FROM GARAGE TO HOUSEHOLD CIDER
By Ty Hillis
Photos courtesy of Woodchuck Hard Cider
How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if that woodchuck just drank cider? Well, unfortunately, that still remains a mystery, as Woodchuck Hard Cider is meant for human consumption, and not for furry woodland creatures.
The Vermont based cidery has been in production now for 24 years and is showing no signs of slowing down.
First conceived by winemaker Greg Failing in his two-car garage in Proctorsville, Vermont, Woodchuck has had an interesting ride trying to find success in the cider industry.
Launching in a time when cider was not as popular as it is today, Failing used the apples that his family and friends loved to eat to try to make something that they would love to drink. His first product, the Woodchuck Amber (which is still Woodchuck’s most popular cider) found early success in the Vermont area, and he soon wanted to expand to the rest of the country.
Being such a small company at the time, Woodchuck found difficulty in shipping kegs through traditional means. The costs were high, and although the Amber had been doing well, it was unsure that the cider would do as well in other parts of the country. Failing ended up shipping the kegs using UPS, which proved to be more successful than he could have imagined, and before long, Woodchuck set up a more traditional way of shipping their cider.
Dan Rowell joined Woodchuck in 1996 and has worked his way through the company to find himself at the CEO position that he sits at today. When asked about the cider community in the Northeast, he explained his excitement about the boost in popularity for cider throughout the country. “It is nice that cider is an actual, real category now, rather than an afterthought,” Rowell says. “Back in the 90s, cider was hardly recognized at all.”
In 2014, the World Expo of Beer awarded Woodchuck with the Best Standard Cider and Best Specialty Cider awards. Although the Amber has had extreme success throughout the country, some of their more experimental beverages are making waves throughout the cider communities.
The new Woodchuck Gumption is a combination of “new and old,” Rowell says. It is the joining of two types of apples to make one type of cider. Just as the Amber uses apples that are traditionally enjoyed by eating them, the Gumption also uses these apples, along with the more commonly used cider apples that more traditional ciders are made from. This pairing of two styles produces a completely brand new cider that when consumed, may provide the amount of gumption close to the drink’s inspiration, P.T. Barnum.
Woodchuck is always experimenting with new and interesting flavors. The Out on a Limb series is evidence of this commitment to innovation. By literally going out on a limb, Woodchuck provides a six-pack carrier that holds a mystery within. Each batch may contain new drinks that the cidery is experimenting with, never sticking with one variety. This gives Woodchuck a chance to try new things out and gauge what fans are enjoying. Try the Lazy Hazy Lemon Crazy, a cider-shandy, or the Oopsy Daisy, an infusion with chamomile.
“There are over 7,500 apple varieties known to man,” Rowell says. “We have been experimenting with such a small number of those varieties for the past 24 years that I know we could keep finding new combinations for at least the next 24 years, if not longer.”
Visit Woodchuck’s website to refresh up on cider knowledge and visit their Cider House located in Middlebury, VT, that features tours, a gift shop, and plenty of cider samples. Tickets are still available for Cider Stock 2015, a day of food, cider and live music from Cage The Elephant, New Politics, Kat Wright & The Indomitable Soul Band and Madaila on August 22 at the Cider House.