Oddly enough, this story about Vermont starts down in Georgia. A few months ago, there was a celebration for the opening of Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Ritz-Carlton, Atlanta’s newly reimagined restaurant AG. General manager Manuel Deisen proudly showed off the fresh Kitchen chef’s table area and handed us samples of the exciting new dishes.
But even in all the jubilation, the general manager’s widest smile didn’t come until he took us to The Distillery and offered a pour of whiskey from WhistlePig, a Vermont-based label the hotel was ecstatic to carry.
While intrigued with the partnership, we honestly didn’t start listening with both ears until we tried a few sips in a smoky Old-Fashioned. The delightful drink was beyond smooth yet it still had notes of oak and spices that were relentless. It tasted like Vermont had been bottled up for man’s consumption.
But no matter how tasty, the Green Mountain State can’t be merely summed up in a glass. From beloved local pours to elegant hotels coming into bloom and an underrated dining scene that’s growing, we’ve recently discovered that Vermont is full of excitement, and spring is indeed the right time to toast to it all.
The local libation
As the Atlanta event illustrates, the WhistlePig effect can be felt well beyond the outstretched arms of Vermont’s white oaks. And that’s just as Raj Peter Bhakta planned it when he founded WhistlePig back in 2008.
You don’t recruit the services of master distiller Dave Pickerell for some boutique label you’re selling at farmers markets in Montpelier. No, Bhakta believed the world had an appetite for first-rate whiskey, and he knew his Vermont farm could be its source.
A walk around WhistlePig’s farm in Shoreham, which is roughly a 45-mile drive from Burlington International Airport, is a journey back to a time when hedgers did the swiping and birds did the tweeting. Here, you’ll spot a pen with hogs. You’ll see a few horses galloping about, too. Hop on one of the ATVs and you’ll discover acres of rolling hills and fertile fields.
The campus also houses a 150-year-old barn that’s been renovated into a small but mighty distillery. Inside is where the 86-proof magic happens. Using copper pots and Pickerell’s meticulous processing techniques, WhistlePig churns out a 10-year straight rye, a 12-year Old World cask finish and a 15-year rye that general managers in Atlanta and Everyday Jims in Ascutney can’t stop gushing over.
We can’t even imagine what excitement will be like once the masses get their first taste of FarmStock, the just-debuted, triple-terroir release made from 1.5- to two-year-old whiskey from WhistlePig’s soil, five-year whiskey from Alberta Distillers (in WhistlePig’s own Vermont oak) and 12-year-aged whiskey from Indiana.
When the company begins welcoming overnight guests later this year, you’ll have a chance to stay in the country-chic cottage, learn the inner workings of the brand and even share a few meals with its people. Until then, behind-the-scenes visits are strictly done on an invitation-only basis.
Roughly an hour and 45 minutes from that farm is Stowe Mountain Lodge. One of our favorite properties in New England, the Four-Star hotel looks great covered in snow or sitting under the sun. The secret to its dexterity lies in the rooms. No matter how the temperature reads outside, it’s always warm and woodsy in these spaces that have been adorned in brown hues, leather chairs and cozy fireplaces.
Through April 23, the lodge is luring skiers out for one last run with Snow Days, a package that grants you 20 percent off rooms and 49 percent off lift tickets.
As the mercury rises — a typical May high in Stowe is 65 degrees — so too do the outdoor options around the resort. The hiking is tremendous around these parts. There’s also some quality golf to be played at Stowe Mountain Golf Club. The targeted tee-off date for the course’s new season is May 6.
And then there’s always the most glorious of activities — eating. The lodge’s Solstice Restaurant is the epicenter of any gastronomic gathering. The culinary team takes its time with local flavors (most of the dairy products come from within a five-mile range) to craft dishes such as maple bourbon salmon or foraged wild mushrooms and summer asparagus risotto. With lettuce and onions slowly coming into season, the fun around the kitchen has only begun.
Spread your fork’s reach even farther with Stowe Mountain Lodge’s Taste of Vermont Tour and Dinner, a package that lets you sample many of the state’s most recognizable bites — Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, Cabot cheddar, Lake Champlain chocolates and Cold Hollow Cider Mill cider — before completing the day of dining with a meal back at the resort.
While we appreciate a good scoop of Cherry Garcia as much as anyone else, Vermont’s food scene goes much deeper.
Back near WhistlePig, there aren’t many new restaurants on the scene, but the standbys still do their jobs admirably. Shelburne’s Folino’s packs them in almost nightly with a wood-burning oven churning out some of the best pizza in the region. The fire kracker shrimp pie won us over with its chunky ingredients and a crust that was flaky but far from brittle. And it doesn’t hurt matters that Vermont’s proud Fiddlehead Brewing Company sits next door, allowing you to fill up a 64-ounce growler with Fernhead ale before enjoying a few slices.
We’re pretty sure that downtown Middlebury’s Two Brothers Tavern doesn’t have as lenient a BYOB policy. Why would it when almost every conceivable pour is already inside? A kooky bar — yes, those are real dollar bills taped to the ceiling — with a respectable kitchen, Two Brothers is your one-stop shop for gossip, game-watching and great drinks.
One cocktail that we wholeheartedly suggest while you’re there is the Porky’s Smash. This smooth libation is made, of course, with WhistlePig rye, lemon wedges, mint, simple syrup and bitters. It goes down plenty easy while still giving you a pinch of herbal effervescence — just like Vermont this time of year.