Caledonia Spirits has pledged to save 250,000 square feet (or 5.7 acres) of pollinator habitat following “Bee’s Knees Week” last month. But that’s just one of an array of community initiatives the Montpelier distillery has participated in, even as it expands its product line and event spaces.
“Bee’s Knees Week is the largest sustainability event in the spirit industry, with 2,500 bars participating around the U.S.,” said Harrison Kahn, Caledonia’s vice president of marketing in an interview. Because Caledonia’s flagship brand Barr Hill relies heavily on honey, Kahn said, the company celebrated with a public tour of the distillery and free cocktails. And, in honor of the insects that provide the main ingredient for its spirits, Caledonia pledged to support 10 square feet of pollinator habitat with every social media post featuring a Barr Hill cocktail or bottle.
With a mission to “reconnect cocktail culture to agriculture,” it’s not surprising that a company with roots in Vermont agriculture (and founded by a beekeeper) is all over a sustainability initiative focused on bees.
“The idea is to partner with the bees who are helping us capture the terroirs of this region,” Kahn said while giving a reporter a tour of the facility. “The gin should transport you to a field of wildflowers.”
The company that produces Barr Hill gin, vodka, and “Tom Cat” (gin aged six months in oak barrels) opened its distillery, event space, and bar on Barre Street in Montpelier in June 2019 with 35 employees. Just over half a year later, it turned its distillery over to produce 30,000 gallons of hand sanitizer during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Kahn. Since then, it has reopened for full production, and has more than doubled its staff to 80 employees; of those, 60 are in Vermont and 20 out of state. The Caledonia Spirits website features five local job openings, and two “brand ambassadors:” one in the Chicago metro area and one in San Diego. Hospitality staff members earn “highly competitive” wages, Kahn said, with benefits including medical, dental, accidental, retirement, and more.
Also as part of its community involvement, Caledonia Spirits will also be hosting the Capital City Farmers Market on the first and third Saturdays of winter months, beginning Dec. 3, Kahn said.
Caledonia Spirits is slowly expanding its bottled spirits to include a newly released canned gin and tonic ($19.99 for a four pack). The cocktail includes not only Barr Hill gin, but a tonic made from cinchona bark from Mexico and Ecuador — with notes of lemongrass and gray lime.
There’s also a new outdoor space for Caledonia’s food and drink customers (and events) that features pavers heated underneath with the excess heat from the distillery, Khan said. Perfect fool fall afternoons.
Perhaps most intriguing is the distillery’s newest product — not yet rolled out but in the works: rye whiskey. Every Friday morning for the past six years, they’ve been making enough to fill one charred oak barrel. None of the barrels are ready to be opened yet, Kahn said, but when pressed on how they’ll know when the whiskey is ready, he said “when it whispers to us.”
“You can age whiskey a long time,” he said.
All the spirits age in new oak barrels that come from three different cooperages (the names of which Kahn would not reveal). The whiskey can be seen in the distillery’s aging room: a “library of barrels,” Kahn said.
“Every single barrel tells a story about how we can partner with the farmer, the soil health factor, where was the barrel formed, how deep was it charred …” he said. “We may decide to release single barrels at a time,” he added. But until that whiskey whispers to someone, there’s no specific date.