In 2010, two Vermont home-brewing enthusiasts, Lars Hubbard and Chuck Burkins, took a weekend distilling course in New York State, which turned into a new, sustainable business. Appalachian Gap Distillery in Middlebury, Vermont produces hand-distilled rum, gin, whiskey, and other spirits using 100% solar power and are available for sale on line and in Vermont liquor stores, as well as at locations in Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Illinois.
What’s in the name, which doesn’t automatically imply Vermont to many? The AppGap website reminds us that the Green Mountains are part of the Appalachian range. According to local usage, a ‘gap’ is an opening between mountains that runs east to west; the gap in question is on VT. Route 17, the highest point on the road between Bristol and Waitsfield.
Appalachian Gap produces hand-crafted spirits made with mostly local ingredients. Co-founder Lars Hubbard said, “We buy as much of our grains — corn, rye, and wheat — as locally as is possible, with the intent that a full 100% be grown and harvested within 25 miles of the distillery. (We are close to 90% local on these grains). Barley does not grow well in the Champlain Valley, though we are seeking Vermont-grown sources for that grain. Apples used in our apple brandy are from New England; maple syrup used in our Papilio spirit is from a local producer; agave for our Papilio spirit is from Jalisco, Mexico but is 100% organic. Our 100% organic kombucha spirit is also produced locally.”
Appalachian Gap operates out of the former Breadloaf Construction Company building at 88 Mainelli Road in Middlebury, VT, which they gutted upon purchase seven years ago. Local architect Richard Robson did the official floor plans for the first build out, and Vermont Integrated Architecture for the second. “They essentially documented what I had planned out,” says Hubbard, who is a software designer and architectural consultant. He acted as the general contractor for both builds. “We insulated, in both cases, with spray foam in the walls, around R-32, and dense-pack cellulose in the ceilings (averaging 18 inches thick, so around R-64 overall).” New windows are Marvin thermopane with a low-e coating and existing windows in the building were also double-glazed.
Hubbard said, “The six-collector tracking solar array was installed by AllEarth Solar in 2013. Each collector is an Allsun Series 24, each with twenty-four solar panels capable of generating 54,000 kWh per year. In the past 12 months (9/1/18 through 8/31/19), we generated 52937 kWh. We slightly overran that, using a total of 55440 kWh. We recently upgraded some of our equipment in the distillery, and I expect that number to drop. Our usage in the month of August 2019 was almost 15% less than August of 2018.” When there is excess, the credits have been given to employees.
Appalachian Gap uses separated-combustion Hot Dawg space heaters where necessary; only outside air is pulled in for the heaters. This is more healthful and safer for workers. For air conditioning in office areas, Hubbard required units with minimum SEER of 18.
Appalachian Gap uses minimum 80% efficiency gas units for steam production for its stills and plans to use only renewable natural gas (methane produced by organic material in farms and landfills) from Vermont Gas once all installation is complete.
Hubbard said, “Liquid waste and waste grains are currently hauled to South Burlington to the PurposeEnergy biodigester. We used to have local farms pick them up but have opted to go this route in anticipation of the new (biogas) facility which will be built in Middlebury.” PurposeEnergy is currently gathering permits and approvals for the biodigester to be constructed in the same industrial park as AppGap; the digester will use waste from local companies like Appalachian Gap, including Otter Creek Brewing and Agri-Mark/Cabot, to dispose of waste in compliance with Vermont law while creating energy.
According to Hubbard, Appalachian Gap uses only non-polluting cleansers and detergents. Waste water is captured, pH tested, BoD(biochemical oxygen demand) tested, and monitored for release to the town sewer system. The distillery pays quarterly for the BoD content of its waste stream and has reduced the overall BoD released to the town by over 75% as a result of changing its waste handling to the PurposeEnergy solution. (PurposeEnergy is a company based in Salem, NH, that custom-configures biodigester systems for food and beverage producers.)
When asked about the solar and sustainability, founder Lars Hubbard said, “We’re just trying to do the right thing.” The right thing for the environmentally-concerned appreciator of fine spirits would be to get down to the tasting room between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. and do some sampling and then take a bottle or two home to toast the spirit of ecological concern embodied by Appalachian Gap.