Pandemic Pick: Whose To-Go Cocktails or Mocktails Raised Your Spirits? | Food + Drink Features | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Pandemic Pick: Whose To-Go Cocktails or Mocktails Raised Your Spirits?

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A Barr Hill Eastbound & Down cocktail to-go - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • A Barr Hill Eastbound & Down cocktail to-go

Caledonia Spirits

Montpelier •

During the first few months of the pandemic, the 500-gallon copper still at Caledonia Spirits distilled something very different than its acclaimed Barr Hill liquors: hand sanitizer. "It was 80 percent alcohol, 100 percent Vermont and zero percent potable," said Harrison Kahn, vice president of marketing.

Caledonia Spirits collaborated with several other Vermont companies to make and deliver 30,000 gallons of hand sanitizer distilled from keg beer surplus caused by abrupt bar and restaurant closures. Some sanitizer was donated, but it was also sold at cost to first responders, hospitals and the public. Its production kept Vermonters employed while providing a safety supply worth its weight in gold at the time.

Then Caledonia Spirits turned back to the potable stuff. Seven Days readers appreciated the company's provision of both. "You could pull up in front of their facility, get hand sanitizer, some spirits for home, and some awesome and creative drinks to-go," one wrote.

Kahn said the company's cocktail experts were initially uncertain about how to ensure the quality of takeout. But they nailed it with mixed-to-order, homegrown drinks such as the Rhubie Can't Fail (a nod to a Clash song), made with local rhubarb syrup, and perfectly executed classics, such as a barrel-aged negroni.

"The variety and beauty of their cocktails continues to delight everyone I introduce these to," praised another reader. Many also appreciated the reusable glass bottles, spiced nuts and community spirit that came with their drinks.

"Not only did this incredible group of people continue to shake great cocktails, they raised money for nonprofits through their 'no-tips' program," a reader highlighted. Over the course of the pandemic, Kahn said, customers have donated more than $55,000 via optional "gratuities" earmarked for a different nonprofit every month.

Caledonia Spirits even offered free virtual classes, which one fan called "a blast." Cocktails 101 included demos of two classics: a Bee's Knees and an old-fashioned. A reader summed it all up with a quip: "They're just the bee's knees."

The 126: Formerly called Deli 126, the speakeasy-style lounge known for classic cocktails made drinking at home easier than ever with vacuum-sealed beverages, complete with garnish. All you had to do was open the grown-up juice box and pour it over ice, or punch in a straw. (Burlington •

Burger Bar: Who didn't need a big drink over the past 15 months? The Painkillers, margaritas and Scorpion Bowls here were ready to take home in 32-ounce jars. (Colchester •

El Cortijo Taqueria: Takeout margaritas — for one or two, plus a little extra — included the Cortijo Classic and fruit-filled options such as blood orange, passion fruit and coconut, ideal for pairing with chips and salsa. The Caliente Marg was a spicy reprieve from the mundanity of early quarantine. (Burlington, Winooski •

The Great Northern: "When you have a true legend like Jeff Baumann mixing up bevvies, you can't go wrong," said one reader. And it's even more fun when the Fernet Sours, Mom's Manhattans and Banana Hammocks are served in cute, recyclable glass flasks. (Burlington •

Editor note: To choose Vermont's Pandemic All-Stars, we surveyed our readers on the people, places and programs that kept them going — and going — during the COVID-19 pandemic. Space limitations prevented us from recognizing every pick worthy of public praise."