I cannot say I am much of a cocktail drinker...
Wine is my mainstay.
Nevertheless when I received sample bottles of vodka from Vermont Spirits with the words maple sap and milk sugar as base ingredients, my curiosity was piqued.
I decided to get to the bottom of why, when, where this all happened by interviewing Harry Gorman, the distiller at the helm.
Q: Harry, when and how did Vermont Spirits and the idea of Vermont made vodka happen?
It all started in 1998 when the original founder started experimenting with vodka made from maple sap for the simple reason that he had maple trees on his property. He kept tweeking the results until 2003 when the first shipment of maple sap based vodka was on its way, limited to Vermont.
Q: When did you come aboard and why maple sap?
I joined Vermont Spirits in 2004. Vodka actually can be produced from any product that allows fermentation.
Q: Did maple sap and milk sugar as base ingredients come out of necessity or location?
I would say location. Maple sap as I mentioned before was produced on site. Milk sugar made sense as next step , being another natural sugar available in Vermont. Milk sugar also produces smoother vodka than potatoes.
Q: Do you know of other vodka producers using similar ingredients?
None other. Maple liquor or rum are on the market. Milk sugar I believe can be found in Irish Cream liquor.
Q: Are there cost advantages in using local ingredients to produce vodka?
Even though they are readily available, lost of labor is involved with our 2 basic choices.
Q: Did people give you strange looks when first batches came to market?
New Englanders took to maple sugar faster than milk sugar. Once they tasted it though the smooth mouthfeel won converts.
Q: Now that you received plaudits from critics, are your spirits popular beyond New England and New York, where?
In 2004 when I came aboard, we first expanded from Vermont to Massachussets, New Hampshire then in 2006 to Rhode Island, New York and Connecticut. In early years we were limited as our production came from maple sap harvested on the property. We are now buying maple syrup from a variety of suppliers them ferment and distill except for the 'Limited Release' still made from early sap collected on property. For milk sugar vodka we use whey, the by product of cheese making from local dairies. We are still experimenting, refining the recipe.
All in all we are distributed in 13 states including Tennessee, Washington State, Oregon. We had a presence abroad in Singapore but it did not pan out.
Q: What are key times in production cycle?
For maple, 6 weeks in Spring (March to Mid April) are key to know what the supply and quality will be.
Q: Do sales vary throughout the year?
We now sell about 60% maple (Vermont Gold) and 40% milk sugar (Vermont White). In New England sales peak in summer due to tourism and in the runup to Christmas. New York city is year round as we depend on mixologists in bars and restaurants.
Q: Were you a vodka distiller prior to your current position?
No, I am pretty much self-taught. I was making wine, beer, cider as a hobby prior to joining Vermont Spirits.
Hope you enjoyed this trip in the land of maple and sugar with Harry.