Vermont is better known for its beer than for other alcoholic beverages. But as the state's distilling industry grows past its infancy, spirits makers are crafting some seriously smooth and classy beverages. Many of them arguably rival established top-shelf liquors in flavor and mixability, and some push beyond the usual flavor profiles. Price-wise, Vermont-made bottles aren't cheap — most fall in the $25 to $40 range. But they are comparable to, for example, fifths of Belvedere Vodka or Johnny Walker Black Label whiskey.
Last week, Seven Days checked in with a trio of local bartenders to see which recent releases most tickled their fancy. Each of them struggled to choose just one.
At Alice & the Magician Cocktail Apothecary in Burlington's South End, Aaron Wisniewski pointed to Mad River Distillers' PX Rum. "Mad River has such a distinct style," he said. "They're not trying to recreate a bourbon whiskey or spiced rum. In the PX Rum, their barrel character really comes through with these fascinating, complex cherry notes along with the rum flavor. It's like nothing I've ever tasted before."
On St. Paul Street, Pizzeria Verità bar manager Sydney Stockman praised Smugglers' Notch Distillery's hopped gin for its subtle botanical character. She also likes Stonecutter Spirits' velvet-smooth Heritage Cask Whiskey, which, since its release last summer, has become a unanimous bartender favorite.
"I haven't used it too much in cocktails," she said, "but it's really fun and different and worth mentioning."
Savois also showered love upon Appalachian Gap Distillery's Papilio tequila. "Some people steer away from it a lot because it says 'maple' on the bottle, but, once they taste it, I think it's turning people [who normally don't drink tequila]," she noted. "It's really smooth and different."
Ready for a cocktail, or three? The recipes below range from a bright and juicy tiki drink to an amaro-tinged sipper.
"I just tried this [Snowdrop] gin from Saxtons River Distillery last week. It's a really aromatic product, which I, of course, really like. It's made with this vacuum distillation process, so some of the aromas that might normally get boiled off are really there and fresh and prominent. It's a very American-style gin — very light on the juniper. But it's unique in that a lot of those other ginger-and-spice botanicals that are usually in the background are very much in the forefront.
"We've been making this amazing drink — it's like if you left Vermont and traveled across the road to Thailand, stopping in various places and picking up an ingredient at each stop along the way, this is what you'd get. It's so fragrant and green and complex and balanced."
"This drink was on our autumn cocktail menu. It was really, really popular, and it's really easy to make. It has several ingredients, but none of it is super complicated. We garnish it with a dehydrated apple slice; we get ours at Trader Joe's, but they're easy to find anywhere, and they float really well on top of the cocktail."
"Appalachian Gap Distillery's Fractal Vodka is one of my personal favorite new spirits — I love this vodka. It's on shelves now, but it's so brand-new that they're doing a release at Hen of the Wood on February 16. It's a little different in that it's got a hint of sweetness to it, this almost-banana note. It's really great to mix with. I'm changing my cocktail menu this week, so this drink will go [up] on Thursday [January 26]."