By Garland Mason
There’s no better time than summer to relax in the backyard with a cold glass of beer, cider, wine or spirits and I can think of few better places to take advantage of the local fare than here in Vermont.
Vermont’s beverage industry is taking off. The state has long had a reputation for its craft brewing industry with Harpoon, Long Trail Brewery and Magic Hat leading the way in the late 90’s. Now, Vermont leads the nation in number of breweries per capita with more than twenty local purveyors. And this year, Vermont’s own Hill Farmstead Brewery was named the 2013 Best Brewery in the World by RateBeer, the world’s largest, most popular beer review and rating website.
Some of Vermont’s breweries have direct links to the agricultural community. Many source their hops, wheat, oats and barely from local farms. Breweries support the agricultural industry in other ways too. Rock Art Brewery created a beer called Barn Raising Brown in 2011 after a fire destroyed the main barn at Pete’s Greens in Craftsbury. Closer to home, Long Trail Brewery lent a helping hand to a pair of Cuttingsville farmers by creating a beer called Evening Song Ale in the fall of 2011. The beer was available on tap at Roots Restaurant in Rutland and helped Evening Song recover after Hurricane Irene destroyed their farm. Roots and Long Trail donated fifty cents of each pint sold to help with rebuilding efforts.
In another clear expression of the close relationship between breweries and Vermont farmers, a Wolaver’s Certified Organic Beer is aptly named Ben Gleason’s White Ale. The beer is named after Ben Gleason, the Bridport farmer that grows the wheat, oats and barley used to make the brew. Gleason was profiled in Elizabeth Theriault’s March 6th Harvest Watch and you can visit RAFFL’s Harvest Watch archive blog at rutlandharvestwatch.wordpress.com to learn more about him.
Cider mills cranking out Vermont’s famous ciders often have even more direct farming roots. Champlain Orchards in Shoreham began making cider in 2010 and now has a line of seven ciders made right on the farm. Apples are an iconic Vermont crop, and though it has recently gained mainstream popularity, cider is a Vermont tradition form the pre-prohibition days. It makes sense that Vermont would now be leading the way of the United States’ burgeoning cider industry. Vermont now boasts at least 13 hard cider makers, with seven growing at least some of their own fruit and many sourcing directly from Vermont farms.
When I first came to live in this state in 2007, the Vermont wine industry had barely taken off and I remember hearing local farmers debate whether wine grape varieties could even survive our harsh winters. But Snow Farm Vineyard had already been growing grapes in South Hero for at least ten years, where the length of the growing season happens to be identical to Burgundy, France.
Now, Vermont’s wine industry is clearly booming; you can find at least three wine vendors at the Rutland Farmers’ Market on any given Saturday. One of the premier nurseries for cold-hardy wine and table grape vine stock, Northeast Vine Supply in West Pawlet, even calls Rutland County home. And there are two wineries in our part of the state as well. Whaleback Vineyard is located on Route 30 in Poultney and Otter Valley Winery is located on Route 7 in Brandon. Both of these winemakers offer tastings – just consult their websites for hours.
Perhaps the most intriguing of Vermont’s beverage trends is the creativity of the new distilleries. In Vermont you can now find vodkas made from milk sugar, maple sap, gin from raw honey, apple crème liqueur made with Vermont cider, and maple cream liqueur, just to name a few. These unique beverages are a great way to impress friends visiting from out of state and make truly memorable gifts.
One of the best ways to familiarize yourself to the best of Vermont beverages is to attend one of the many summer festivals. The Vermont Brewers Festival will be held July 19th and 20th this year and will include 42 craft breweries. Unfortunately, attendance to this festival must be planned well in advance, as tickets to the 2013 event are already sold out. The Vermont Cheesemakers Festival held each July in Shelburne, also features a large number of artisan beverage makers.
A brewery, cidery, or winery tour can also make for a great summertime activity. The Good Bus, which operates out of the Okemo Valley, offers day-long winery and brewery tours. The Vermont Brewery Tours, operating out of the Fullerton Inn in Chester, offers three day beer tours for the more adventurous.
In Rutland County you can find a great variety of Vermont beers, wines, ciders and spirits in almost any grocery or liquor store. Making the jump from big national brands to regional brews helps supports the local economy by keeping our dollars right here in our state. Believe it or not, Vermont’s beverage industry works in synergy with Vermont’s farmers by sourcing everything from grains and fruits to milk and maple from our farms.
Garland Mason works for the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, heading up the New Farmer Initiative and Farm to School and Institution activities. She lives and farms in West Tinmouth.
Originally published in the Rutland Herald.