Caledonia Spirits opens its sustainable distillery in Montpelier

The Vermont-based distiller’s massive new digs add a bar and riverside patio, and support the local economy and ecology.

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–Caledonia Spirits

A new era begins for Caledonia Spirits, the Vermont distillery that began in 2011 with its honey-based spirits: At the end of June, it moved into a newly built, sustainably designed 27,000-square-foot facility, minutes from downtown Montpelier. The move added 10 times more space to produce its prize-winning Bar Hill Gin, aged Tom Cat Gin, and Barr Hill Vodka, all of which feature northern produced raw honey, and other ingredients — including grains — sourced as locally and as organically as possible. 

“The new building not only allows the distillery to expand, but it allows us to engage with our customers,” Ryan Christiansen, the distillery’s president and head distiller, said in an interview. 

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Situated by the beautiful Winooski River, the distillery will be open seven days a week for tours and tastings. 

“We sell to distributors who then sell to shops and restaurants, who then sell it to our customers,” Christiansen said. “We want to meet our customers. There are so many things we’re doing that we want them to be able to engage in with us directly. Things like our pollinator program,” he said of Caledonia’s support for rebuilding devastated bee populations, which includes the annual Bees Knees Week. “So we created a space where people can see the process, maybe even meet our farmers.” 

And taste some goodies, too. There’s a riverside patio and an indoor bar made of local granite, both offering light bar snacks from the kitchen and a rotating cast of food trucks. 

“We have several great ones locally and we’ll have them on different days of the week, so each night it changes. We will have local musicians play. We created the space so that visitors can enjoy it, but we also want the local community to use it,” Christiansen added. 

The expansion also allows Christiansen and his team to try out more new recipes. 

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“Before, every square inch of the distillery was used up in our day-to-day production and that left no room for experiments,” he said of the former 5,500 square foot HQ in Hardwick, some 30 miles northeast. 

To celebrate the grand opening, which drew around a thousand visitors, Caledonia Spirits released the limited edition Montpelier Gin: “This utilizes our oldest gin barrels from the Hardwick distillery and honey from Montpelier’s bee keepers, so we have the old and the new,” Christiansen said. 

Among the local honey suppliers is original Caledonia founder Todd Hardie, who brought Christiansen, a brewer, onboard to help him start the distillery in 2011. In 2015, Hardie returned to his first love, and Christiansen bought the company.

“Todd has an amazing love for bees. He calls them the angels of agriculture,” he said. Hardie is also farming organic grain, much of which will head to Caledonia’s stills.

In addition to supporting the local agricultural economy, the increase in capacity created more local jobs and is part of a citywide development that includes a new bike path extension leading to the distillery, as well as the building of a new hotel and transit center currently underway downtown. The city’s new expanded Biodigester gains a big boost from Caledonia’s waste products, which will provide significant energy for the city. 

The distillery has a massive rooftop solar array, state-of-the-art systems to reduce water use and for heat reclamation, and electric car charging. 

“It was a priority. It’s a costly investment, but there was no question,” he said. “We wanted to do this with Hardwick, but the cost of retrofitting was too much. So we decided to build this facility the right way from the start. It’s not a choice, it’s a responsibility.” 

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Caledonia Spirits distillery is open Sun.-Thurs. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It’s located at 116 Gin Lane, Montpelier, Vermont; caledoniaspirits.com