The Vermont Cocktail Walk showcases the state’s thriving craft distillery scene by offering tour participants an opportunity to sample a variety of spirits, in cocktails prepared exclusively by bartenders in both Burlington and across the river in Winooski.
Alternating between the two cities every second week, founder Chris Howell takes pride in showcasing what his local region has to offer.
Howell, also founder of Vermont Farm Tours, created Cocktail Walk in 2013 to further enlighten people to the merits of the local lands. Howell states, “A well-crafted cocktail may be the ultimate expression of terroir—the taste of place. That taste is shaped first by the soil that grows the grains, fruit, and botanicals that make Vermont’s finest spirits.”
Howell explains how things work. “Each distillery has a chance to tell their story through spirits and bitters, and bartenders get to showcase their work with a finished product.”
Although the cocktails are created exclusively for the one evening, there have been some that ended up on the menu due to their popularity.
With his background in offering farm-to-farm tours to discover the foods of the state, it only seemed natural to progress into the emerging distilling industry that’s also embracing the use of locally grown grains. Howell proudly boasts, “Many of these spirits are 100% grown, mashed, and distilled within the state.”
As noted on the website, many of the new “craft distillers are embracing the notion of terroir and sourcing locally grown ingredients…some, like WhistlePig in Shoreham, have even started growing their own rye. Others, like Caledonia Spirits in Hardwick, are using local white oak for their aging barrels. Still others, like Vermont Spirits, harvest their own botanicals, such as juniper for their gin. There’s even Urban Moonshine, a medicinal bitters and tonic manufacturer” created by a naturopath in downtown Burlington that also supplies some of the local bars and restaurants.
The April Thaw
Courtesy of Cameron Keitel at Juniper Bar & Restaurant in Burlington, Vermont
- 1 oz. Dunc’s Mill Maple Rum
- 1 oz. Frangelico
- 2 oz. The Vermont Switchel Company Switchel
- dash Urban Moonshine Maple Bitters
- 1/2 Egg White
Preparation: Combine all ingredients in dry shaker and shake until frothy. Add an ice cube and swirl to chill. Strain into rocks glass over ice.
Howell’s inspiring philosophy is, “if a cocktail is born in the soil, it is baptized at the bar”, which is the reason he decided to work with the same three bars throughout the year, but keeps things fresh by offering bartenders a different Vermont libation for each event. He cites this as an opportunity for return visits places like Bluebird Tavern’s Prohibition-era cocktails or Mike Dunn’s enthusiasm for Barr Hill gin.
“It’s the personality of the producers that adds enjoyment to these events, and overall they are all interesting and passionate people who have developed pretty meticulous creations”, cites Howell.
As for who attends, Howell admits it’s mostly locals, some who attend regularly, however there have been a few out of state visitors join in the past as well. Howell also gives a thumbs-up to the barrel-aged gins that are being created in the region, from Caledonia Spirits oaked Tom Cats, to Silo’s juniper and botanical offering.
The website states that each two-hour Cocktail Walk features one Vermont distiller and visits three restaurants for cocktails and food. Held during the slower mid-week period, the distiller is along to answer questions, and the bartenders discuss their creations and share recipes. The pace is relaxed, with time to eat, drink, and catch up with friends. A list of local distillers can be found at Vermont Distillers. Locations visited are below, and cost is $45 per person.