Drinking Local in Burlington
Distillery scene in The Queen City takes off
Local brewers and distillers continue to sprout up in cities big and small across the nation, giving residents and visitors higher-quality drinking options closer to home. In Burlington, Vt., you can find a variety of producers crafting everything from aged rums and small-batch bourbons to oak-aged beers and ciders pressed using local Vermont apples.
While macro-brewers and mega-brands dominated the beverage scene for years, today many smaller startup craft producers are making major waves among local and national spirit competitions. It's further opening a space for nearly anyone with the passion and skill to launch their own product lines, and the options in Burlington continue to flourish. The city claims a variety of producers for your drinking pleasure. Here are a few examples.
After growing increasingly frustrated with their jobs as a wine salesman, chemist and farmer, respectively, friends Justin Heilenbach, Bryan Holmes and Kris Nelson hatched a plan in 2010 to press and ferment cider using local Vermont apples. They leased a production space and teamed with Happy Valley Orchard to press the first large batch of juice to become their initial barreling, which sold out quickly. The partners eventually opened a nearly 20,000-square-foot production facility and tasting room, which also offers a daily food menu. Guests may pair different burgers, composed plates and other items with Citizen's range of ciders, from semi dry to dry hopped to ginger infused. In addition, the tasting room features 10 cider cocktails, often riffs on classics, like the $10 Cold Fashioned (bourbon, bitters, a splash of ice cider and Unified Press cider) and the $9 Whiskey & Cider, which mixes either bourbon or rye with any tap cider.
Founders Todd Haire and Bill Mares, who also wrote Making Beer: From Homebrew to the House of Fermentology, produce a range of wild ales that ferment and age in oak barrels with HoF's own mixed culture of saccharomyces and brettanomyces yeasts with lactic acid bacteria. The result is lean, dry beers offering a refreshing, tart taste. The 100 percent bottle-conditioned beers are alive and unfiltered, offering a unique tasting experience for the beers simply named for colored dots. For example, the Pink Dot is a golden wild ale aged in oak barrels with raspberries, ginger and lemon zest, while the Orange Dot comprises mature American wild ale re-fermented on honey and roasted Cara Cara oranges. HoF uses mostly local ingredients like Montmorency tart cherries, Vermont wildflower honey and elderflower to impart truly unique flavors to the beers, which range between 5 percent ABV to 6.7 percent ABV.
In a town with plenty of breweries, it's nice to see Mad River Distillers forge its own path with a range of spirits. The actual distillery, which started operations in 2011, is set on a 150-year-old farm in the Mad River Valley of Vermont's majestic Green Mountains. Here, the team distills all the spirits by hand with locally sourced, non-GMO grains that ferment with pure mountain spring water. Mad River's first product, First Run Rum, debuted in 2013. Today, you can visit the Burlington tasting room, which is open seven days a week, to find a variety of rotating award-winning spirits, including Malvados apple brandy, bourbon and PX Rum, which gets aged in toasted and charred oak barrels before finishing in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks.