Our Story

“Sir Charles” Steckel and John Kowchak circa 2016

Our story begins not in Philadelphia, but in the hills of Northeast Pennsylvania just over 80 years ago. An orphan boy by the name of Charles Steckel, one of 9 children, is sent to work on one of the many farms in the area. For most of his early life he worked odd jobs on local apple farms, and it was there that he learned to brew hard cider.

After serving in the U.S. Marines, he married and settled down in Warren County, New Jersey. Each autumn, he would retreat to his basement and work on perfecting his hard cider using locally sourced apples. He began a family tradition to fill a 55 gallon drum each fall and then bottle the cider just before Christmas and deliver it to neighbors as gifts.

Fast forward to 2012, and the grandson of Charles, John Kowchak, decided to start home brewing as a hobby. That hobby then took on more of a passion as grandfather instructed grandson on the art of making hard cider. After graduating from Drexel University with a MBA in Entrepreneurship, John formed Original 13 Ciderworks on July 3, 2013.

We raised about $10,000 from friends and family and set off to brew our first batch of hard cider. We signed with L&R winery out if Lancaster, PA and developed our first batch of hard cider, which we dubbed Sir Charles in honor of our founder’s grandfather. We debuted our first cider at the 2014 Pour the Core festival at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Over the next 3 months we continued to perfect the recipe and then in March 2015 we began selling Sir Charles Original Semi-Dry hard cider across the greater Philadelphia area.

Then in October 2015, shortly after the release of our second hard cider flavor, Hail, Cyser! we received a hard blow. L&R winery, our contract brewer, went bankrupt and the new owners decided not to continue our contract. It looked like Sir Charles and Original 13 was dead before it even began.

The two principle owners, John Kowchak and Travis Frehafer, decided not to give up, and emptied their personal savings in the hope of establishing a secure base of operations. A place where we could brew what we wanted, when we wanted, and where we answered only to ourselves. In December, 2015 we signed a lease on our location at 1526 North American street in Philadelphia and began the long process of getting out winery license and finding suitable financing to create a full tasting room and production facility in the heart of Philadelphia. Over the next 12 months many roadblocks appeared and it looked like the project would never get off the ground. Then the light at the end of a long tunnel was found.

We secured a bank loan and several more outside investors. Starting January 2017 we broke ground on our very own production facility and we hope to be open to the public by Summer 2017.

Our debut at Pour the Core, Philadelphia 2014