Area beverage makers blaze a new tasting trail

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County’s shire town has long been home to the Trail Around Middlebury, a popular hiking amenity.
Middlebury is now home to another trail — though it’s just for adults who are keen on exercising their palates, rather than their legs.
It’s called the “Middlebury Tasting Trail,” organized by a group of five Middlebury-area producers of beer, hard cider, wine and spirits. The five companies are banding together in hopes that the new trail will encourage more people to discover their products and make a day — or weekend — out of sampling what they have to offer.
The new trail is the brainchild of Sara Granstrom, tasting room manager for the Lincoln Peak Vineyard.
“I was lying in bed, waiting for sleep to come; and sometimes that’s when the best ideas flow in,” Granstrom said about how the idea of the tasting trail germinated.
She explained that Lincoln Peak has operated its own tasting room at its vineyard off River Road in New Haven since 2008. Some of their visitors have wanted to get a sample of other local beverages while in Addison County.
“Customers come in and say, ‘Hey, what else is there to do around here?’” Granstrom said.
Granstrom had been referring them to other businesses with tasting rooms, such as Middlebury’s Otter Creek Brewing on Exchange Street and Drop-In Brewing on Route 7 South. She realized late last year that two other Middlebury businesses were preparing to open tasting rooms: The Appalachian Gap Distillery at 88 Mainelli Road and Vermont Hard Cider at its new cidery at 1321 Exchange St.
All of a sudden, there appeared to be a critical mass to establish a “tasting trail” for wine, beer, cider and spirits enthusiasts.
“I approached them all last November and December and everyone said, ‘It’s a great idea; let’s do it,’” Granstrom said.
With everyone on the same page, it didn’t take a lot of resources to put the new trail on the map. They established a website (middtastingtrail.com) and developed some rack cards to display at their respective businesses and other locations, like the Addison County Chamber of Commerce office. They officially launched the Middlebury Tasting Trail on Aug. 1.
There are no solid numbers yet on how many visitors the trail has attracted, but participating business’ anecdotal evidence has been encouraging. Some people visit with a rack card, or reveal what stage of the trail they are on.
“When I have been able to hand them the card, their eyes light up and they said, ‘Oh, that’s neat; we want to do this,’” Granstrom said. “When I go to the farmers’ market in Waitsfield, I have been handing out the card there on the other side of the mountain, and people often say, ‘I’m going to come over to Middlebury next weekend.’”
Chuck Burkins is a partner in the Appalachian Gap Distillery. He has noticed an upswing in visits to the company’s visitors’ center since the founding of the tasting trail. He said some people are surprised to find out the extent to which Middlebury has become a hub for alcoholic beverages.
“We get a few each week who are either holding a tasting trail rack card or who are saying they are on the trail,” Burkins said.
He said being part of the trail seemed like a natural thing to do.
“It’s good to be part of a community of like-minded businesses,” Burkins said. “It has generally been a great thing for all of us.”
As a new business, Appalachian Gap has placed a premium on getting its product in front of customers. The company in May unveiled its brand of coffee whiskey, Kaffekask, and a coffee liqueur, Kaffevan. Appalachian Gap should have a rum in liquor stores within the next week or so, according to Burkins.
Knowing the cluster of sampling opportunities in Middlebury is prompting some people to book weekend visits.
“I think the idea has a lot of traction with visitors, for people looking for something to do and who might not make the trek for one or two of us, but are more likely to make the trek for five of us,” Granstrom said.
And the tasting trail map shows downtown Middlebury. Organizers hope this will encourage people to also see what else the community has to offer.
“We don’t expect people to necessarily taste through all five (businesses) in one day,” Granstrom said. “In fact, it would probably be wise to get a hotel room and spread it out and stop by and get a sandwich in town.”
There are no plans at this point to expand the trail to include other products, though new beverage companies that pop up in Middlebury in the future will be able to take their place on the route. For example, Stonecutter Spirits — which will manufacture gin — is setting up shop off Middlebury’s Exchange Street right now.
“I think we are going to keep it to alcoholic beverages right now,” Granstrom said. “One of the strengths of the trail is the proximity we have to Middlebury and each other, but also that it’s a pretty narrow focus. I think that if we started adding on other tasting opportunities of other businesses in the area, we would very soon be recreating the Addison County Chamber of Commerce guide, or any of the other tourist maps that are produced.”
Organizers believe the trail will also have the ability to attract more alcoholic beverage producers to the area.
“It would also be neat if someday there were some folks considering starting an alcoholic beverage business and they looked at Middlebury and said, ‘Well, there’s a concentration of (such businesses) already there, let’s go there,’” Granstrom said.
Local officials praised the organizers of the tasting trail and its promise for bringing additional tourism to Middlebury.
“The Middlebury Tasting Trail is a wonderful collaboration that exemplifies the community spirit of our local businesses,” said Karen Duguay, marketing coordinator for the Better Middlebury Partnership. “The Tasting Trail is a fantastic addition to Middlebury as it will provide yet another draw for people to experience all that Middlebury has to offer.”
Sue Hoxie is marketing and communications director for the Addison County Chamber of Commerce. She noted that tasting trails are gaining momentum throughout the region. As an example, she cited the Lake Champlain Coast Wine Trail, which has, among its participants, Lincoln Peak Vineyard, Vermont Hard Cider, Champlain Orchards in Shoreham, and Neshobe River Winery and Otter Creek Winery, both in Brandon.
“From a chamber perspective, I think it’s an awesome contribution to the tourism industry here,” she said of the tasting trail.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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