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Local brewers, vintners, distillers create luscious libations

REVELERS TOAST WITH a selection of locally made drinks at the 2013 Midd Summer Fest, summer celebration of wine, beer and spirits made in Addison County. Independent file photo/Trent Campbell

ADDISON COUNTY — This part of the world has long been called the Land of Milk and Honey, but there’s a lot more going on with beverages locally than just moo-juice — and many of these drinks are for those who are 21 or older.

In Addison County alone there are dozens of thirst-quenching, mouth-watering, intoxicating, health-promoting and sweetening beverages for the adult consumer. Some call Addison County the “adult beverages capital of the nation” and you can see why with so many local options to choose from.

We first ran a version of this story almost a decade ago. Some things have evolved since then, but you can still find a lot of delicious libations to slake your thirst. Not sure where to start? This “hit list” of Addison County beer, wine, and cider will start you on your way, providing some of the quick facts and compelling reasons to fill your glass with local goods.

HEALTH DRINK

Aqua ViTea Kombucha: An ancient elixir, kombucha is a fermented beverage made from tea, sugar and water and contains a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. During fermentation, contents convert into nutritious, vitamin-rich organic acids and probiotics, which provide health benefits that attract people to this functional yet refreshing drink. Aqua ViTea is based in Middlebury and was started in Salisbury in 2005 by Jeff Weaber and Katina Martin, a husband-and-wife team committed to sharing healthy habits and local ideals with the community.

Already the largest kombucha brand on the East Coast, the company aimed to raise its profile nationally late last year when it expanded its group of executives to substantially grow its business. Try some know before everyone knows about this delicious beverage.

CIDER: HARD, ICED & OTHERWISE

Champlain Orchards: Located in the southwestern Addison County town of Shoreham, Champlain Orchards is a family-owned orchard and organic farm that takes deep pride in producing a wide variety of ecologically grown produce. The classic apple cider and cranberry-apple cider (with cranberries from the Vermont Cranberry Company) are pressed in-house with a restored 100-year-old rack and cloth cider press. On the fermented menu are four varieties of hard cider that made from several apple varieties and available year round. Plus there are three seasonal varies, four kinds in an Estate Series, and ice cider in the winter.

Citizen Cider: While the cidery is located north of Addison County in the town of Essex, 100 percent of the apples used to make this fine sparkling cider are sourced from Happy Valley Orchards in Middlebury, so we’ll keep this tasty drink on our “hit list.” Citizen Cider was founded in 2011 by three young and enthusiastic local foods aficionados who recognized an opportunity to celebrate the incredible resource of some of the finest apples grown in the country. As a refreshing alternative to beer or wine, drinking sparkling cider can help keep your drinking local.

Woodchuck Hard Cider: With more than three decades of experience in the business of producing hard cider, Woodchuck has had time to refine their process and recipes. They now produce over a dozen varieties of cider, many flavored with different varieties of fruit — including a new cider flavored with blueberry created this year to honor Woodchuck’s 30th anniversary.

This spring a group of beverage industry executives purchased Woodchuck from the multi-national C&C Group. This summer they announced they are expanding the capacity of the bottling line by 600%! The bottling facility on Exchange Street in Middlebury is a wonder to visit.

Windfall Orchards: For those unfamiliar with ice cider, it is made from apples processed through cold fermentation. Traditionally, apples are left on the trees (often to freeze) through much of the winter. Apples are picked below freezing temperatures, pressed and left to cold-ferment for several months. Windfall Orchards’ rich and indulgent ice cider is made exclusively from apples picked on their small farm in Cornwall. Of the 80 heirloom apple varieties on their three-acre farm, more than 30 find their way into this ice cider. This apple-based iced cider (like a wine) was the winner of the highest distinction at the 2012 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition and was “Best in Show” at the 2013 Greater Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.

Shacksbury Cider: One of the newer drinks companies in the area was started in the old Shacksbury section of Shoreham but moved into bigger digs in Vergennes as the company grew rapidly over the past few years. The company started with ciders made from ancient varieties of apples that they foraged from abandoned orchards. Shacksbury Cider still sells those ciders in their Lost Apple Project cider line, but they also make newer varieties with inspired names like “Lover Boi” and “Momofuku Edition Yuzu Lo-Ball.” Check them out at the Vergennes tasting room.

Golden Rule Mead: The newest drinks maker on this list opened last year on Elm Street in Middlebury. Golden Rule Mead uses 100% Vermont-origin raw honey to brew a drink that is sometimes called “honey wine.” Owner Alex Apfel brewed beer at Otter Creek Brewing before striking off on his own to make mead.

WINE

Lincoln Peak Vineyard: The Granstrom family began converting their family farm to a vineyard in 2001, after almost 25 years of growing pick-your-own strawberries. The transition was inspired by the introduction of cold-hardy grapes developed by engineers at the University of Minnesota and tested in the northern climates of Quebec, Minnesota and Ontario. Lincoln Peak Vineyard, located just north of Middlebury in New Haven, produces nine varieties of wines, from reds, whites and rosés to ice wine and black currant wine. All of the wines are made with 100 percent Vermont grapes, keeping true to the local spirit of the company.

Neshobe River Winery: Located at the scenic Inn at Neshobe River in Brandon, Neshobe River Winery produces a variety of wines with grapes collected from Vermont as well as California and the Finger Lakes. With seven unique varieties and an ever-intoxicating landscape to admire, visits to Neshobe River Winery will never get old.

BEER

Otter Creek Brewery: Since 1991 Otter Creek has been brewing award-winning beer in Middlebury, where it has grown into one of the most popular brews across the state of Vermont. With strong roots in community and local sustainability, Otter Creek works with local farmers to source as many local ingredients as possible. Visit Otter Creek Brewery in Middlebury to watch as Otter Creek beers are each handcrafted through a modern and efficient process will provide a glimpse into the complex world of Vermont brew making. 

Drop-In Brewing Co.: With over 30 years of practice in producing craft brews and a lifetime of passion for the subject, Drop-In Brewmaster and co-owner Steve Parkes has helped pave the path for artisan brewers in America. While Drop-In Brewery opened its doors in 2012, Parkes’ brewing career began in 1982 when he graduated from a Scottish university with a degree in brewing science. Since then, he has traveled across Europe and the U.S., working to establish a culture of craft beers at many well-known breweries. Drop-In produces flagship brews that have built a name for themselves on the Vermont beer circuit. The team splits time brewing and teaching their craft to students at the American Brewers Guild Brewing School, which they purchased in 1999 and have been running ever since.

Bobcat Brewing: The Bobcat Café and Brewery is a popular locally owned hotspot for high-quality food and drinks located in the heart of Bristol. With up to a dozen rotating craft brews made on-site, Bobcat Brewing offers a wide variety of true-to-style ales inspired by beer from around the world. As a community supported business, the Bobcat Café and Brewery works to source local ingredients for their food as well as beer.

Foley Brothers Brewing: A small microbrewery located just south of Middlebury in Brandon, the Foley Brothers Brewery is part of the family-run Neshobe River Winery and Brewing Company. Dan and Patrick Foley began brewing in 2012 with a mission to create a beer containing all Vermont ingredients. They source locally grown hops, Vermont maple syrup and ginger wheat for their brews and continue to look for other local growers to support their endeavors. As the first brewery in Rutland County, the Foley family has much to celebrate and explore with their passion and motivation to pursue craft beer along with their established wine-making operation.

Hired Hand Brewing:  A brewpub upstairs paired with a restaurant downstairs, Hired Hand Brewing Co. and Bar Antidote in Vergennes offer some great beers. Chef/brewer Ian Huizenga, along with partner Eliza Benton, leans on beer ingredients sourced from Champlain Valley Hop Farm in Starksboro, Peterson Quality Malt in Charlotte, water from the Huizenga Family Farm in Barnumtown (part of Monkton), and what Huizenga calls “foraged nuggets” from around Addison County. These are hyperlocal beers.

SPIRITS

Appalachian Gap Distillery: A growing company on your distillery tour in Addison County, Appalachian Gap Distillery has established itself in Middlebury’s industrial park as a serious maker of seriously good spirits. In less than a decade it has grown its line of alcoholic drinks to 11 products, including whiskey, bourbon, gin, rum, espresso liqueur and agave spirits. The company sources much of the rye, barley and other raw ingredients from local farms — and it even sources some of its energy from local, renewable methane.

WhistlePig Rye: WhistlePig Rye is 100 percent rye whiskey aged for at least 10 years through a unique double-barrel process. WhistlePig Farm is a certified organic plot in Shoreham hosting cattle, horses, sheep, goats and pigs, as well as rye, barley, oats and alfalfa. The company’s product has become an award-winning whiskey served in the best high-end establishments across the country.

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