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Bite Club: Vermont's Food & Drink Blog


January 17, 2014

Grazing: Country-politan with Boggy Meadow 'Switchel' Cider Vodka

Switchel_vodkaVodka is the most infused of spirits. Berries, orange peel, citron, black pepper, chili peppers and vanilla beans all meet their ends in its clear depths, and drinkers never seem to tire of these infusions. Until now, though, no one (as far as I can tell) has thought to blend the clear spirit with apple cider and ... vinegar?

Yes. Vodka infused with vinegar may sound gross, but it actually echoes a drink that harks back hundreds of years. During the long haying days of the 1600s and 1700s, New England farmers often supped on blends of ginger, apple cider, spices and vinegar. This drink was known as "switchel," and it's undergoing something of a revival.

Boggy Meadow's cloudy, ochre-colored "Switchel" cider vodka is definitely unorthodox, but may not be so unusual two or three years from now. I've tried it in myriad vodka-cocktail ways — in a traditional martini with a twist; in a sherry martini; in a bracing Black Magic, with coffee liqueur and a spritz of lemon juice. All were delicious.

Its smoothest incarnation, though, may be a locavore riff on the Cosmopolitan. Switchel cider vodka lends a tangy twist to this blend of vodka, Triple Sec, cranberry and fresh-squeezed lime juice. It's a softer, brighter and more distinctive version of the original Cosmo — especially when blended with local cranberry liqueur. I've dubbed it the Country-politan.

Recipe below.

Continue reading "Grazing: Country-politan with Boggy Meadow 'Switchel' Cider Vodka" »

December 5, 2013

Should Vermont Lift the Ban on Happy Hours? Thinks So

A website called has published an article suggesting that the Vermont ban on happy hours — selling drinks at lower prices during certain times — is economically illogical.

Writer Jon Street quoted the owner of Burlington's Ake's Place, Ronnie Ryan, who suggested that the state should allow bars to lure in customers with occasional happy hours.

“Burlington is so rich in young professionals and college students, I’m confident it would help business, and if it helps our business it also helps the state as it will generate more money in taxes,” he said.

Bill Goggins, director of education, licensing and enforcement for the Vermont Department of Liquor Control, broadly explained the role of the state government in keeping people safe, while a fellow at the Cato Institute lamented, “Why should Vermont insert itself between deals that please restaurants and customers alike?”

Continue reading "Should Vermont Lift the Ban on Happy Hours? Thinks So" »

November 13, 2013

Hong Kong Loves Barr Hill Gin, the Podcast 'Under My Host' Loves Vermont

1236495_654453764567311_54579434_nIn insular Vermont, sometimes it's easy to think of the beer, cider, wine and spirits produced here as our own private pleasures — until news trickles in from the world-at-large that others are taking notice as well.

Such as the beverage trade in Hong Kong, where Hardwick-produced Barr Hill Gin was anointed "Gin of the Year" at this year's Hong Kong International Wine & Spirits Competition (where it also picked up a gold medal). Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross, who happens to be in Hong Kong on a food and agriculture trade mission, accepted the award on behalf of Caledonia Spirits, which produces the gin using local honey.

A few weeks before that, Cori Paige of the artisanal drinking podcast "Under My Host" chatted about bees and gin with a very mellow Todd Hardie and his distiller, Ryan Christiansen, on her September 25 program. In November, she placed another call to Vermont for a Veterans' Day-themed show on that included 14th Star Brewing founder Steve Gagner, an Army vet. You can find both shows here.

November 1, 2013

Grazing: Gooseberries, Meet White Whiskey

A pile of them had been hanging out on our desks for a week or more, tiny pleated husks filled with ... fruit? I wasn't sure. Alice told me these were gooseberries grown by her mother; I was a gooseberry virgin. I peeled the papery husk away and bit the sunshine-colored fruit: It was gently sweet but with tart and apricoty undertones. The flavor was hard to describe, but I thought immediately of turning it into some kind of drink.

The quickest way to imbibe cape gooseberries (also known as Peruvian ground cherries) would be to make a simple syrup, which I did with the fistful I took home from the office. Serendipity had also recently delivered a bottle of Vermont's first white whiskey —  an unaged whiskey straight from the still, sans barrel aging — made by Vermont Spirits in Quechee. It's called Black Snake, it's distilled from Vermont corn, and it's clear, roundand warming — almost as if it has an invisible vein of cinnamon — and slightly sweet. Imagine a softer blanco tequila, a much more flavorful vodka, a spirit whose flavor is as unusual as gooseberries and whose versatility is kind of thrilling.

Continue reading "Grazing: Gooseberries, Meet White Whiskey" »

September 13, 2013

Grazing: Spiked Maple Mocha

The propane guy showed up yesterday in his grumbling truck to pump gallons of liquid gas into the tank behind the house. The air was muggy, the leaves were still green, and a thunderstorm was brewing in the distance. But we both know what's coming — and it ain't more summer.

The season of autumn things is upon us: Fuzzy sweaters. Pumpkin beers. Early fires. Propane guys (!). And deep, dark mocha, the precursor to the hot chocolates of winter.

This summer, Christian Stromberg, the Saxtons River producer of Sapling Liqueur, came out with a bracing new spirit: a coffee liqueur called Perc. Stromberg cold-brews Arabica beans, then infuses the result into 60-proof liquor, sweetening it at the end. The result taste like sugared-up black coffee with a kick.

Vermont also gained two new maple creme liqueurs this year: Metcalfe's Vermont Maple Cream Liqueur — which sells briskly at the store where I pick up spirits — and Vermont Ice Maple Crème, from Boyden Valley. Metcalfe's version is light-bodied and nutty, but also slightly higher in alcohol than Boyden's version, which has more of a complex, Calvados-like note from the apples used in the blend. Together, the two products will likely dent in-state sales of Bailey's Irish Cream — both are far superior.

So how to marry these spirits together? In a mug of mocha. Coffee liqueur in coffee might seem like overkill, but Perc helps sweeten an otherwise astringent cup of java, while a dose of maple creme liquor adds silkiness. Make sure the coffee you start with is really, really hot, as the liquor and milk will rapidly bring down its temperature. I used Tonewood maple flakes instead of sugar to make my whipped cream — but a spoonful of maple syrup will do the same trick.

Spiked Maple Mocha

1 tbsp. cocoa powder
1/2 to 1 cup of strong coffee
1 teaspoon light cream or milk
1 ounce Perc coffee liquor (Kahlua is a passable substitute — barely)
1 ounce maple creme liqueur, such as Metcalfe's or Vermont Ice (Alternatively, use 1 ounce Bailey's plus 1 teaspoon maple syrup.)
Hand-whipped maple cream (or Cabot preprepared whipped cream)

Dump chocolate powder into a mug, then fill it three-quarters of the way full with strong coffee. Stir to dissolve. Add teaspoon of milk and spirits, and stir again. Spoon fresh whipped cream onto the top, sprinkle with cocoa powder, and serve.

September 6, 2013

Grazing: The Summer Drink I'll Miss the Most — Orleans Bitter Spritzer

OrleansBrrr. The heat kicked on last night, and the basil narrowly missed a date with frost-induced death. Though these are the best sleeping nights of the year, they're also kinda bittersweet, since we all know what lurks around the corner.

Summer is technically still here, though, and all this season I've indulged in in a coral-colored ritual in a glass, one based on the elegant Orleans Bitter. A version of this drink was first served to me early this summer by Orleans' co-creator Deirdre Heekin at her Woodstock restaurant osteria pane e salute. As a friend and I sat the bar, Heekin handed us a few wine glasses filled with ice, Orleans, sparkling water, and an orange wedge.

I haven't made wine spritzers very much, but this was another creature — dry but quenching, zesty, invigorating, graceful. It was almost like drinking liquid hyssop with a tropical edge. There may have been other flavorings lurking in there, but I didn't ask; I went home and replicated it in the simplest way possible.

I say simplest, but its key ingredient — Orleans Bitter — can be challenging to find. When I ran out of my first bottle, It took me a while to find another. Last week, I hit gold at the new Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center in Newport. Then my personal spritzer party picked up where it left off.

With its ease of preparation and bittersweet balance, this drink is a liquid mirror of late summer. Make it as strong or as weak as you like.

Continue reading "Grazing: The Summer Drink I'll Miss the Most — Orleans Bitter Spritzer" »

July 26, 2013

Grazing: Blueberry Tom Collins

Blueberry_collinsFloat the idea of a gin cocktail when you're out with friends, and some might wince. "I hate that stuff!" a coworker told me just yesterday with a shudder.

I've never understood this. For me, gin is the (alcoholic) essence of summer — vegetal, herbaceous and gently creeping into my shoulders after one or two sips. Contrary to the maxim, gin has never made me cry — though perhaps I've never drunk enough of it.

Gin also loves citrus. Enter the Tom Collins. This exquisitely simple gin recipe was supposedly born in the late 1800s at the hands of a London bartender who blended the then-ubiquitous Old Tom gin into a refreshing mixture with sugar, lemon juice and fizzy water.

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May 27, 2013

Grazing: Rhubarb-Orleans Daiquiri

Rhubarb_staksAnother year, another exploding rhubarb patch. With so many stems and no real talent for baking, I sometimes use the tart stalks for a nefarious purpose: drinking. Last year, I gave a bundle of stalks to an acquiantance to make bitters, which he returned to me a few weeks later; I also paired a rhubarb simple syrup with raspberries, rum and mint for this juicy little number.

This year, I'm armed with an Omega juicer, a masticating monster of a machine. I fed some rhubarb stalks into it over the weekend, and their fibers proceeded to get tangled around the auger — but some rosy-pink juice trickled out, too. Its tartness was even more powerful than I expected.

I tried blending this juice with tequila (ick) and shook it together with vodka (which was just OK). Though I had forgotten that it was Smugglers' Notch Distillery Rum that worked so well last year, it's the very place I ended up again this year.

I dribbled some rhubarb juice together with this smooth, oaky rum, as well as with some Orleans Bitters, grapefruit and lime juices, mint and a few spoonsful of rhubarb simple syrup to balance out the tartness. It sounds like a strange combination on the surface, but it yielded a silky drink whose pretty pink color belies its potent, tart-bittersweet flavors.

With its combo of sugars, rum and citrus, this drink resembles a daiquiri, but barely. You could serve this over the rocks and top it with sparkling water for a spritzer, too; I simply shook the drink until it was really cold and then sipped it from a dainty vintage cocktail glass, garnished with even more herbs.

I'll probably finesse it over the next few weeks. But version 1.0 is pretty quenching. See recipe after the break.

Continue reading "Grazing: Rhubarb-Orleans Daiquiri" »

April 2, 2013

Three Penny, Mad Taco Owners Team Up to Open Craft Beer Bar in Winooski


The corner of Main and Union streets in Winooski is returning to its barroom roots on May 1, when Scott Kerner and Wes Hamilton of Montpelier's Three Penny Taproom and Joey Nagy of the Mad Taco open a new craft beer spot, Mule Bar, in the former Pho Pasteur space.

Yes, Pho Pasteur closed this morning, and Mule Bar will take its place in about four weeks. "We've been waiting to get into Winooski for a long time," says Kerner. "This feels like a city with a great vibe." Kerner told Seven Days a few weeks ago that he's "freaking pumped" about the new spot at 38 Main Street.

Mule Bar will have 49 seats — including 16 outside — with a long bar along one wall and a few high-tops along another. The room will be airy, like the dining room at Three Penny — or what contractor Eyrich Stauffer of Stauffer Woodworking calls "Danish modern saloon." Mule Bar will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, with brunch on Sunday (more on the food below).

Many Winooski-ites had already heard rumors about Mule Bar, but Kerner and Nagy were reticent to reveal their plans to the media until their proverbial ducks were in a row: a liquor license and a signed lease.

Two weeks ago, Guy Page of the Winooski Bridge was at the Winooski City Council meeting in which Kerner applied (and was approved) for a city liquor license, and Page reported it in his newsletter. 

This morning at 11, Kerner and Nagy finally signed their lease in a deal that was brokered by Peter Yee of Yellow Sign Commercial. By 12:30 p.m., they were in the space with Stauffer and their new chef — Jean-Luc Matecat, former chef at Amuse at the Essex.

Matecat says that Mule Bar will have a "local, ever-changing" menu to complement the tap list. He's already started seedlings in his living room for the restaurant's future garden, which will be up the street in the Landry Community Garden.

Continue reading "Three Penny, Mad Taco Owners Team Up to Open Craft Beer Bar in Winooski" »

February 8, 2013

Grazing: Snowed in With a Bee's Knees

734476_10151254701388553_502872597_nI forget how old I was when someone told me that too much gin would make me want to fight, or cry, or both. Either way, besides a few stray Sapphire-and-tonics in my twenties, I generally avoided the stuff.

That is, until I first sipped a crisp Plymouth gin martini. And a Hendrick's gin rickey. And then, Caledonia Spirits' Barr Hill Gin. Each has its own seductive flavor profile, from juniper to coriander to (in Barr Hill's case) the faintest hint of honey. 

That's probably what makes it the ideal spirit for the Bee's Knees, one of the simplest, most gorgeous cocktails in the universe, and one I'm slightly obsessed with at the moment. Gin, lemon and honey, shaken with ice and then strained, yields a golden, sour-sweet, magical thing that almost tastes good for you. The Prohibition-era mixologists who created it were either genius or eminently practical, as they surely researched myriad ways to deal with a surfeit of bathtub gin.

However, the very simplicity on which the Bee's Knees depends can also be its downfall — too much booze can make it harsh, while the honey can turn into a cold, hard mass in the shaker (as I learned when I first tried to make one). At Hourglass at the Stowe Mountain Lodge, bartenders counter this problem by using honey simple syrup, a clever twist that yields their stunning rendition (pictured), which has just the perfect sweet-tart-floral balance. (They use Barr Hill, by the way). 

I've watched bartenders struggle with the honey-glop thing as I did, and then deliver overly sharp concoctions. I love the citrusy, bracing version at the Parker House Inn in Quechee, where bartender and co-owner Adam Adler also makes another alluring concoction: a blend of gin, apple cider and St. Germain that I think is called a Cider Press (details are fuzzy).

Back at the ranch, I have a small jar of honey syrup at the ready. It takes only a few moments to make — just heat equal parts water and honey until dissolved. I mix it with a small sprig of rosemary to add another layer of wintery flavor.

The Bee's Knees

2 ounces Barr Hill Gin
3/4 ounce honey simple syrup (or use a warm spoon for honey, and mix fast and furiously)
3/4 ounce fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Sprig of rosemary (optional)
Lemon peel or twist (optional) 

Combine first four ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake wildly to blend, then strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lemon peel or twist, and serve.

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