Smuggs Distillery 1So, just where is the best domestic vodka made? California? Oregon? Would you believe in Jeffersonville, Vermont?  The small, country village of Jeffersonville is home to a world-class distillery – Smugglers Notch Distillery, whose vodka received the nod as the highest rated domestic vodka by Wine Enthusiast.

The story of the genesis of Smugglers’ Notch Distillery is as uplifting as its fine spirits. It all started when Jeremy Elliott, a research chemist in the pharmaceutical business, was faced with the move of the company’s Vermont facility to Ireland. Jeremy didn’t want to relocate; so he decided to pursue a dream – using the skills of his trade to create the “world’s best vodka.”

It was when Jeremy joined forces with his dad, Ron, who had an extensive corporate business background, that Smugglers’ Notch Distillery was born. This father/son team, driven by the passion to create world class spirits, uses only the purest and finest ingredients, like the pristine Vermont spring water from nearby Mount Mansfield watershed and winter wheat and corn sourced from Idaho.

But many distilleries also use only the best ingredients. So, what makes Smugglers’ so good? To put it simply – attention to detail. Jeremy’s scientific control of the whole distillation process borders on obsession. Every batch of spirits, whether it’s the Vodka or the Straight Bourbon, Rum, or the two types of Gin, is exactly crafted to Jeremy’s specifications, which maintain a precise and constant consistency from one batch to another. This hands-on, discerning approach to the distillation is complemented by Ron’s expert management of all the other details of the business, from the hand-bottling to distribution and logistics.

The Distillery, which is located at the base of Smugglers’ Notch – a rugged mountain pass with an intriguing history of clandestine bootlegger runs – opened its doors to the public in October 2010 with Vodka only. Looking to create some buzz about their vodka, Jeremy and Ron took it to the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in March of 2011. Jeremy’s confidence in his creation was rewarded with a Double Gold Medal, which meant every judge awarded it a Gold Medal rating.

Quite a start for the novice distillers. This was followed up by Wine Enthusiast rating it 95 points in May 2011, and then in July awarding it the # 1 Rating in the country. In October of that year, Ron and Jeremy completed the “Triple Crown” when the Beverage Tasting Institute awarded Smugglers’ Notch Vodka a Gold Medal calling it “Exceptional.”

So what does it taste like? I would call it clean and smooth… very smooth, with just the slightest touch of spiciness at the finish – no oily, earthy or mineral tastes to it. I had three friends – all “serious” vodka drinkers – do a blind taste test with two other vodkas, and Smugglers’ Notch Vodka was the “hands-down” favorite. The price-point of about $27 for a 750 ml bottle makes this world class vodka even more attractive.

Jeremy and Ron bring the same exactly details to the production of their other spirits. Smugglers’ Notch Rum (a Bronze Medal winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition) is aged for 3 years in charred white oak barrels in a heated facility – keeping with the warm Caribbean climate. A double-aging process is incorporated when the rum is finished in a used bourbon barrel to infuse complex whiskey overtones with layered flavors of vanilla, toffee, honey and sweet spice.

The 90 proof Straight Bourbon, the result of an exact blending of corn, rye and malted barley together with careful proofing using pure Vermont spring water, is exceptionally smooth with a wonderful layering of a full-bodied, oaky entry; a mid-palate of light vanilla; and a satisfying finishing note of caramel.

Smugglers’ Notch makes two gins – Blend No. 802 and their Hopped Gin. The reason for two gins is the results of their tasting-room visitors’ voting their favorite of the two over a period of many months. After hundreds of votes were cast, the results were separated by a mere two votes. Hence, two gins.

The Blend No. 802 received a Silver Medal from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a 90 Pts. Rating from Wine Enthusiast. This gin has an unobtrusive, delicate juniper flavor with enough citrus and spice to create a wonderful complexity sure to have any classic martini drinker reaching for his shaker.

Smugglers’ Notch Hopped Gin, crafted in extremely small batches, is the result of a unique process of passing the alcohol vapors through U.S. grown hops and organic juniper berries producing a rich, citrusy hop nose and a wonderful blend of fresh juniper and citrus flavors. This gin is, paradoxically, unique and classic.

Smugglers’ Notch Distillery spirits are available in all of the New England states and New York as well. Or the next time you are in northern Vermont, stop by their distillery in Jeffersonville or their new tasting room in Waterbury, and see (or rather taste) for yourself what dedication to perfection can produce.Smuggs distillery 2

Some cocktail recipes compliments of Smugglers’ Notch Distillery:      (One for each spirit)

The Harvest –  2 oz. Smugglers’ Notch Vodka

1 oz. cranberry juice

2 oz. Vermont apple cider

Pour over ice, shake, and strain into martini glass.


Blue Smuggler –  3 oz. Smugglers Notch Gin

12 blueberries

5 basil leaves

1 oz. fresh lemon juice

¾ oz. simple syrup

Muddle basil and blueberries in the bottom of a shaker. Add ice and remaining ingredients. Shake, strain, and garnish with a few blueberries.


Smuggs’ Old Cuban –  1.5 oz. Smugglers’ Notch Rum

¾ oz. fresh squeezed lime juice

½ oz. of Demerara (raw sugar)

2 dashes Urban Moonshine bitters (can substitute another bitter

such as Angostura)

5 mint leaves

2 oz. Prosecco

Combine everything but the Prosecco in a cocktail shaker filled with ice, ripping the mint leaves to express the oils. Shake vigorously and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Top with Prosecco and garnish with a lime wheel or mint sprig.


Whiskey’d Apple –  1 ½ oz. Smugglers Notch Bourbon

1/3 oz. Sumptuous Yellow Ginger Syrup (or other ginger syrup)

4 oz. Citizen Cider (or other hard cider)

Combine Bourbon and Yellow Ginger Syrup with ice in large Old Fashion glass. Stir. Top with hard cider. Apple slice for garnish. (Original recipe by Don, the friendly barkeep at Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont.)

276 Main St.  Jeffersonville, Vermont  05464

Phone: 802.309.3077 or 860.670.1838

Photos by Stephanie Sylva