Side Dishes: New distillery planned for Hardwick
Over the past few years, Vermont’s budding artisan distillery industry has produced a handful of new local potables, fromVermont Spirits “white” and “gold” vodkas — made with milk and maple sugars, respectively — to the pure maple Sapling Liqueur . Although you may not taste its wares for years, a new, as-yet-unnamed business plans to add a slew of new products to the list, including gin made with Green Mountain grain and flavored with herbs and honey.
Todd Hardie of Honey Gardens Apiaries  in Ferrisburgh, who brought commercial mead  to Vermont in 2007, is one of the business partners. The other, Dana Matthews, is a longtime home brewer and vintner. “I met Todd a couple of years ago, and we discovered we have the same interest in fermentation,” she recalls. After taking a distillation workshop at Cornell University, Matthews’ interest was piqued. Realizing that high-quality booze could be made right here rather than imported from Europe, the pair decided to take the plunge.
To kick-start the process, they’ve contracted with Erik and Erica Andrus of Good Companion Bakery in Vergennes to grow test batches of grain on their animal-powered farm. “They’re buying a bunch of seed that we’ll grow, and they’ll pay us for our labors at the end of the summer. They’ll have barley, wheat, and I think there was rye also,” explains Erica.
Hardie and Matthews hope that their new building, currently under construction in Hardwick, will be ready when the grain is. But don’t expect to sip their solutions too soon: The plan is to experiment with recipes for up to two years until they find the perfect formulae.
In addition to the gin — which may be flavored with other herbs in addition to mandatory juniper berries — they are focusing on eaux de vie and an herbal liqueur along the lines of French Chartreuse. “We’re interested in the health benefits,” Matthews explains, noting that the green drink was meant to impart a long life. “Spirits were invented for their medicinal and healing properties.”
Why Hardwick? “It’s the center of the food movement in Vermont right now,” she opines. “What better fit than a distillery?”
In other Hardwick area news, Claire’s Restaurant & Bar  keeps reaping new accolades. When Condé Nast Traveler  released its restaurant “hot list” of “the world’s most exciting new restaurants” for 2009, the community-supported venture was one of just three New England eateries that made the cut, out of a total of 43 in the U.S.
The flattering write-up touts Chef Steven Obranovich’s inclusion of “slowly leavened breads, peppery radishes and creamy raw-milk cheese.” Included as a tip: “Go in winter, when everyone around is likely to be a part owner.”
But that’s not all … Yankee Magazine  recently gave Claire’s an “Editor’s Choice” award, dubbing it “Best Community Concept.”
Last but not least: The Hardwick-area food “network,” including Claire’s, is featured on Gourmet’s award-winning “Diary of a Foodie” TV show. The episode is entitled “The Collective.”