in the Moravian Book Shop with any of Lost Tavern’s IPAs, because the notes of spice and bitterness in the IPA cut through some of the spice and heat from the chicken. Naturally, Rampolla recommends his brewery’s double IPA Randevoo with the Korean Fried Chicken.
Lost Tavern Brewing • 782 Main St. • Hellertown, PA 18055 • 484-851-3980
444 Main St. • Bethlehem, PA 18018 • 610-419-0346 • losttavernbrewing.com
1200 Main Street
Bethlehem, PA 18018