“We’re (in Middlebury) at the Vermont Cider Company, home of Woodchuck Hard Cider,” Vermont Historical Society executive director Steve Perkins said. “So, we had this thing in the U.S. called Prohibition. Commercial production of things like beer, wine and cider — which was hard at the time; when you said ‘cider’, it was hard cider — that all ceased. It took a long time for that industry to come back, and it wasn’t until 1991 that the hard cider industry came back into commercial production — and this company helped start that.”

“We take that apple juice, that base, add yeast to it and ferment it out very much like a wine,” Vermont Cider Company marketing director Duncan Rollason said.

Perkins asked, “And people have been doing this for years, right? Hundreds of years?”

“Yes, centuries,” Rollason replied.

“I’d have to think that (similarity to wine) may have been what led Greg Failing — the founder of Woodchuck, with whom you’ve worked at times during your time here — to want to branch out from wine that way,” Mike Hoey said. “But what might have led him to do that, given that there hadn’t been any commercial hard cider production in the U.S. for — what was it? Seventy-odd years?”

“Exactly, since the Prohibition era,” Rollason said. “Greg was a winemaker at Joseph Cerniglia Winery and had tried some European ciders. (He) thought there was a potential for sort of a U.S. market for it and started to dabble in that space. (He wanted to make something) different (from) European ciders (and) started to craft (Woodchuck) Amber, our first, in 1991.”

“A lot of people (at that time) might not have ever heard of such a thing,” Hoey said.

“For sure,” Rollason answered. “You compare it to beer or you talk about the package that it’s in today. I think in the early years, there was a lot of, ‘Is it a cider beer? Is it a cider wine?’. And there was a lot of education about the process and the difference between (cider and) beer, and really getting people to try it, to be able to taste that liquid and educate along the way.”

“So, tell us about those early years,” Perkins observed. “I’ve heard turkey basters brought up. What’s up with that?”

“In those early years — ’91 through probably late ’90s — (Woodchuck) was (bottled on) an old Coca-Cola bottling line that would fill bottles up to ten ounces, and the last two ounces had to be filled with a baster,” Rollason noted.

“So again, in those early years — package-only, bottle-only, in Vermont. As we looked to expand outside Vermont, it wasn’t logistically feasible to ship bottles. A UPS truck showed up one day, dropped off a package, and that package happened to be the size of a keg. The light bulb went off, and it was, ‘wait a minute. Can we put a keg here, put a label on it, ship it out with a return label and get it into markets?’.

“I don’t think we ever expected to see that return keg come back, but those empties started to come back with those return labels on, and at first it was two. Then it was eight. It was a box truck, and then a tractor-trailer truck until that red flag came up where it was like, ‘hold on’, and by that time, we could enter into the logistical process that was necessary to get that product out of the state.”

Hoey asked, “And if anyone wants to come here, when during a given week can they do it?”

“Wednesday through Friday, 11:00 to 6:00,” Rollason replied. “And then Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 to 5:00.”