The Barr Hill Gin Gimlet at American Flatbread, Middlebury Hearth
I live exactly 0.3 miles from American Flatbread in Middlebury. It's a five-minute stroll past Frog Hollow Alley to the creaky bridge over Otter Creek, a pathway lit by gas lamps after dark. I often find myself retreating to Flatbread's shaded back patio to share a bottle of cider, or bellied up to the wraparound wooden bar for a couple of drafts and a "Pepperoni and Peppers" to split.
I usually go to the beer list, but Middlebury Hearth's recently released summer cocktail menu has swayed my habits. Created specifically for the location by Steve Boyce, a former bartender and current Flatbread co-owner, the list of carefully crafted drinks extends the restaurant's ethos for local, sustainable, and made-in-house fare.
The LXXV cocktail at American Flatbread, Middlebury Hearth
"We make our juices and simple syrups every night before service," says bartender Skylar Atkins as he builds a Bourbon Amarena Smash ($9). That's Bulleit bourbon, wild Amarena cherries, fresh mint, squeezed lime juice, Amarena syrup and Angostura Aromatic Bitters, capped with Maine Root Ginger Beer. He places the drink next to a group of five patrons. They gush over the mason jar layered with garnet and gold, and order three more "smashes."
The bar is busy at 5 p.m. on a Friday, but Atkins and fellow bartender Kim Franklin are chill. The party of five becomes 11. A group of Middlebury College teachers chats over pints. A couple sidles into the seats next to mine, eager for a taste of the special soup: a verdant scallion and cucumber gazpacho with pickled local shiitakes.
I order the LXXV ($9), a take on the classic French 75. Atkins strains the rose-colored cocktail into a champagne flute; instantly, it calms the heat of an 85-degree July day. Fresh-squeezed lemon juice and housemade simple syrup get a mellow bite from Campari and Lee Brothers Grapefruit Bitters. Plymouth gin and Le Colture Fagher Prosecco lend a dry, effervescent finish. It's bright and bitter, and the lighter hand on the Campari is much appreciated on a thick summer evening.
"We like to do everything locally that we can with booze," Atkins notes. There are quite a few Vermont cameos behind the bar, including Stonecutter Spirits, Caledonia Spirits, Green Mountain Distillers and Smugglers' Notch Distillery.
I love a good gin gimlet, and this hot day has me craving standbys such as gin and lime. Atkins is happy to help: For my second drink, he builds the Barr Hill Gin Gimlet ($10) — fresh, sour and ice-cold in a coup glass. Every sip is perfectly balanced, with a zip of citrus and that dry-yet-floral quality I like in Bar Hill gin. It is the best gin gimlet I've had in a long time.
Good thing I live right around the corner. Or is it?