Apple Intoxication: The Woodchuck Cidery

October 22, 2014 — The back of my leather motorcycle jacket might read, “Autumn to the bone and Halloween the rest of the way,” but there are some seasonal traditions where I’m still on the outside smearing my nose on the glass. Like pumpkin beer. I’m not a real beer fan, and I can barely taste the difference between pumpkin beer and beer beer, so I just marvel at that amazing label art and sulkily pull out a brown bottle of hard cider. Because I do dig me a hard cider.

I’ve tried a lot of brands over the years, but always come back to Woodchuck. Woodchuck is a Vermont company that’s been in the fermented apple business since 1991. I’ve tried all of its mass-produced varieties and the best is without a doubt, the Fall variety. This year, they tweaked their marketing plan a bit and are releasing it under “Fall Harvest.” According to the label, it tastes “Just like apple pie” and according to the website, it’s the same formula. So that means I don’t have to try to recreate it like I had to with poor old Diet Pepsi Jazz Caramel Cream.

Anyway, one day last season, after staring at the two dozen empty bottles of it strewn across my desk, I wondered if the company had something visitable—a gift shop or a facility tour or a giant inflatable woodchuck, anything that I could put on a Fall road trip itinerary while simultaneously stocking up.

Turns out, they didn’t…but my timing was strong as they were in the process of building a visitor’s center.

In August of this year, they opened the Woodchuck Cidery at their Middlebury, Vermont, headquarters and I was able to visit it as part of our recent Vermont road trip.

I’d been to Middlebury, Vermont, a few times before. It’s the site of one of my favorite graves in all New England, that of Amum-Her-Khepesh-Ef, a two-year-old Egyptian mummy prince. Also the town where I got to see one of Patrick Dougherty’s twiggy sculptures. Of course, this time I wasn’t oddity hunting. I was looking for Fall fruit that gets you drunk

The woodchuck cidery looked brand new. On one side was a giant red barn that had never seen a cow in its life and, I assume, held offices while hiding the more industrial-looking buildings behind it. Connected to the barn was a smaller building that was the visitor’s center, adjacent to four, tall, gleaming silver tanks full, I assume, of rotting apples or however you make cider these days. CGI, probably.

The visitor’s center was a small, open, welcoming room. On one side were some T-shirts and other gifts. In the middle was a refrigerator case full of specialty varieties, and at the far end was a small bar where you could sample ciders.

Normally, I would have sidled up to the bar and cider’d myself up real good, but since we had the kids with us and a few hours to go on our road trip, the first thing we did was ascend the nearby stairs. That led us to an observation room overlooking the factory floor, a sterile, stainless steel environment that seemed the opposite of the quaint wooden barrels full of fresh-picked apples that you usually think of when you think of cider. But that’s fine. It needs to be mass produced just to quench my thirst every year. We were visiting on a Saturday, so the floor was empty and the conveyor belts motionless. Still, Fall magic was made there, even if I couldn’t make out any cauldrons.

Then we came down and started ransacking the place.

After all, even though there’s not a whole lot to do there, it was a great opportunity to walk out with some of the more exotic varieties that I’d never laid my lips on. We carted out bottles of pear, raspberry, smoked apple, chocolate, and sour cherry cider.

I was going to review each variety as part of this post, but it turns out I don’t need to. Every single one tasted exactly like its name and strongly so (unlike “pumpkin” beer). Smokey apple was a campfire, pear was pear, raspberry was raspberry. The only one I didn’t enjoy too much was chocolate. No real reason that I can put a finger on.

So a worthwhile stop on any Vermont trip…and if you ever get a chance to nab their Fall cider in stores, do it. Your hangovers will shimmer like Autumn leaves.

Oh, and you can wear my motorcycle jacket anytime.