Caledonia Spirits ready to toast launch
MONTPELIER — Caledonia Spirits will be the toast of the town when it opens its doors to the public for the first time in the Capital City on Saturday.
Nearly two years in the making, the 27,000-square-foot facility on 4.3 acres of land off Barre Street marks an expansion and move of the distillery from Hardwick to Montpelier, bringing 50 high-wage jobs to the city. The distillery will open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, with facility tours on the hour, craft cocktail demos at the bar, local cuisine from J.D.K. BBQ and live music by The Starline Rhythm Boys, Chad Hollister, and Eric George and Mountain Elder.
Caledonia Spirits makes the company’s signature Barr Hill Gin and Barr Hill Vodka, and a barrel-aged Tom Cat Gin, and expects to produce 40,000 cases a year, according to company owner and chief distiller Ryan Christiansen. The key ingredients, Christiansen noted, were the raw honey gathered by the “master botanical foragers” for gin and maple syrup for vodka.
The company was founded by Todd Hardie, who decided he wanted to start distilling spirits using honey from his apiaries between 2009 and 2010. Hardie named the distillery’s products for the beautiful Barr Hill area near his Greensboro home and farm operation. In 2011, he hired Christiansen to oversee the distillery he established at his 6,500-square-foot building in Hardwick. Hardie sold the company to Christiansen in 2015 to focus on farming the organic barley and rye used by the distillery. The 60,000 to 90,000 pounds of honey used in the distillery now comes from an apiary in New York.
Ongoing research and development of new alcohols by the distillery includes looking at using maple syrup from trees at Christiansen’s home and neighboring Farnham Farm in Plainfield. The company is also looking at a liquor from burdock root, produced by Richard Wiswall, of Cate Farm in Plainfield. Christiansen likened its flavor to “a tequila or mescal from the Northeast.”
Christiansen and senior company officials greeted Mayor Anne Watson and other guests Wednesday for a sneak peek in advance of the distillery’s opening Saturday.
“This company, Caledonia Spirits, was founded on a mission to add value and preserve agriculture and over the years we have not strayed far from that,” Christiansen said. “This building is an example of our investment in that mission, from the grain silos, to the fermenters, to our stills, to our packaging line, all the way to the cocktail bar and riverside patio. Customers can experience exactly what we hold true to our morals, hold true to our brand.”
Christiansen also praised his company team and the distillery’s supply chain.
“We’ve strived to build a facility that not only highlights our distillers, but also highlights the farmers who work so hard to bring the raw materials to us, and also the artists that are also referred to as bartenders,” he said.
Watson said she was delighted to welcome the company to the city and said she hoped it would help make Montpelier a destination for visitors and tourists. The city approved a tax stabilization deal that was key to the company’s move to Montpelier, reducing the company’s property taxes by half to $36,000 annually for 10 years before reverting to full value. The city also funded infrastructure upgrades for the project.
“This is going to be such a wonderful addition to the economic vitality of Montpelier,” Watson said.
In advance of erecting the Gin Lane street sign, marking the site of the distillery, Watson noted that during Prohibition, Barre Street was a place to get alcohol — wine made by Italian widows who needed to make a living.
“Now, here with Caledonia Spirits, you can still come to Barre Street to get alcohol, but you can get it legally, which is wonderful,” Watson said. “For us, Gin Lane is a symbol of prosperity, community vibrancy and a resilient economy.”
The entrance opens into a spacious cocktail bar with a Barre granite counter top and bar stools and table tops made of spalted maple. Nearby is the retail shop, selling clothing and baseball caps carrying the Barr Hill logo. The shop also sells many of the ingredients in the cocktails prepared at the bar and include cocktail syrups and a range of non-alcoholic beverages.
A scale-model diagram in a hallway noted many of the energy-efficient features of the facility. They include: a water recovery system that circulates through the heating and ventilation systems and reduces water use by 83%; rooftop solar panels that generate 84 kW of electricity; high-performance insulated metal siding; windows that allow for abundant natural light; LED lighting throughout the plant; low-impact outdoor stormwater treatment landscaping; and composting for certain distillery and bar waste. Also, 100% of the stillage waste will be turned into renewable methane gas in biodigesters that can be used to power the Montpelier Wastewater Treatment Facility.
The facility includes an outdoor patio overlooking the river, where the company will build a dock to allow people to put kayaks into the water, and there is conference room space that will also be used as community space.
The distillery room is dominated by a 30-foot-tall German pot still named Phyllis that can produce 500 gallons of 190-proof spirit at a time, or smaller batches of different spirits.
Back at the bar, Beverage Director Sam Nelis was mixing classic cocktails with Barr Hill spirits, cocktail syrups and fresh-squeezed juices.
“We’re trying to make as much of this from scratch as possible,” he said.
Christiansen said Caledonia Spirits needed to expand operations but would continue to operate a tasting room in Hardwick.
“It was never our mission to leave Hardwick,” Christiansen said. “We would never have been successful without the support Hardwick gave us.”
To learn more about Caledonia Spirits, visit www.caledoniaspirits.com.