Our President, Mimi Buttenheim, was featured in Newsweek as one of five Vermont women changing the beverage business.
Our President, Mimi Buttenheim, was featured in Newsweek as one of five Vermont women changing the beverage business.
Josh Wilcox, the bar manager of our Burlington cocktail shop, was runner up in the Vermont Bartender of the Year finals. The competition took place at Main + Mountain Restaurant in Ludlow, Vermont, on March 28, 2019.
Six bartenders competed in the finals, where they were tested on their service skills and bar demeanor. Three guest judges sat at the bar chatting with the competitors while they prepared drink tickets for seated guests in the restaurant. This is Josh’s second appearance in the competition, and his best finish to date. Congratulations to Emily Morton from Deli 126 in Burlington, who came in first, and Jackson Zieper from Monarch and the Milkweed in Burlington, who finished third.
“So what’s the deal with all those little bottles?” a gentleman asks in a hushed voice leaning across the copper bar top in between sips of his Mad River Rye Manhattan.
“Bitters” I whisper back.
I point to the shelves lined with obscurely sized, shaped, and colored bottles, “We sell bitters from all around the world” now speaking at a higher decimal level.
“So what exactly are bitters?” he asks loud enough to catch his neighbors attention.
“Bitters are like spices for cocktails, a dash or two can elevate a cocktail to something beyond just the sum of its parts”, is the jist of my normal response.
For the majority of our patrons this serves as a satisfactory explanation, but occasionally a curious customer such as this gentleman, will push for more, to ponder between sips.
Sympathizing with their curiosity and relishing the opportunity to further the knowledge of bitters in the world I often jump into a long winded version of the following.
Bitters, like many things alcoholic, have roots in medicine, or what might be more accurately described as faux medicine. They are made by infusing or macerating roots, barks, fruit peels, seeds, spices, herbs, and other botanicals in high proof alcohol or glycerin.
Bitters were often billed as cure-alls for ailments ranging from headaches and indigestion, to malaria. They were consumed not in a dash, but gulped down as medicine. These “medicinal” tinctures made from flavoring agents like gentian root, cinchona bark, orange peel, anise, clove, and other spices were said to have magical healing powers.
In the 1850’s America saw a bitters boom not dissimilar to what we have seen in recent years, but at this time bitters were still considered medicinal. The burgeoning bitters industry was being spurred on by both social and political forces.
The temperance movement was making inroads in their quest to deem social drinking as unacceptable. However, proving that cognitive dissonance is not a modern phenomena, the daily consumption of bitters for “medicinal benefits” was normalized despite the high alcohol concentration.
Additionally, the government was levying higher taxes on alcohol sales, but bitters being considered a non-potable item, were exempt from the higher taxes and therefore cheaper option for one to get their fix.
Soon enough hundreds of bitter varieties were available, and as the selection grew so did the marketing campaigns and dubious promises about the power of bitters. The habit of taking a morning drink for health reasons only seems to have foreshadowed the pill popping country we would eventually become.
So how did some 19th century “snake oil” weave its way thru history to become an essential ingredient in any serious bartenders arsenal?
What many people don’t realize is that bitters were an essential part of the original cocktail, defined as; “a stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water, and bitters”. At the time the word cocktail referred to a specific sort of drink, alongside other varieties like juleps, toddies, smashes, and fizzes. Today that definition would more aptly apply to an Old Fashioned, as the word cocktail has become a more general term for any variety of mixed drink.
Bartenders rely on a bottle of bitters the way a chef relies on salt. In recent decades these old drinks and their ingredients have been brought back to life as the art of the cocktail has been revitalized. As we continue to glamorize the history of these drinks and bring them into the modern world, bitters have tagged along, as a vital, but at times underappreciated sidekick.
The bitters commonly dashed into a Bourbon Manhattan are considered non-potable, due to their high alcohol content and concentrated flavor. These days there has been an explosion in the variety of non-potable or “cocktail bitters” on the market and behind the bar. The most famous and ubiquitous examples of these would be the yellow topped Angostura bitters from Trinidad and Tobago, Peychauds from New Orleans, and Regans Orange.
Other popular brands include Bitter Truth, Fee Brothers, Bittermens, Dr. Adam, and Scrappys. We happen to sell them all and many more in our tasting room.
Bitters designed to be sipped instead of dashed are considered potable bitters. They are commonly consumed before or after a meal to stimulate appetite or ease digestion. Well known examples of potable bitters would be Campari, Fernet Branca, and Jagermeister. These often include added sugar to bring some balance, and increase their sippability.
Humans like many animals are hardwired to be averse to bitter flavors. It’s often a warning signal that you’re about to ingest something toxic, but bitter can also be an alluring taste found in popular foods like grapefruits, chocolate, eggplant, coffee, and various herbs. It offers a sort of cleansing taste that spurs you on to the next bite (or sip).
Many people assume that the purpose of bitters is to simply make a drink bitter. While understandable, this isn’t an accurate description of the essential role bitters plays in elevating, and deepening flavors in a cocktail. Bitters can reduce sweetness, slice thru richness, meld disparate ingredients, as well as add an aromatic spiciness. All of that from a couple drops from a little bottle!
“What do you think?” I ask as the gentleman sits back into his bar seat, appearing to be deep in thought and finishes the last sip of his manhattan. He starts to nod approvingly and says “I think I need another manhattan”. As I walk down the bar to prepare his drink he calls half-jokingly “and don’t skimp on those bitters!”
Written by Neil Goldberg
Eight Seas Pop-Up Tiki Bar Proprietor Catherine Hood featured Mad River Distillers cocktails in her Dean Hotel Pop-Up Wednesday, October 17. Catherine is based in Providence, Rhode Island. See our cocktails section for the recipes!
Catherine founded Eight Seas in 2017 as a pop-up cocktail experience inspired by historic and contemporary tiki cocktails and culture. Since then, Eight Seas has expanded beyond culinary arts and history, and now collaborates with visual artists, distillers, farmers, chefs, and other makers to create sensory events that celebrate much more than tropical tipples.
Visit the Trophy Room in Boston for Patrick’s incredible cocktail “Don’t Chai Me” featuring Chai Tea infused Vanilla Rum, Foro amaro, espresso, Thai coconut milk & ‘Elemakule Tiki’ bitters.
Trophy Room 26 Chandler St, Boston, MA 02116
Congratulations Chelsea Harris!
Chelsea beat out 12 bartenders over three rounds of competition. The finals were held at the Copper Grouse in Manchester, VT on April 10th. The winning cocktail featured Revolution Rye.
The “market basket” for the final round consisted of Revolution Rye, Fernet Branca, a coconut, and a choice of four ice cream flavors.
The winning recipe:
1 oz Revolution Rye
1 oz Cocchi di Torino
.5 oz Coconut Milk
2 barspoons Fernet
Stir ingredients over ice. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with maple blackberry whipped cream.
Maple Blackberry Whipped Cream
3 oz Lulu maple ice cream
3 oz Heavy Cream
6 muddled blackberries
Shake in a cocktail shaker until thick.
Find Chelsea at Pizzeria Verita in Burlington, VT.
WARREN, Vermont (April 4, 2018) – Sometimes the need to change is inevitable. Other times it is forced by nature. But in this case, Mad River Distillers is choosing to rename its award-winning Malvados apple brandy to both avoid a wicked legal dust up and use the opportunity to enlist the public’s help. The Warren, Vermont distillery was served with a cease-and-desist notice by the French spirits marketing board, who were unimpressed with the small company’s translation skills.
“Malvados means ‘wicked’ in both Spanish and Portuguese,” quipped Mad River founder John Egan. “But we are lovers of brandy, not fighters. To be honest, we never thought we’d become big enough to show up on their radar.”
Malvados is a traditional-style, dry apple brandy made entirely with native Vermont apples and handcrafted in Mad River Distillers converted horse barn. The company was pleased to receive the ultimate acclaim for the 100 proof brandy in 2016, when it was awarded a Good Food Award for Best Distilled Spirit. The recognition certainly brought the upstart distillery international acclaim, but with the increased profile came the registered piece of mail: change the name or face the legal consequences in court.
“We thought it would be fun to enlist the public’s help with a new name,” said Mimi Buttenheim, President of Mad River Distillers. “So we came up with a nice prize package.”
The winning entry, judged by the Mad River Distillers team, will earn an overnight stay at Hotel Vermont in Burlington, a $200 dinner certificate, and a cocktail flight in the distillery’s eponymous Burlington tasting room.
Entries may be submitted via Facebook, Instagram (@MadRiverDistillers) or via Twitter (@DrinkMRD) and should include the proposed name, as well as the hashtags #true802 and #RenameOurBrandy. The winner will be contacted for a mutually-agreeable prize delivery date. The contest runs from April 6 through April 27, 2018. Transportation to and from Burlington, Vermont for redemption is the responsibility of the winner.
Named one of the hottest new bars in America by Zagat, Lion’s Tail is know for their innovative cocktail menu.
“A Cocktail Named Francis” features Mad River Revolution Rye, cognac washed with maple syrup and bacon, punt e mes, allspice, vanilla bean and smoked clove.
Rory is the bar manager at La Voile in Boston, MA, and has worked with the whole Mad River Distillers line of spirits since we debuted in Massachusetts. The Sunset Fire cocktail features Revolution Rye and Tahitian Moon highlights Vanilla Rum. Find Rory on Instagram @50shadesofrory
1.5 oz Mad River Vanilla Rum
0.5 oz Lazzaroni Amaretto
0.75 oz lime juice
0.25 oz ginger syrup**
1 dash Angostura bitters
3 drops Bitter Truth Pimento dram
Combine the ingredients above in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice, and shake hard. Then, fine strain everything in a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with an edible flower.
**Ginger Syrup – – Mix two parts sugar with one part fresh pressed ginger juice. Stir until sugar dissolves and bottle. Add one ounce of high proof vodka to preserve.
1.5 oz Mad River Revolution Rye
0.75 oz Emilio Lustau Amontillado Sherry
0.75 oz Wolfberger Amer Gingembre
2 barspoons Letherbee Fernet
1 tsp cane syrup (2:1)
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Angostura Orange bitters
Combine ingredients above in a mixing glass, add ice, and stir. Strain into a chilled old fashioned glass. Garnish with a flamed orange twist and discard the peel.
Mad River Distillers To Release
Second Edition of Hopscotch Vermont Single Malt Whiskey
WARREN, Vermont (October 30, 2017) – Mad River Distillers of Vermont is proud to announce the upcoming release of the second edition of its extremely limited Hopscotch Vermont Single Malt Whiskey on Friday, November 17 at select Vermont and Massachusetts retailers and bars. The second Hopscotch release is the result of collaboration with neighbor and family-operated microbrewery, Stone Corral Brewery.
“For our second batch of Hopscotch, we decided to distill an existing beer from Stone Corral and chose their Scotch Ale for obvious reasons,” explained Alex Hilton, general manager and distiller at Mad River Distillers. “The result is a rich and malt-forward whiskey, much like the beer itself.”
Hopscotch is Vermont’s first single malt whiskey, a collaboration between Mad River Distillers and their brewer partners. For this second edition with Stone Corral Brewery, just less than 700 bottles have been produced and hand-numbered for release.
“We are excited to be working with Mad River Distillers on the Hopscotch project because we believe we share similar philosophies regarding the integrity of ingredients and construction of flavors,” said Bret Hamilton, co-founder of Stone Corral Brewery. “Our Scotch Ale was a natural starting place for us to explore crafting a single malt whiskey together. We really hope people enjoy the synergy and flavors in this unique spirit.”
About Hopscotch’s Second Edition
Official Release Events
Friday, November 17 from 12 pm to 8 pm. Burlington Tasting Room, 137 St. Paul St., Burlington, Vermont. Free tastings, drink specials and raffle prizes. Follow the tasting room on Instagram @madriverdistillersBTV and Twitter @DrinkMRD for updates.
Saturday, November 18 from 12 pm to 8 pm. Stone Corral Brewery, 83 Huntington Rd., Richmond, Vermont. Free tastings, drink specials, food and live music by Southtown Bluegrass Band from 7 pm to 10 pm.
Friday, November 24 from 12 noon to 6 pm. Mad River Taste Place, 89 Mad River Green, Waitsfield, VT. Start your holiday shopping at our newest tasting room in the Mad River Valley. Free tastings of Hopscotch, Stone Corral beer, as well as cheese, wine and cider.
Beginning September 22
Direct from the distillery tasting room! 137 St. Paul St. Burlington, VT 05401. Hours: Wed. 12-6, Thurs. 12-8, Fri-Sat. 12-10, Sun-Mon. 12-6.
In MA and RI:
Troquet on South
Alden and Harlow
Giles Wines and Spirits
Boston Wine Exchange
Falmouth Wine and Spirits
Needham Wine and Spirits
Gordon’s Main Street
Cambridge Wine and Spirits
Dover Wine Company
Kappy’s East Boston
Coolidge Corner Wine & Spirits
Bottles Fine Wine and Spirits
Mad River Distillers to Release Super-Limited Burnt Rock Bourbon on September 19th
WARREN, Vermont (September 5, 2017) – Mad River Distillers of Vermont is proud to announce the distillery’s new Burnt Rock Bourbon will be released in extremely limited quantities on Tuesday, September 19th at select Vermont and Massachusetts retailers and bars.
“We were looking for a different bourbon experience, something spicier with a bit of smoke to it,” said Mimi Buttenheim, Mad River Distillers’ president. “The maple wood smoke allowed us to showcase our Vermont roots.”
Entirely different from the distillery’s flagship four-grain, wheated bourbon (corn, wheat, oats, and barley), Burnt Rock Bourbon is a 12- to 18-month old corn, rye, and maple wood-smoked barley named after a popular hiking trail up Burnt Rock Mountain in Mad River Valley, Vermont.
“We hand-built our smoker from a used steel drum and smoke the malted barley over maple wood from our property at Cold Spring Farm,” said Alex Hilton, general manager and distiller at Mad River Distillers. “The corn we used was grown organically in Vermont, and the rye adds a nice spice element to complement the smoke. As they say, ‘Smoke it if you got it.’”
About Burnt Rock Bourbon
2018 Hours: Thurs. 12-8 pm, Fri. – Sat. 12-10 pm, Sun-Wed.. 12 – 6 pm
137 St. Paul St. Burlington, VT 05401
Waitsfield Tasting Room
Stop in to the Mad River Taste Place, 89 Mad River Green, Waitsfield, VT 05673 to taste our line of award-winning spirits.
Hours: Mon – Sat 10 am – 6 pm; Sun 9 am – 3 pm
Warren Distillery Tours
We offer 1 distillery tour per day at 1 pm. Book online to reserve your spot. Tours and tastings are complimentary and last approximately 45 minutes, including samples of our award-winning spirits. We distill on weekends, and our distiller most likely cannot accommodate same day tour requests on Saturday, Sunday and holidays. Schedule a Tour >>