Pandemic preparation didn’t send me down the toilet paper aisle. Sanitizer in hand, I set out on a less traveled trail—in search of gins. They are so widespread in origin nowadays that, in my house, we’re enjoying the ritual of letting each new bottle whisk us to faraway places. These two examples, from opposite coasts, capture the taste and “spirit” of destinations that deserve a place on your post-corona travel bucket list.
My first spot was Montpelier, VT, near the banks of the Winooski River. Down the street from the gold-domed Vermont State House, the local buzz is about Caledonia Spirits’ Barr Hill gin. Todd Hardie was 12 years old when he bought his first beehive. His family probably wasn’t surprised that he’d raise bees and sell honey for decades, but who could have predicted his honey would make its way into a craft gin? Ryan Christiansen was a local brewer turned distiller. Hardie hired Christiansen, and eventually sold him the company, but he didn’t go far. He plowed proceeds from the distillery sale into Thornhill Farm, where he’s growing the grain and fruit that Christiansen now turns into award winning gin.
East Coast Sweetness
Barr Hill packs the tastes and smells of Vermont summers into a bottle and seals the cap in wax. A clear bottle highlights the faint honey tint, but don’t expect sweetness. The honey presence is more like part of a simmered broth, adding complexity and depth. The sum is far greater than the parts. Serve Barr Hill to guests and they’ll strain to identify the notes of honey and then nod knowingly once you reveal the source. Like Vermont itself, this gin is welcoming and easy to love.
Caledonia’s 15-minute guided tours are shuttered for now, but you can still drive down Gin Lane for afternoon drive-through service of bottles of gin, house made tonic, raw honey, and local cheese.
Less than an hour from Burlington and Lake Champlain, Montpelier offers plenty to see, even while socially distancing. Stop at Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s highest peak, to glimpse ice age alpine tundra. The Coburn Covered Bridge over the Winooski River predates the Civil War and is the only local surviving covered bridge from the 19th century. Save some energy for the 54-foot climb to the top of Hubbard Tower for great views of the surrounding farms and hills, home to the flowers and bees that make their way into Barr Hill gin.
West Coast Breezy
Need proof that California tastes different than Vermont? Gray Whale gin, brainchild of Marsh and Jan Mokhtari, invites you to explore the West Coast. He’s a food and adventure show host. She is a creative director and filmmaker. The gin is in its infancy, but it’s more than a cute story. They deliver on a balanced gin, light and fresh, with appealing and unusual aromatics.
Coastal ingredients like their juniper, grown in Big Sur, will make you feel like you’re on the beach. Golden State Distillery adds two ingredients to the potstill that aren’t standard: almonds and sea kelp. California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds. Gray Whale sources theirs from a family farm just west of Sacramento. Kombu seaweed is hand-foraged from the ocean near Mendocino. Baja Lime and other citrus zest, Sonoma fir, and Santa Cruz mint are delivered via vapor basket.
Gray Whale—named in honor of the migrating whales off the California coast—promotes sustainable and organic farming as well as marine conservation and environmental causes through partnerships with Oceana and One Percent for the Planet. Pour this spirit tall, and dream about stops along the Pacific Coast Highway.
Get out your ice, crack open a fresh bottle, and let gins take you on a trip without leaving the safety of home. Just because you can’t leave doesn’t mean you can’t explore.
Thank you, Pete.