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Caledonia Spirits’ New Distillery

Caledonia Spirits’ new facility has an 84-kilowatt (DC) solar array. Image: SunCommon

George Harvey

Caledonia Spirits (CS) is not just extraordinary. It is not merely unique. It is unique in a number of ways. Its main products are Barr Hill Gin, Tom Cat Gin, and Barr Hill Vodka. Of late, it has also been producing hand sanitizer, both for its own use and to provide to other organizations.

As many of us know, gin is usually made from spirits of fermented grain or some other sugar source, with juniper berries added for flavor. Vodka is also usually made from fermented grain or potatoes. The CS offerings however use honey as the sugar source for their fermentation.

CS was started by a beekeeper, Todd Hardy, nine years ago. In addition to a loyalty to the bees, he instilled other values of his own into the company, and though he himself moved on in 2015, CS continues with these original values.

Hardy had wanted to support the local farms, both in terms of products and for getting those products to market. He sourced materials as much as possible from local farms, and the honey the company uses all comes from within 250 miles of Montpelier.

Readers with a sharp eye for details may notice that very few ingredients are listed in CS products. Barr Hill Vodka is made with a single ingredient – honey. Barr Hill Gin starts as a neutral spirit, is then distilled with juniper, and finished with honey. CS buys something over 80,000 pounds of honey each year, which is used in a raw state. The difference between Barr Hill Gin and Tom Cat Gin is that the Tom Cat Gin is fermented in oak barrels, which impart a flavor much like that of whiskey.

CS is testing other source materials that also could be sourced locally through their Experiments in Agricultural Rectification (or EAR) program. Harrison Kahn, the Vice President of Marketing, told me one very interesting possibility is burdock root. He said the distilled product tastes very like agave.

CS Gin and sanitizer. Courtesy image

The CS team outgrew the Hardwick distillery and it was time to find a bigger home. CS found a home in Montpelier and moved there in July of 2019. Looking at the move, the effects of Todd Hardy’s sustainability values start to become clearer.

Kahn told us, “Distilleries are typically not very sustainable.” Then he proceeded to explain how CS is different. “We moved from Hardwick to Montpelier so everyone could be under a single roof. We built on a brownfield, and the city was glad to get use of it. It had fill from granite industry. We were able to build by dynamic compaction, so nothing had to be trucked out.”

The new facility has an 84-kilowatt (DC) solar array, which was installed by SunCommon. The array offsets all of the electricity used to make the two brands of gin, which require use of a condenser with an electric chiller. The new building also has a lot of natural light, which is combined with automatic dimmers and LED lighting to reduce use of electricity. CS has electric car charging. Also, simple construction used insulated panels to reduce heat loss.

The amount of water CS uses has been drastically reduced in the new facility. Kahn said of this, “We reduced water use by 83%.” While that seems to be a huge improvement, he added, “There are still opportunities.” Low flow plumbing was one of the things that reduced water use.

CS tries to compost everything. It sends all of its organic waste to local biodigesters where it can be used generate electricity. It does not use a lot of packaging, but where it is needed, the company reuses packing from things it had received.

CS has its own bar, which is also sustainably operated. The fresh ingredients are products of local farms. When it reopens after the coronavirus pandemic abates, those who might want to visit can use a public footpath to get there from downtown Montpelier. Before they go in, they might want to pause and notice the pollinator-friendly plants in the landscaping.

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