A really hot day provides adequate excuse, I think, to quaff spirits in the afternoon. And, since Vermont boasts a growing number of talented winemakers, distillers and brewers, that “beer o’clock” cocktail can be totally local, save for a mixer or two. Whether you’re whiling away a sticky evening, trying to use up an abundance of strawberries or basil, or wondering what to pair with some char-grilled chicken, a handful of newish, locally made options awaits. (All were released in the last 18 months.) And, because summer should be uncomplicated, so are some of these cocktails.
Snow Farm Vineyard 2010 Estate Vidal Blanc • East Shore Vineyard 2010 Traminette • Shelburne Vineyard 2010 Whimsey Meadow Rosé
Life is too short to drink bad wine. Luckily for local oenophiles, Vermont-made wines are getting better every year. Some can still be funky and sharp, yes, but watching the industry grow more adept with cold-climate grape hybrids is gratifying.
The whites, in particular, are getting very strong. In my opinion, Lincoln Peak Vineyard’s LaCrescent has long been the easiest-drinking Vermont white around. But Snow Farm’s newly released 2010 Estate Vidal Blanc has already picked up one tasting award. Though it’s almost clear in the glass, it tastes of pears with a citrus undertone, and could ably wash down seafood. East Shore Vineyard’s 2010 Traminette, made in Grand Isle with grapes grown in the Finger Lakes, is a muscular local choice for those who love viognier or gewürztraminer: spicy and punchy, intensely aromatic, and so full of personality it’s almost a meal in itself.
For those who want to sip something a bit more substantial but still cold, the ruby-hued 2010 Whimsey Meadow Rosé from Shelburne Vineyard smells and tastes of strawberries, and its clean acidity can cut through any blackened, greasy pieces of grilled flesh you put in its way.
Smugglers’ Notch Distillery Vodka with strawberries, basil and lime
If vodka is the “silent assassin,” it’s infiltrated Vermont in style, and we now have two local choices. Last year, a father and son in Jeffersonville began distilling Idaho winter wheat and corn into a crisp version with a hint of sweetness. Though their Smugglers’ Notch Distillery Vodka lags in sales behind Green Mountain Distillers Sunshine Vodka (from down the road in Stowe), it’s worth tossing around with local produce — in particular, a handful of fresh strawberries and basil.
For this drink, take three strawberries and two or three basil leaves and muddle them together at the bottom of a tumbler. Add one teaspoon of simple syrup and three ounces of vodka; stir and let rest for 10 minutes or so. Add ice, squeeze in the juice of half a lime or grapefruit and fill the glass to the top with seltzer or a sparkling wine such as cava. Be aware that more than one of these is likely to make you drunk. If you don’t like bits of strawberry in your teeth or prefer a stronger-tasting elixir, you can muddle and mix in a drink shaker with ice, then double strain into a martini glass.
Orleans, Green Mountain Distillers Gin, Smugglers’ Notch Distillery Vodka and a twist of lime
It seems like a new local cheese, pasta or preserve appears every other day in the Green Mountain State. But how often do we get a newly minted aperitif? Orleans — an artisanal apple wine infused with herbs — is a collaboration between the peeps at Osteria Pane e Salute in Woodstock and Eden Ice Cider Company. With notes of anise and honey, it’s unusual but elegant. Cocreator Deirdre Heekin suggests drinking Orleans straight up or topped with prosecco and a spritz of lime. I think of it as similar to Lillet, so I used some Orleans in a Vermont version of the Vesper, the drink James Bond invented in 1953’s Casino Royale. Combine two parts Green Mountain Distillers Gin, two parts Orleans and one part Smugglers’ Notch Distillery Vodka, and shake with ice until chilled; strain into a martini glass with a twist of lime. It might knock you out, but with panache.
Trout River Hoppin’ Mad Trout ale and bitter lemon
In England, a shandy — a half-and-half mixture of beer and fizzy lemonade — tends to be a ladies’ drink, a demure beer to have in the afternoon. I think its appeal is underrecognized on this side of the pond. Who wouldn’t love the zestiness and buzz you get from beer paired with the sweetness and acid of lemonade? After playing around with a few summery Vermont brews, I settled on a half-and-half combination of Trout River Hoppin’ Mad Trout ale and Fever-Tree Premium Bitter Lemon Tonic — a little bit tart, a little bit sweet.
Green Mountain Distillers Gin, bitter lemon and a sprig of mint
Green Mountain Distillers Gin is distilled in Stowe, and though it’s been around for more than a year, I think it qualifies as new booze. It plays just as well with bitter lemon as do its yeasty friends. Pour some gin to taste into a tall, cold glass, add three times as much fizzy bitter lemon and garnish with a sprig of mint. This one pleases in-laws, or the blue-rinse crowd.
Harpoon Brewery Island Creek Oyster Stout • Hill Farmstead Double Citra IPA
I’m not a big fan of summer beers — I usually find them kind of thin, akin to water. Hefeweizen is my light beer of choice, winter or summer. But this summer, Harpoon Brewery Island Creek Oyster Stout is on my mind, perhaps because I didn’t expect the brewery to reprise it after last spring’s release in the 100 Barrel Series. It must have proved popular. The concoction is dark, but it’s brewed with real oysters and hence reminds me of the beach. And it has a chocolatey goodness that’s very addictive.
Hill Farmstead Double Citra IPA is a great hot-afternoon brew that doesn’t skimp on personality. At 8 percent alcohol, it’s got a kick — but the flavors of citrus, grass and caramel make it a summer beer, even if it isn’t called one. The issue is finding a growler of it — by the time you figure out where, it could be gone.