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Side Dishes: Whiskey to flow from Middlebury distillery

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First came vodka, then gin — now a wave of whiskeys is poised to debut from a few local distilleries. The owners of one soon-to-open distillery, however, will focus exclusively on the brown stuff: Middlebury’s Appalachian Gap Distillery.

Corn and malted-barley whiskeys are in the works from partners Lars Hubbard and Charles (Chuck) Burkins, who recently purchased a 6000-square-foot building on Mainelli Road and aim to be distilling by the middle of next year.

The venture blends their business and personal interests, says Hubbard. During their daytime hours, he and Burkins run Vergennes’ The Friday Group LLC, a broad-based consultancy. In their spare time, they’ve brewed beer together for the last 15 years — a hobby that eventually led them to upstate New York for a craft distilling class, and to ideas about making their own whiskey.

“I used to be a chef and own a restaurant for a few years, and I think there’s a certain satisfaction from making something with your own hands,” says Hubbard. “I looked at the numbers, and they worked.”

As Hubbard scouts around for a still designer and builder, he envisions a line of multiple whiskeys, from a moonshine-esque, unaged corn whiskey to a barrel-aged whiskey and an “all-hearts” maple moonshine. Each will be distilled from local “cow corn” and barley, Hubbard says, and possibly “power-aged” — perhaps using wood chips.

Hubbard has amassed an impressive liquor library in his quest to nail down flavor profiles; those of Stranahans Colorado Whiskey and the Hudson Valley’s Tuthilltown Spirits Whiskey might serve as models, he says.

Hubbard and his five-person Friday Group crew will move their headquarters to the new digs, and he plans to take on some of the distilling himself.

“It’s more forgiving than brewing beer,” he says. “One of the things about distilling is, it’s not quick. It can take hours. There’s a lot of hurrying up and waiting.”

Renovations on the building are underway, and will include creating a retail shop and tasting room, as well as a cheese cellar, where Vergennes’ Champlain Valley Creamery will move its cheese-making and aging operations.

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