Humble Beginnings 1991-1995
“There was not a hard cider category out there at that point in time. Nobody had defined what that category should be. Woodchuck Amber did just that. It was an exciting moment.” – Greg Failing
1991 – Proctorsville, Vermont. Along the Black River, in a two-car garage, a wine maker by the name of Greg Failing begins an experiment with apples. Woodchuck Amber was the result and it would go on to reinvent a centuries old beverage which had vanished from the American conscious in the wake of Prohibition.
The first bottles were filled on a 1940’s soda filler. It only filled 10-ounces, so the last two ounces of every bottle were topped off by hand with a turkey baster. The filler constantly broke down and parts were hard to come by. It took that resilient Vermont spirit to carry on, and carry on we did!
1992 – Woodchuck wanted to expand beyond the borders of the Northeast, but shipping costs, especially for kegs were quite high. One day a UPS van driver dropped off a package that was roughly the size of a keg. Lightbulb!
Eight kegs were sent to a wholesaler in Michigan. The kegs had UPS return slips attached. We were convinced we would never see the kegs again. About a month later, a UPS van pulled up and returned all eight empty kegs! So we tried 16 kegs next. They all came back. We kept going, trying 50 kegs at a time.
Before we knew it, a UPS tractor trailer full of kegs pulled up to our back door! UPS corporate finally cut us off, but we had built enough business to drive down our shipping costs and ship kegs in a more traditional fashion. Thanks to UPS, Woodchuck grew outside the borders of New England!
1993 – Dark and Dry (now 802™) was released. It’s dark and dry characteristics were built with the beer drinker in mind. Woodchuck Dark & Dry beat out major craft beers at the Great Albany Beer Festival taking home the People’s Choice Award. The win earned it a tap line at Albany’s Knickerbocker Arena for a year!
Growth and Growing Pains 1996-2002
“We knew we needed new equipment and more storage space. We were willing to move, but it couldn’t be outside the borders of Vermont. Woodchuck isn’t Woodchuck without Vermont.” – Dan Rowell
1996 – We were producing 400,000 cases a year and the little winery in Proctorsville couldn’t keep up. We joined forces with Stroh Brewing and moved operations to a larger cidery in Springfield, Vermont.
In what would become a monumental moment, Bret Williams signs on as the company’s first full-time sales employee.
As fans asked for more variety we crafted our Granny Smith cider (1997) and offered a Variety Pack (1998). Just after the dawn of the 21st century Pear and Raspberry styles joined the lineup.
1998 – Though Woodchuck continued to flourish, Stroh Brewing was in distress and needed to sell its stake in the brand. H.P. Bulmer of England, the world’s largest cider producer, purchased Woodchuck.
1999 – “Celebrate Woodchuck DayTM” was coined, replacing the day people once referred to as Groundhog Day.
2000 – We moved for the third time setting down permanent roots in the quaint Green Mountain town of Middlebury, VT.
2002 – Woodchuck continued its resilient growth despite mismanagement from Bulmer’s America, who struggled to understand the US cider market.
Modern Cider Boom 2003-2013
“I saw how resilient Woodchuck was. I believed in Woodchuck. I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.” – Bret Williams.
2003 – The Bulmer’s America experiment had failed and the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Bret Williams, the company’s first salesperson, believed in the American cider category and put together a deal to buy Woodchuck.
2007 – A new bottling line was installed pushing production and sales to one million cases. Woodchuck was the first cider in the US to hit the one million case mark!
2008 – We begin focusing on true innovation in cider making with the launch of a seasonal cider lineup. By 2010, a Private Reserve line was also launched and featured ciders that were the first of their kind in the world!
2012 – Woodchuck Amber becomes available in cans for the first time.
2013 – We joined forces with C&C Group of Ireland. The union of the two like-minded cider companies deepened a commitment to the category first forged in 1991.