Friday, June 5, 2020 8 mins read
Friday, June 5, 2020 8 mins read
How regional ingredients, innovative recipes and eco-friendly practices help produce some of the finest Vermont whiskey out of America’s Northeast
Lars Hubbard, founder and chief distiller at Appalachian Gap Distillery, has always loved making things by hand.
“I grew up in a log cabin with no electricity or indoor plumbing,” he recalls. So from a young age he took to hobbies like furniture making and luthiery, which is the repair and construction of stringed instruments like the violins and guitar.
Prior to the thought of making Vermont whiskey at a sustainable distillery, it was the beer brewing bug that bit Lars first.
He took pride in serving pints of homemade lager to friends and strangers alike.
On a lark, and as a way to take a break from their busy professional schedules, Lars and his business partner Chuck Burkins decided to take a weekend distilling class in Geneva, New York.
While they may have written it off as a fleeting obsession or passing fancy at first, it became clear to them both that distilling Vermont whiskey by hand wasn’t some itch they could just easily scratch and make go away.
“I wanted to do something other than stare at a computer screen,” Lars says. “To have a chance to make something special that people could enjoy.”
Even though he’d keep the day job with his agricultural consulting business, and Chuck would continue to work as a biochemist, the two received their license to operate and opened the doors to Middlebury, Vermont’s Appalachian Gap Distillery.
A local, sustainable distillery making Vermont whiskey by hand
“Made Right Here”
That’s the company motto at Appalachian Gap Distillery.
But where exactly is “right here”? And why should it matter?
The town of Middlebury is seated at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains and surrounded by lush, green woodlands.
In Vermont, a “gap” is what you call a mountain pass that runs east to west.
Vermont’s Green Mountain range runs for a total of approximately 250 miles.
“Appalachian Gap is where Vermont Route 17 crosses The Green Mountains,” explains Lars. “And is a place important to my childhood. I used to hike there with my father.”
It’s an area that means so much to him, he decided to name his sustainable distillery for it.
“We source as much as we can from within 50 miles of the distillery,” Lars tells us.
There’s a number of reasons why he and his team choose to operate their distillery this way.
“It aligns with our commitment to sustainability, and also expresses, in some small ways, the terroir of our location.”
It’s also a wonderful excuse to incorporate fresh regional ingredients, like sweet and smoky Vermont dark maple syrup, into their Vermont whiskey and other original craft spirit recipes.
Sustainability is something taken quite seriously at Appalachian Gap Distillery.
From day one, it’s been important to Lars that they limit their ecological footprint as much as possible.
For example, all of the electricity used in their building is provided by a special solar array.
The solar array at Appalachian Gap Distillery powers their facility in a sustainable way.
100% of their liquid stillage and waste grains are donated to local farmers to be used as animal feed.
All cleaning and process water is captured, tested and pH checked to ensure no pollutants, like biochemical oxygen demand, are released in the waste stream.
Windows are double-paned and treated with a low-e coating; the walls and roof of all heated areas of the sustainable distillery are super insulated.
Making sure his facility is ecologically viable means as much to Lars as being sure the craft spirits Appalachian Gap Distillery produces are among the very best the state of Vermont has to offer.
Genuine Vermont whiskey, and more!
Aqua Vodka from Appalachian Gap Distillery is quite the novel craft spirit. It’s made using Aqua ViTea Kombucha, a premium, sustainably sourced organic tea that’s also produced locally in Middlebury.
Appalachian Gap Distillery extracts the naturally occurring cane spirits from the organic Kombucha and works their magic on it to create a one-of-a-kind vodka that is packed full of flavor.
Appalachian Gap Distillery’s range of craft spirits offers something exceptional for every palate.
Like an herb garden in full bloom, Mythic Gin hits with a botanical aroma of pine, cinnamon and citrus before revealing smooth floral flavors that hold a lingering sweetness.
Ingredients such as rosehips and Szechuan peppercorn, that are rarely used in gin, provide this particular craft spirit with distinct evergreen notes and hints of spiced fruit alongside the traditional juniper berry.
If rich, smoky flavors are your thing, then Appalachian Gap Distillery’s Papilio Agave-Maple Spirit is the perfect bottle for you.
The light, sweet, roasted flavor of Vermont maple syrup meets the kippered goodness of real, imported blue agave to deliver a craft spirit that’s somewhat reminiscent of tequila, but all together unique.
Vermont whiskey that’s aged in the barrel can take on all kinds of interesting and complex flavors.
Let that same Vermont whiskey age in three different kinds of barrels, and what you’re left with is a rich craft spirit that has flavors in common with both bourbon and Irish whiskey, but possesses a character all its own.
Ridgeline Vermont Whiskey spends time resting in ex-bourbon barrels, new American oak barrels and port wine barrels, resulting in a complicated and luxurious whiskey that tastes of dried fruit, vanilla, leather and tobacco with a sweet, spicy, almost buttery finish.
There are notes of candy, mint, pepper and spices all before this unique Vermont whiskey arrives at its faint, floral and nutty finish.
It pays to be a sustainable distillery
“There is nothing unique about our process,” Lars confesses. “Or anyone else’s, if you ask me,” he’s quick to add.
“Distilling is just boiling liquid and capturing steam. There are lots of methodologies to do so, but it is pretty basic stuff on the surface.”
While that might sound like Lars is selling the inventiveness and technique of making exceptional craft spirits a bit short, he’s not.
He just has his own opinion about when, where and how the magic occurs.
“There is an art to formulating the mashes, to doing the distillations, to making the cuts and to aging the results. That is where the uniqueness happens.”
Ridgeline Vermont Whiskey spends time aging in three different types of barrels.
And plenty of people have taken notice of Appalachian Gap Distillery’s particular uniqueness.
“We love our local customers. And their support,” Lars admits freely.
Now customers in other markets are discovering just how distinct, precise and great tasting Vermont whiskey made in The Green Mountain State can be.
“I would say we are more careful about flavor and quality than most,” answers Lars when asked what sets Appalachian Gap Distillery apart from a lot of the competition.
“We don’t release our spirits unless they make us happy. And we are very, very picky.”
“I’d like us to be known for quality and innovation in our spirits. And honor and fairness in all of our business dealings.”
That is exactly the reputation Appalachian Gap Distillery and their Vermont whiskey is enjoying in the craft spirit community today.