VERMONT CIDER LAB Keeps Family Tradition AliveOct 11, 2023 04:48PM ● By Rachael Gomez
FAMILY HOBBY TURNED COMMUNITY BUSINESS
Chris began his venture into cider production 14 years ago. His father made cider when he was growing up. When his father was in a biking accident, Chris decided to carry on the family tradition and tried his hand at cider making. He spent the last decade producing and experimenting with cider in his basement, never considering it would turn into a business—until his wife came up with a great idea.
“My wife and her friend had talked about opening a wine bar years ago,” Chris explained. “When the new wine shop opened in the Essex Experience, she went and talked to the owners who told her if she was thinking about opening something like that, ‘just do it.’”
And so the idea of Vermont Cider Lab was created. Chris and Karen met with a Pommelier, a cider sommelier, to get his feedback on whether the product was good enough to launch a business. He gave them plenty of great feedback and encouraged them to keep going. From there, they visited cideries across the state and met with owners to get insight into the business.
Coming from a background as a personal trainer and strength coach, Chris was shocked at the help and feedback they received.
“I was shocked at how welcoming and forthcoming everyone in the industry has been, with people even reaching out to offer advice,” Chris said. “We literally had the owner of another cider company meet with our loan officer on our behalf for over an hour.”
A GROUP EFFORT
Although Chris is new to the hospitality business, Karen is an old pro. Karen is currently the director of operations for a Best Western hotel that boasts two restaurants, a steakhouse, and sports bar. While Chris makes the cider and handles a lot of the day-to-day operations at Vermont Cider Lab, Karen takes care of their sales and marketing.
The other ace in their pocket came from a random question they posted on a cider-making chat board, leading them to a great collaboration with a cidery consultant. Their consultant helped them learn about sourcing, cidery setup and equipment lists, and how to scale up from 5-gallon carboys to a 250-gallon fermentation setup.
As all of the pieces fell into place, Chris and Karen got to work on their tasting room space. With 4,100 square feet, the tasting room has 50 seats inside and a 24-person seating capacity on their dog-friendly patio. They wanted to have an upscale rustic feel to the facility and reached out to friends and family for help to complete their vision.
“Every piece of wood for the tables and bar tops was collected from family and friends and built by my brother-in-law,” Chris said proudly.
CIDER WITH LOCAL FLAIR
The tasting room also has three huge viewing windows into the production facility for guests to get a firsthand ok at how their product is being made. For those who want an even closer look, Chris is on-site most days to take guests on a behind-the-scenes tour. They also offer a selection of games for people to enjoy while they imbibe.
Available in the tasting room right now are a selection of five ciders: three staples (traditional, cranberry, and lemon ginger), and two rotationals (currently a sour cherry and blueberry basil), plus a selection of cider-based cocktails and slushies to help bridge the gap for those just venturing into the world of cider.
All of their ciders are named after their dogs or the dogs of family and friends, such as Bubba, Stinker, Cassa Frass, Willow Willow, and Sloaner. They also are running a raffle for guests: for every cider you purchase, guests enter to win the opportunity to name a future cider after their dog.
Currently, upcoming ciders include a rosemary, blood orange, and sage cider for the fall using local maple syrup, as well as a holiday cider made two ways: filtered for guests to take home and unfiltered to use in the tasting room as a hot, mulled cider.
“The difference between us and a lot of other cider makers is we only ferment with local real sugar sources. We use local honey and local maple syrup,” Chris said. He thinks it adds to overall product and complexity. Plus, they are a Vermont company wanting to support other Vermont businesses and farms.
“We’re really proud of what we’re doing,” Chris added. “It’s going to be a grind, but worth it in the end.”