The observation of Groundhog Day this past Sunday brought to mind a bit of animal trivia which you may not know. A groundhog is also known as a woodchuck. And a woodchuck is not just a mammal, it’s also a beverage. My favorite beverage, as a matter of fact.
I’m really not much of a drinker. I worked hard to keep up with my friends in high school and college, but when you can’t stand the taste of alcohol, you have to knock drinks back rather indiscriminately in order to get a good buzz on. In my early 20s, I suffered one too many toilet-hugging, head-pounding, room-spinning hangovers from overdoing it with booze or champagne. Nothing about being drunk was entertaining enough to make the next day’s suffering worthwhile.
So why not drink beer, you ask? Well, because of all the alcoholic beverages out there, beer is the one I absolutely can’t stomach. Not that I haven’t tried. Beer-drinking was a rite of passage in high school, but I thought it tasted hideous. “Just keep drinking it. It’s an acquired taste,” my friends would say.
But that didn’t work for me. No matter how much I tried, I could do little more than nurse a can of beer, maybe choking down half of it. Then it got warm, and became even more revolting and impossible to finish. Of course, this was back in the late 70s, when what we had to choose from around here was Coors, Schlitz, Miller and Pearl. There were no microbreweries back in the day, so the beer we drank (or avoided, in my case) was nothing to write home about.
I hated all of it. If you had handed me two glasses, one filled with cold beer and the other with cold goat urine, I would have been hard-pressed to tell one from the other.
So, at 22 or so, I pretty much gave up alcohol. And I’ve been okay with that. Until a few years ago, when I became infatuated with hard ciders. That’s when I met my first Woodchuck.
It happened one Labor Day, when we were having a little get-together at a local brew pub, one of those places that features beers of all types from all over the world – IPAs and ales and stouts, lagers and bocks and porters. They were German and Japanese and British and American, too. When the waiter came by, I ordered water. My pal Tim asked why. I explained my beer aversion, and he thought for a minute, and said “We should order you a Snakebite.”
A Snakebite is made by blending a light beer, usually a lager, and a hard cider, which is basically an alcoholic version of apple cider. They are mixed on a one-to-one ratio. I’d never had one, but I was willing to give it a shot. The waiter delivered it and I sipped cautiously. I could still taste the beer, but the sweet apple flavor made it tolerable. I kind of liked it.
I determined that I would take a stab at fixing Snakebites at home, so on my next visit to the grocery store, I bought a six-pack of some sort of lager (Tim told me most any light beer would work) and a six-pack of Woodchuck hard cider. I knew nothing about cider, but the woodchuck on the bottle looked benign and friendly.
I mixed one at home, but wasn’t impressed. I determined that it was still a little too beer-heavy to suit me. The next time I mixed one, I used two parts cider and only one part beer. This was better still. The more cider I used, the better it tasted. By the time I was halfway through the six-packs, I was just drinking the cider. From then on, I was a cider convert. I bought more Woodchuck, and passed the remaining beer along to my son, who is one of the most knowledgeable beer snobs on the planet. He’s big on ales and darker beers, but he won’t let any decent beer go to waste, and was happy to take the extra lager off my hands.
Were you to open the spare fridge in my garage at any point in time, you would find anywhere from three to eight six-packs of Woodchuck. It’s not that I drink that much; normally I limit myself to one or two during an average week. But there are so many options to choose from, and I am all about options.
Woodchuck has six regular flavors that are always available – Granny Smith, Pear, Crisp, Amber, 802 (aka Dark and Dry), and Raspberry. Then there are the seasonal flavors; Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn, all of which pretty much suit the seasons they are named for. For instance, there’s a hint of blueberry and peach in the Summer, and Autumn is imbued with cinnamon and spices that are perfectly suited to the season.
There is the Farmhouse Select, a blend made with beer yeast (much like that original Snakebite, perhaps), and the Cellar Series, which allows the cider makers at Woodchuck a chance to tinker with new techniques. I’ve not had a chance to try many of these yet, but they’re on my to-do list.
And if that wasn’t enough to please the average cider drinker, there are the Woodchuck Private Reserve blends – Pumpkin, Belgian White, Barrel Select (aged in whiskey barrels) and the lovely Pink, which was created specifically to honor breast cancer survivors and to raise funds for a local organization that helps them, in Woodchuck’s hometown of Middlebury, Vermont.
I have tried many other brands of hard cider since I became a Woodchuck fanatic. I’ve had to, because I’ve discovered that many restaurants and bars still have no cider option on their menus, and those that do frequently offer something that is NOT Woodchuck. Angry Orchard, Ace, and Crispin also make some tasty cider offerings. But Woodchuck is my go-to. I’m partial, I admit it.
My affection for Woodchuck has had some lovely side effects. People who know me say they always think of me when they see it in the store. Many friends have said they bought Woodchuck and tried it just from my recommendation. I’ve converted my daughter into a ‘chuck fan as well. In fact, last weekend we shared a flavor that we stumbled upon, a new offering called Cellar Series – Chocolate! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was surprisingly wonderful.
I’m pretty sure the Foo Fighters are beer guys. That’s okay by me. As long as they don’t mind sharing a little fridge space to accommodate my cider habit, we’ll get along just fine.
Special thanks to my friend Mary Claire, who, after hearing me tutor the bar manager in all things cider during our New Year’s Eve lunch, and knowing my affinity for it, said “you know, you really need to blog about Woodchuck.” Excellent idea, Mary Claire! I’ll raise a glass in your honor tonight.
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