A Boozy Guide to Vermont

“The gods of the valley are not the gods of the hills, and you shall understand it.”

– Ethan Allen

While considering possible locations for a short summer vacation, it dawned on me that it had been eight years since I had last set foot in the forested paradise of Vermont. Summer is certainly a great time to tour the Green Mountain state; Vermont is simply too beautiful to see when it’s covered in snow, and should be viewed when nature is at it lushest.

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Venturing out to the impossibly picturesque landscapes, I was struck at the number of breweries and distilleries that dotted landscape! My eyes did not deceive me, check this stat out:

“In 2011, 2012, and 2014, the Brewers Association ranked Vermont as the state with the greatest number of breweries per capita. Using the 2010 US Census population estimate of 625,741 and 26 breweries, there is one brewery for every 24,067 people.”

“…sales of Vermont-made liquor in state liquor stores have gone from $533,488 in 2010 to $3.3 million in 2015. Sales at farmers markets and other retail venues have gone from $110,045 in 2010 to $1.7 million in 2015.”

For real.

So with that resume, I felt compelled to give the state the once-over, @hellococktails style. I focused a good portion of my efforts on Burlington, the impossibly quaint central hub. The smallest biggest city in the US, Burlington is chock full of coffee houses, natural splendor, and countercultural haunts that encourage you to chill out and enjoy life.

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I started my boozy tour at the no-frills Gryphon bar in downtown Burlington. Set in the historic Vermont House which hosted US presidents and other luminaries, the Gryphon is simple and well-furnished, a relaxed spot to enjoy lunch or a happy hour cocktail. I like to challenge restaurants by ordering their daiquiri – Gryphon rose to it with their “Classic Daiquiri” with rum, grapefruit, lime, and sugar. This was fresh and sugar/citrus strong, with a little too much ice on top. The grapefruit lace was a little stringent to my taste, but ok. Next up was the “Garden Gnome G&T” with gin, cucumber, lemon, lime, orange, seasonal berries, and tonic. This colorful concoction was very good, with subtle herbal notes that spice up the gin. Nice way to end a working day.

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If you like cocktails and classic arcade games (and who the heck doesn’t?) your mecca is definitely The Archives bar, a vibrant ode to electronica with a big bar and dozens of old school arcade games. In between white-knuckle games of X-Men and Centipede, I found some time for cocktails, including the delicious “Natural” with Barr Hill gin, honey, lemon, and arugula! This was wonderful, with the bourbon measured right, synched with the soft earthiness of the honey. Soothing enough to treat a cold, this was a nice one to sip as I played some pinball (poorly).

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One of the highlights of my cocktail tour was the Hen of the Wood, a hardy New England cuisine establishment with a gorgeous and bustling bar that relaxes all the senses save for taste and smell. The Hen’s cocktail list is celebrated and was recommended by several folks in the know (thanks @kemorton!). I took a seat and ordered the “Gypsy Eyes” with gin, coconut water, and lime. This was superb, with a very refreshing and smooth hit up front and a clean AF simmer and lilt the rest of the way through. Next up was the “Golden Gun” with silver and anejo rums, apricot liqueur, and citrus. A tight little sipper, this is smooth and even, stable with a current of sugar that moves from boozy to citrus. Nice way to conclude an evening at the Hen.

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Next door was the Juniper, an eye-catching and classy cocktail bar and restaurant within the ultra-mod Hotel Vermont. I began with the “Sin Embargo” with Mad River vanilla rum, lime, and brown sugar. This…was not good. The vanilla rum just overwhelms everything and the drink is a too-sweet mess. As luck would have it, the Juniper’s nice little outdoor bar was throwing a tiki celebration in cooperation with Stonecutter Spirits out of Middlebury. I asked for a “Goblin King” with gin, fresh mint, pineapple, apricot liqueur, and lime. This was tropical and easy with a beautiful look, a good break for one of those Burlington summer scorchers (it was 72 degrees).

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I found my favorite cocktails in Burlington at The Monarch and the Milkweed, a petite airy white boutique restaurant with a small bar. The first drink I grabbed was the “Milkweed Punch” with Jamaican rum, cognac, lemon, whey, and fun spices. With an arresting presentation, this drink was intriguing, with a sweet and herb-ish lift that moves into the thicker whey. This little bit of cocktail artistry was fun. Next up was one of the better coffee cocktails I’ve ever had, the “Blackstrap on Coffee” with Blackstrap rum, cream, simple, and espresso. This was delightful with just a simmer of rum that lights off the cool cream and sugar. So good, ugh, I want it right now. Even better, that espresso mule kick positions you perfectly for an evening out.

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If whiskey is more your bag, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better spot than the The Whiskey Room at Ri Ra, which is a marvelous tribute to brown spirits. Ornate and country-hued, it’s a venue for long evenings in deep conversation assisted by some high-priced bourbons. The delightful bartenders really know their stuff and are more than happy to walk you through the battery of options. They also have a cocktail list featured on a handy-dandy Ipad, from which I picked the “Bourbon St. Cider” with Bulleit, Domaine de Canton ginger, and apple cider. Sweet and leavened with rich apple, this was a proper way to end the day after a long meandering walk through town.

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One afternoon I crossed the deliciously-named Winooski River and stopped in at the Waterworks Food and Tavern. Waterworks is perfectly situated over the the energized river, the setting and ironworks design evoking the area’s industrial roots. I ordered a beautiful cocktail, the “Dye House” with gin, fino sherry, fresh lemon, blueberry, and egg white. The Dye House was picked by Gaz Regan as one of the 101 best new cocktails – this drink is excellent, just the right amount of sugar pop that leads right into the resonant blueberry and robust egg white. On top of the taste, the drink looks stunning!

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I’ve given you plenty of options for lunch or dinner, but what if you’re strolling down Burlington’s famous Church Street on a Sunday and craving brunch? You can find satisfaction at American Flatbread, a local institution filled to the brim with local brews and decadent carbs. To accompany my Farms Scrabble flatbread, I tried out the “Settlers Coffee” with coffee, maple liqueur, and Jameson, as well as the “Cider Fizz” with prosecco, Bulleit bourbon, and local apple cider. The drinks evoked different aspects of Vermont – rustic simplicity, rich sugary ingredients taken from the trees, and formidable doses of mild-altering substances. The coffee takes you up and the bourbon takes you down and you’re all the better for it.

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Of course, there’s more to Vermont than the happy city by the lake! Driving out to the bucolic countryside, it’s hard not to run into the rustic outposts of Vermont’s alcohol industry. One of the more scenic and historical can be found in the luxurious city of Stowe, at Harrison’s Restaurant. Harrison’s is old romantic Vermont with a welcoming basement space lit low by a fireplace and candles. Here I tried the “Main Street Mule” with Smugglers Notch bourbon, orange bitters, gingerbeer, and mint. This was just off with overwhelming bourbon, but it didn’t dull my enjoyment of Harrison’s. If you step out of Stowe, be sure to visit von Trapp Brewery. As a Sound of Music fan, I was duty-bound to head up the mountain and quaff a few German beers here while humming Do Re Mi. A streamlined timber bar and plentiful outdoor seating provide plenty of vantage points to take in the mountainous splendor.

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While touring the rolling green hills and lush forests of the Green Mountain state, do yourself a favor and stop into the town of Middlebury. Home to a hopelessly beautiful college, the town has a wonderful old Yankee vibe with a scenic town square bracketed by lovely shops. If you’re around for happy hour, I’d recommend stopping into Two Brother Tavern, a stately neighborhood spot with solid happy hour deals including gin and tonics. They also throw a good amount of flavored tonics your way to mix it up – that is, if the huge beer list doesn’t quench your thirst first.

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Speaking of beautiful small towns, head due north to the Canadian border to the cute border town of St. Albans. In addition to its gorgeous main street and library, St. Albans features Twiggs, an artsy neighborhood spot featuring plenty of local brews and sports on the big screen. In between your antiquing and drinking massive amounts of coffee at the marvelous Catalyst coffee bar, I’d recommend you hop in and drink some Switchback Ale, a local favorite.

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All these watering holes and eateries are nice, but what if I want to drink from the source? Well Vermont certainly has you covered – after passing the Ben and Jerry’s plant on Rt 100, hook a left and visit the the Smuggler’s Notch showroom. This locale, part of the Smuggler’s Notch empire, offers some…ahem…generous portions of their liquors for a ridiculously flat low price. I picked up a bottle of the notch rye which I found resonant and just the right level of sweet. If you need more motivation to visit this spot, there’s a Cabot Farmer’s Store next store with piles and piles of chocolate treats. Up the road a ways you’ll find the bright red Cold Hollow Cider Mill, which offers apple everything. I mean everything. Happily this includes hard ciders, which are enthusiastically offered up to the thirsty traveler. Bring a bottle home and gaze at it fondly, dreaming of apple fields.

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Whew, what a wonderful experience! Seriously folks, if you’re looking for a vacation spot that offers up natural splendor, friendly people, and, most importantly, good booze, get yourself up to the great white north. But maybe wait until next summer 🙂 See you in 2018!

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