Image Coutesy of Nick Keating
An invisible magic clings to Vermont in late winter. Weeks before spring arrives, when snow drifts can still swallow your shins as the days grow milder, maple trees begin to stir by running sap through their veins.
Once the sap starts flowing, usually in late February, clouds of steam billow from sugar houses that dot the hills. It’s a peaceful, picturesque time to see Vermont’s working landscape in action, but sugar on snow isn’t the only treat worth seeking.
For the last decade or so, Vermont has forged a parallel identity as a Shangri-La for singular beverages: Beer, certainly, but also Champagne-like ciders; spirits distilled from rye, maple and honey; dry-hopped meads; and wines made by intrepid savants carving out an improbable appellation with hybrid grapes sturdy enough for cold climates (Marquette, La Crescent and Frontenac Noir among them) and which express Vermont’s terroir in beguiling ways.
While some tasting rooms are closed for the season, there are still places across the state where you can sample the liquid landscape as you bounce from one syrup-slathered cone to another. Sometimes, the maple is actually in your drink.
Here, we break down our drinker’s guide to Vermont to enjoy the flavors of the season.
In the southwestern corner of the state, where Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain boys once drank and defended their ground, the stars of their flag still adorn the bottles of Village Garage Distillery, which occupies an airy, stylishly renovated former town garage in Bennington. The spirits here—vodka, bourbon and rye—are made from Vermont-grown grain, and future releases run from a copper Vendome still while the bar out front blends featherlight sours and other drinks.
Vermont Bonfire, a whiskey finished with a touch of smoked maple syrup, is a flagship. “Smoked maple whiskeys are becoming a category,” says co-owner Matt Cushman, who founded Village Garage Distillery with fellow Bennington native, Glen Sauer. “Ours is not too sweet.”