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A Mad River Distillers Tour

If you’ve ever wanted to learn how different spirits are made, and the ways in which they’re made, consider a visit to our distillery! All of our spirits are fermented, distilled and bottled in the Mad River Valley, which is just an hour from Stowe and Burlington. During a tour, we’ll walk you through our distillery space and explain our process, and how it differs between our rums and whiskey spirits. Of course, you can ask any and all questions along the way. 

Before you visit, here’s a simple rundown on the difference between our rums and whiskeys, and what makes our award-winning spirits a distinct offering within Vermont and nationally.

Mad River Distillers Rum
Most rum is distilled from molasses. Molasses can contain undesirable elements, such as sulfur, so rum made from molasses requires a very high proof to separate out those undesirable elements. Our rums are distilled from demerara sugar instead. This allows us to distill at a lower proof, which preserves more flavor and finish. The resulting rum has a subtle sweetness, smokiness and vegetal notes. From there, we can impart unique flavors through different aging and finishing techniques. This includes:

  • Rum 44 - our unaged silver rum, with no flavor or sweetening added.
  • Vanilla Rum - made with a maceration of Tahitian vanilla beans (not artificially flavored).
  • First Run Rum - our barrel aged rum.
  • Maple Cask Rum - our barrel aged rum finished in used maple barrels.
  • PX Rum - finished in used Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks.

Mad River Distillers Whiskey
Making whiskey is a bit more involved than making rum. There are six steps to our process, which includes mashing, fermenting, distilling, barrel aging, proofing and bottling. The mashbills and the barrel aging have a significant impact on the flavor and distinctiveness of the resulting spirit. 

The whiskey mashbills at Mad River Distillers all contain unique grains, including oats, chocolate rye and maple-wood smoked barley. To begin, we use only regionally-sourced, non-GMO grains, and we heat them in hot water, converting starch into fermentable sugars.  During fermentation, yeast is added to the mash, and sugars are converted to alcohol. That fermented mash then runs through a large still, which concentrates the alcohol by volume (ABV) to about 50%. Final distillation is done through a smaller still.

 At this stage, the alcohol distillate is ready to be aged. Our Straight Bourbon is aged for a minimum of 2 years in new charred American oak barrels. During the aging process, the distillate oxidizes and penetrates the wood of the barrels, picking up on both color and flavor from the barrel’s chosen toast and char. Using properly made barrels that retain the spirit, choosing a toast and char that imparts the desired flavor profiles, and storing the barrels in a location that benefits from temperature shifts are all critical to the finished product. In Vermont, we benefit from all four seasons, so the shifts in temperature here are another reason our whiskey spirits are distinctive. 

After, the aged spirit is removed from the barrel and filtered through a series of fine cartridge filters, then reduced to bottle strength with reverse osmosis water. Our whiskey spirits include:

  • Straight Bourbon - this mashbill of (predominantly) corn, along with malted barley, wheat and oats, results in a deep and rich aroma of corn, smokiness on the palate, and a smooth aromatic finish.
  • Burnt Rock Bourbon - a mashbill combination of 70% corn, 15% rye, and 15% maplewood smoked barley results in a bourbon that explodes with flavor and spice, with just a touch of smoke.
  • Revolution Rye Whiskey - using three distinct rye grain varietals, including chocolate malted rye, this spirit has a cocoa richness and finish. It is earthy and peppery with hints of walnut, berry and tropical spice.

Want to learn more about our whiskey making process, or our barrels? We share more about the whiskey making process in a previous blog post. You can learn more about our barrels, sourced from Kelvin Cooperage in Louisville, Kentucky, in our Source Spotlight blog post.

A couple years ago, we had the pleasure of interviewing and hosting Adam Krakowski at our Burlington Tasting Room. Author of Vermont Prohibition: Teetotalers, Bootleggers & Corruption, Adam shared his thoughts on what made Vermont spirits unique. “Most distillers learned the craft of distilling hands-on, within the Green Mountain state. This, in turn, translates to artistic interpretations and unique products. Between the craft of distilling and the use of local ingredients, the distilling industry in Vermont has laid a very strong foundation for future growth. The amount of awards the industry has received helps to further their cause.” 

As a small craft distillery in Vermont, each of our bottles are labeled by hand at our bottling facility, so you can be sure we carefully monitor the quality of our spirits from the moment we start our process, to the moment a bottle ships out.

Ready to see our distillery in person? Tours are scheduled by appointment and last 45-60 minutes on certain days of the week. Each tour includes a tasting. Visit our Distillery Tours page to make a reservation. Please note that we plan our distillation around our tours, so same day requests can seldom be accommodated. 

Another way you can experience our spirits is at our Tasting Rooms. At our Burlington Tasting Room, you can purchase our spirits and cocktails, learn about distilling, and shop in our retail section for a variety of cocktail accessories, including bitters, mixers, syrups, books and apparel. Our bitters selection is probably the most extensive selection in the state! You can also sample our spirits with a tasting. Our team is always happy to share information on our spirits and our process, or even to give you pointers on the perfect cocktails to make at home.

See you soon! Cheers!

Written and published by Brianne Lucas on April 29, 2024. 

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