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Course Highlights Vermont's Craft Distilling Boom

Vermont is well known for its craft brewing industry, with several top rated beers produced in the state. But now, a number of craft distilleries are popping up. A recent course at Vermont Technical College gave students a glimpse into this growing industry.

Rum, whiskey, vodka, gin. While these drinks have always been locally enjoyed, spirits haven’t traditionally been a Vermont export.

That’s changing. The craft distilling industry is growing, with more and more spirits being produced by Vermonters.

This spring Vermont Technical College’s Institute for Applied Agriculture and Food Systems offered an 11-day Distilling course.

Instructor Duncan Holaday founded Dunc's Mill, the oldest continuously operating distillery in the state.

“I would call this a kind of master’s course,” said Holaday. “Some of the people are marketing people, others are distillers, engineers and farmers.”

"It's now what you might call a kind of boom. A time when many people are coming in and making remarkable products." - Duncan Holaday, Dunc's Mill

Holaday has been making rum in Vermont for 14 years. At one point his was the only distillery in the state. Not anymore.

“Now there are probably 16 distilleries,” said Holaday. “So we’ve been watching growth and it’s now what you might call a kind of boom. A time when many people are coming in and making remarkable products.”

The students looked at everything from the marketing of spirits, to the science of distilling using Vermont ingredients.

David Thayer is from Hooker Mountain Farm in Cabot. He’s taking the course to see what types of small-scale production might work for his farm. He’s thinking whiskey.

“The obvious thing would be doing a grain-based whiskey, because we have the grains,” said Tahyer. “But then a maple base allows for flavor that would make it sort of regional, native to New England.”

"A maple base allows for flavor that would make it sort of regional, native to New England." - David Thayer, Hooker Mountain Farm

Thayer has been selling maple sodas produced at the farm at the Montpelier farmer’s market and is looking to branch out.

He says his production would be much smaller than most of the distilleries students visited including Silo Distillery in Windsor, and Mad River Distillers in Warren

But for Ivan Torres, the highlight was Dunc’s Mill.

“I want to open my own small craft rum distillery,” said Torres. “There is a lot of key information for a start-up business. A lot of information that’s easier for me to get right here than to just look for myself.”

Torres came all the way from Puerto Rico to take the course. He says the rum business there is dominated by big brands like Bacardi and Don Q.

But he thinks there is a market for craft producers. Torres says tourists would rather purchase something local and unique when they visit.

In that way, he says it’s very similar to Vermont.

Annie Russell was VPR's Deputy News Director. She came to VPR from NPR's Weekends on All Things Considered and WNYC's On The Media. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.
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