20150929_174755My wife Stephanie and I attended a reception presented by Ski Vermont in New York City recently. We were pleasantly surprised to see that Ski Vermont had arranged for a cocktail contest conducted by three mixologists from some of the state’s popular ski resorts. We were also excited that the featured spirits were from Vermont’s original craft distillery, Vermont Spirits, which prides itself on using locally sourced ingredients for its spirits.

I’m sure you’ve noticed the proliferation of craft breweries going on just about everywhere. For beer drinkers, the explosion of craft beers has provided wonderful alternatives to the major producers that dominated the beer market for so long. But have you noticed the increasing number of craft distilleries as well? Recognizing the drinking public’s demand for quality spirits, craft distillers are rekindling the American pastime of producing hand-crafted and small-batch vodkas, gins, and whiskeys – a pastime that has been all but lost since the days before prohibition.

“Things are starting to snowball,” says Distiller magazine editor Andrew Faulkner. “The market (for microdistilleries) has grown 50 percent every year since 2010.”

Outside magazine, in its August 28, 2015 edition, asked a dozen bartenders for their favorite clear spirits 20150929_174833like gin, vodka, white rum and whiskey, and tequila. The top vodka ?  – Vermont Spirits White Vodka.

Vermont Spirits opened its doors in Barnet, Vermont in 1999, and in 2010 relocated its operations to Quechee Gorge Village. Originally known for their maple vodka, Vermont Gold, Vermont Spirits today distills a dozen different spirits. We had the pleasure of enjoying three cocktail creations using Vermont Gold Vodka (made from a bountiful local product – the sap of maple trees), Vermont White Vodka (made from whey, the natural sugar source found in cow’s milk – Vermont has armies of dairy cows), and Coppers Gin (made with hand-picked Vermont juniper berries).

Bruce Hyde from the Sugarbush Ski Resort created his “Sugar Bear” cocktail using Vermont White Vodka, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, Saint Germaine liqueur, lavender-infused honey syrup, a touch of soda water with a lemon slice and a spring of lavender for garnish. The “Sugar Bear” was a fresh-tasting, light cocktail with a hint of floral lavender. The Vermont White had a clean, unobtrusive taste with a nice finish.

Akash Parikh from the Hearth and Candle Restaurant at Smugglers’ Notch Resort created his “Berry 20150929_180147Sweet Tea” using Vermont Gold Vodka (which he infused with Earl Grey tea), blackberry simple syrup (again using his own infusion), fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and a basil leaf for garnish. This cocktail put a whole new slant on iced tea. Vermont Gold is not a maple syrup-flavored vodka. It is distilled in small batches from the sap of maple trees. “The very essence of Vermont,” says its website.

The third and final cocktail of the evening was created by Jesse Horton of Harriman’s Farm to Table Restaurant at the Mount Snow Resort. Jesse’s delicious take on the Moscow Mule used Copper Gin, blood orange juice, fresh-squeezed lime juice, a dash of blood orange bitters, and a healthy splash of ginger beer. Jesse’s “Red Mule” took first place that night, but the vote was extremely close, as all three of these cocktails were first-rate.

Keep on the lookout for local craft distillers in your area. I think you will find their products – especially those using locally sourced ingredients – will make some outstanding cocktails.

Although Vermont Spirits’ website says their products are distributed throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic, they don’t seem to be readily available outside of New England. Well, guess you will just have to plan a skiing trip to Vermont and get a supply of Vermont Spirits while you’re there.

For more information about Vermont Spirits, its other products and some very interesting recipes, visit www.vermontspirits.com.

For information about ski resorts in Vermont visit www.skivermont.com.

Some helpful hints:

You can create your own infused simple syrups quite easily. Use equal parts sugar and water, heat on stove until all of the sugar is dissolved and let cool. That’s all it takes!

Infusing your simple syrup is easy – just add your ingredient of choice during the heating and then let cool while the ingredient steeps. (You may want to muddle some of the ingredients like berries to add more flavor to your infusion.)I have made one using demerara (also called “raw”) sugar and mint leaves (works great when making mint juleps). Store your simple syrup in the refrigerator to make it last longer.

Suggestions for infusing ingredients: mint leaves; basil leaves; rosemary; lavender sprigs; berries such as blackberry, blueberry, raspberry; orange or lemon peels; fresh ginger. You can even try a combination of ingredients. Whatever taste you’re looking for will work – just use your imagination.


Photos by Stephanie Sylva