MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Hard Cider doesn’t do anything halfway, as evidenced by last week’s grand unveiling of its new, 100,000-square-foot, $34 million cidery off Exchange Street.
Various state officials and U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., spoke and observed the ribbon cutting for a facility that will churn out thousands of gallons of the company’s popular Woodchuck brand cider.
Now the company is setting its sights on a more public opening, one that could draw upwards of 10,000 people to the Middlebury area on Saturday, Aug. 23.
The so-called “Ciderbration” — a word that Vermont Hard Cider has trademarked — will feature performances by several well-known bands, tours of the new plant, and naturally an opportunity to get a taste of what is one of the nation’s top-selling hard cider brand.
The event is actually being called “Ciderbration 23,” representing the number of years the firm has been in existence. Nate Formalarie, Vermont Hard Cider’s communications director, said the company had initially forecast a potential crowd of 2,000 to 3,000 people based on the entertainment it was lining up in concert with the Burlington club Higher Ground.
So the company allowed people to apply for free Ciderbration tickets through its website for the event, slated for 2 to 10 p.m. on the cidery grounds at 1321 Exchange St. Dirty Heads, Dr. Dog, Jamie Lee Thurston and Caroline Rose are due to perform.
Ciderbration became a hotter ticket than Vermont Hard Cider officials ever imagined, with the number of potential attendees reaching five figures late in July.
“We have officially sold out,” Formalarie said. “With a month to go we hit 10,000.”
That prompted the company to shut down its ticket giveaway and work with Middlebury officials, lodgers and businesses to prepare for a potential wave of Ciderbrationists. Formalarie stressed there is no way to know for sure how many ticket holders will actually show up, but organizers are preparing for the potential of Middlebury virtually doubling its population of around 8,500 (including college students) for at least a day.
“We are hoping most of them show up,” Formalarie said, “and at this point, we are discouraging people (without tickets) from showing up.”
Radio stations like WOKO 98.9-FM and 99.9-FM The Buzz will be offering some call-in opportunities for those who missed the ticket cutoff.
Twenty-three winners of a special contest (and their guests) will be flown in to the Ciderbration from throughout the country to receive VIP treatment.
Formalarie said he expects hotel and motel rooms to be virtually sold out for the Ciderbration evening of Aug. 23. The company has reached agreements with the owners of 30 area parking lots to reserve spaces for Ciderbration attendees. The cider firm also has commissioned Bet-Cha Transit to bus people to and from Middlebury parking locations the day of the event.
Along with the musical acts, the Ciderbration will include lawn games, an opportunity to meet the cider makers, and tours of the facility. On-site vendors will offer food, including Middlebury’s A&W and Vermont Coffee Co., as well as Vermont Maple BBQ, Island Ice Cream, Mach’s Mobile Pizza and Thelma’s Bread Dough.
Attendees will be able to purchase a variety of Woodchuck ciders, including a “Ciderbration” variety made especially for the event.
Of course, local merchants are also hoping to hear their cash registers sing during the Ciderbration weekend. It’s an opportunity for Middlebury and other Addison County towns to show off Vermont products and hospitality and to build a foundation for some repeat visits, according to Ben Wilson, president of the Better Middlebury Partnership.
“It’s awesome,” Wilson said of the Ciderbration and its ability to infuse new dollars and awareness of what Middlebury has to offer. “It pushes the Middlebury brand out there.”
The partnership is helping Vermont Hard Cider promote Ciderbration with posters and a banner that will probably pop up soon above Main Street.
Wilson said he feels a sense of pride when he sees Middlebury products — such as Woodchuck Hard Cider and Danforth Pewter — sold and used in venues throughout the country.
“It puts us on the national stage,” he said.
Anyone seeking more information about the Ciderbration may log on to www.woodchuck.com. The site will be updated periodically as the event draws nearer, according to Formalarie.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]