Britain might be the first location that comes to mind when thinking about quality gin. Historically, the most predominant brands have hailed from there—as well as many of our favorites today. New England is better known for rolling green hills and early colonial America but it's there, in Vermont, that a craft gin movement is underway and the quality options are plentiful. In an area with vast farmland and lots of dedicated craftspeople, there's a thriving world of distillers producing everything from maple liqueur to rye whiskey—and some very good gin. On a recent trip to the state, we tried a few and the following three selections are distinct, tasty and of the highest homemade quality.
Green Mountain Organic Gin
Based in Stowe, Vermont, Green Mountain Distillers offer up an organic gin that's vibrant, fresh and floral. In addition to juniper and coriander, lemon and orange peels meet anise and lavender for a complex fullness. The result is a botanically rich, but still very balanced spirit. At 92 proof, it's also potent, though not harsh. This gin has depth—as layers unfold a delicate sweetness is revealed. It's smooth enough to drink on its own or with ice, but also versatile enough for a Martini or various other cocktails.
By using the term "organic," Green Mountain is referencing the pure organic grain sourced from a farm co-op owned by several families. The grain is then distilled in Vermont spring water to form the neutral base spirit, in a proprietary process. Each small-batch and individually numbered bottle is hand-produced by Timothy Danahy and Harold Faircloth III, the two distillers who founded the brand back in 2002. Green Mountain Distillers also produce a vodka—in regular and flavored versions—as well as a highly awarded maple liqueur.
Their gin really does stand out though, with a mastery of the craft emphasized by the hard work of Danahy and Faircloth who evidently truly care about quality spirits. The brand has also been successful enough that they're presently constructing a new distillery, which will go into use later this year. Green Mountain Organic Gin is available online through outreach for $30.
Barr Hill Gin
Made by Caledonia Spirits in Hardwick, Vermont, Barr Hill Gin is—most probably—unlike any other that spirits enthusiasts are familiar with. The Barr Hill Gin experience begins with a heavy nose of honey; the unique and defining ingredient. It functions as a unifying factor from the nose forward: at first dominating every other note gracefully, but by the time the sweetness fades away after a sip, tastebuds can fully engage with the diverse and delightful botanicals.
Caledonia Spirits also use pure grain as a start, and then incorporate juniper berry and raw northern honey. The honey itself is added just before bottling—and Caledonia notes that there is variation between bottles as raw honey can impart different floral elements based on season and blossoming. This gin checks in at 90 proof and, while it might not be a fit for a few traditional gin cocktails, it's a valuable exploration into the creativity swirling around gin production in Vermont.
The Caledonia distillery is located on the banks of the picturesque Lamoille River in an area known as the Northeast Kingdom—one of the most agriculturally rich areas of the state. Hardwick, Caledonia Country is itself an entire community dotted with numerous farms that produce everything from cheese and timber to seeds and herbs. Barr Hill's celebrated gin is available online, from Caskers for $42.
The father-and-son team of Ron and Jeremy Elliott are behind Smugglers' Notch. Their Blend No. 802 is an 88-proof, true distilled gin that's hand-crafted in small batches. The duo's method includes suspending a juniper berry infusion, among other botanicals, in a gin still vapor path. This process creates a very delicate spirit, with easy botanical notes. It's crisp and delightful, with hints of citrus and spice. This lightness makes it ideal for sipping neat or in a gin and tonic.
Smugglers' Notch Distillery is located in Jeffersonville, Vermont. Ron (a retired business executive) and Jeremy (a research chemist in the pharmaceutical industry) united on this venture based on shared interests, strengths and an opportunity to work together. They founded the distillery in 2006 and released their first product in 2010. Though the distillery's successes are relatively recent, the area in which it's placed (which also lends itself to the brand's name) is permeated by a deep spirits history. At the site of the Smugglers' Notch, the distillery falls along a famous bootleggers' run in Vermont. It was used in the 1800s to shift products during a trade embargo, and again in the 1920s during Prohibition.
Today, Smugglers' Notch produces a vodka, a premium bourbon barrel aged single-barrel amber rum, a straight bourbon whiskey and a limited release double-aged rye whiskey, in addition to their two gins. Blend No. 802 was developed over 75 different trial iterations—and was ultimately settled upon after a tastebud crowdsourcing effort, during which 200 Vermonters from around the state participated. Smugglers' Notch gin is available online for $37.
Photos by David Graver