In Vermont, the bees make the gin. Ten years ago, in the state’s rugged Northeast Kingdom, a beekeeper and a distiller collaborated on a gin made from raw honey as an experiment. The result brought high honors at spirits competitions in New York and Hong Kong — not a bad showing from a distiller with a single copper still, made back then in Greensboro, a town with less than 800 people in it.
Today, Caledonia Spirits is one of the producers at the forefront of the Green Mountain State’s culinary creativity. It’s a force that gives us everything from gin and whiskey to chocolate, cider, farm-to-table food trucks, and yes, maple syrup. Area producers honor the character of the land where they operate, using hyper-local ingredients from the state’s many farms, aging ingredients in oak barrels, and putting twists on the traditional. Ever try a gin that’s more like whiskey? That’s Caledonia’s smoky, caramel-colored Tom Cat Gin. How about a cider aged in tequila barrels, with salt and lime? Stowe Cider has you covered for that one.
“Artisan” might be a trite descriptor these days, overused for everything from fast food offerings to airport sandwiches — but it’s the combination of craftsmanship and locally sourced flavor that makes Vermont a foodie’s paradise. It’s your turn to discover Vermont as a place that’s more than the sum of its postcards: come for the leaves, stay for your bellies. While Vermont is ready to welcome you, just be sure to review the latest COVID-19 travel restrictions to the state, which do require quarantine.
In Stowe: Stowe Cider
No surprise that nearly every product from Stowe Cider is ski-themed: from the hoppy Safety Meeting to the seasonal Tuned-Up, which has a label depicting the iconic red gondolas of Stowe Mountain Resort. The cidery at the base of Mount Mansfield sticks to less-sugary dry ciders, while experimenting with ingredients like blackcurrants, rosé wine, milk sugar and vanilla, gooseberry (in a semi-dry seasonal called, of course, “Hey Goose, You Big Stud”), or gin — in a collaboration with Caledonia’s Barr Hill. A new line of craft hard seltzers taps into the drink au courant, perfect for the après-ski set.
In Brattleboro: Tavernier Chocolates
On the edge of the Vermont/New Hampshire border, the 110-year old Brattleboro Cotton Mill hosts more than 60 studios, artisans, and small businesses — including this family-owned chocolate-maker that’s willing to experiment with the unusual. Twenty years ago, the Singer family drove from San Francisco, made it to the opposite side of the country, and fell in love with the Connecticut River Valley. Dar Tavernier-Singer began experimenting with anything local: chocolate and berries; chocolate and wild-foraged spruce and juniper; chocolate and gilfeather turnip, a lumpen root vegetable that happens to be Vermont’s state vegetable. Tavernier’s line of chocolate “charcuterie,” meant to be served alongside meats and cheeses and craft beers, mixes Vermont dairy, specialty baking flour, and unusual add-ons like black garlic, chèvre, French lavender blossoms, or marsala-marinated figs. Just because it’s named “Chocolate Salami” doesn’t mean it has salami, but it pairs nicely with it.
In Bristol: Farmhouse Chocolates
Growing up on a dairy farm, Erlé LaBounty made his first chocolate creation at the age of 16 — a very rustically Vermont childhood. “At home, he made clandestine trips to the refrigerator to nibble on whole sticks of butter,” says his bio at Farmhouse Chocolate, “his whip-thin frame corroborating his supposed innocence when confronted.” Then he met Eliza La Rocca, who hailed from Florence, Italy, and two proud food traditions met like a ’90s rom-com. Farmhouse specializes in hand-rolled truffles, but also crafts burnt-butter salted caramels and six varieties of dark chocolate bars, all ranging from 70 to 85 percent cacao.
In Huntington: Purinton Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is to Vermont what brisket is to Texas, or a wiz wit is to Philly: there’s no point in getting it anywhere else. In the quaint little town of Huntington — underneath Vermont’s most distinctive peak, and home to a museum dedicated entirely to birds — Peter Purinton and family have been tapping the maple trees for half a century, and they do so mostly while wearing buffalo plaid. The maple sugaring operation now covers 17,000 trees across 350 acres, and it’s expanded well beyond syrup, selling maple cream cookies, BBQ sauce, maple-leaf shaped candy, and herbal tea made from maple sap.
In Underhill: Moose Mountain Maple Syrup
Across from Huntington, on the other side of Interstate 89, is Mount Mansfield — the state’s tallest mountain, which the Abenaki called as Mozodepowadso — Moosehead Mountain. It’s on the mountain’s western side where the Butler family, seven generations strong, produces maple syrup aged in bourbon and rum barrels, infusing the stuff with deep, oaky flavors. “Think outside the pancake!” says this sugaring operation, which offers a cornucopia of recipes for maple zucchini bread, maple beef stew, maple Manhattans and maple banana smoothies, even a maple Pad Thai.
In Waitsfield: Mad River Distillers
“Ski it if you can,” say the distinct red and white bumper stickers for Mad River Glen, one of the nation’s most historic and challenging ski resorts. The entire namesake Valley is achingly picturesque, nestled between verdant, forested hills, ancient barns, and the sort of single-chair lifts where they don’t allow snowboarders. And in the town of Warren in 2011, Mad River Distillers started making apple brandy from an old farm right off Highway 100. Since then, the distillery has expanded into bourbon, rye, rum, and Old Fashioned cocktails available premixed with all three spirits — as well as tasting rooms in nearby Waitsfield and Burlington, the latter of which is now taking reservations at 50-percent capacity.
In Montpelier: Caledonia Spirits
Just two years ago, Caledonia Spirits moved its beehives from atop the Barr Hill Nature Preserve to a newly expanded distillery and tasting room in Vermont’s capital. It was a welcome move. On weekends, townspeople drive in from all over the state for local barbeque and pizza trucks, dogs run around the turf, and bartenders in denim aprons serve up creative cocktails. (These days, of course, the scene might be different.) And every September, Caledonia goes all in on Bee’s Knees Week: slinging the namesake honey-gin cocktail with a portion of sales going to save the honeybees.
In Burlington: Farmers and Foragers
On any given day, the eclectic menu of this roaming food truck can feature anything from pork belly banh mi to po’boys with fried perch caught from Lake Champlain to fried avocado tacos to duck wontons. Cofounders Lauren Johnson and Solomon Bayer-Pacht, both University of Vermont graduates who met while working at the boutique Hotel Vermont, ply local farms to source their ingredients, which they whip up into an impressively rotating array of dishes, many of which are vegan- and vegetarian-friendly. Since 2014, they’ve garnered a following that has led them to catering weddings, private parties, and the endless schedule of festivals that Vermonters love to attend. While the big bashes are few and far between now, Farmers and Foragers recently opened up a new location on the Burlington Harbor Marina, right on the shores of Lake Champlain.
In Hardwick: Front Seat Coffee
Almost everything that this teensy coffee shop serves from its tiny Northeast Kingdom town comes from a stone’s throw away: Front Seat makes its own pastries and breakfast sandwiches, drawing from farms all along northern Vermont, while Carrier Roasting Company, a notable coffee producer in Northfield, provides the beans. About 3,000 people live in Hardwick, where the Lamoille River bends south on its way toward Lake Champlain. “Just look for the blinking yellow light,” says the Front Seat’s menu — the peaceful town’s only traffic signal.
Stay up-to-date on the latest travel restrictions and learn more about visiting Vermont at vermontvacation.com.