For decades, the airy corner storefront at 137 St. Paul Street in Burlington was home to the Hempest, the clothing retailer known for its spirited, eco-friendly duds. Shortly after the Boston-based boutique closed earlier this month, Mad River Distillers moved in. Now the craft distillery is hard at work transforming the space into a tasting room and retail shop.
If all goes well, the cofounders of the Warren distillery — John Egan, Maura Connolly and Brett Little — will be offering samples of their whiskeys, rums and Malvados apple brandy later this month — at least on a pop-up basis. The opening date remains fuzzy pending permits, says distillery president Mimi Buttenheim, who joined the company last spring after four years heading Vermont Spirits.
When it opens for regular hours in January, the Burlington tasting room will follow the company’s Waitsfield outlet (open on weekends) as its second retail location. Along with its own bottles, the shop will carry spirits from other Vermont distilleries, plus mixers, glassware, bar tools and gift packs, such as a three-flask holiday sampler of MRD rye, bourbon and maple rum.
Though Buttenheim emphasizes that the new space will not be a bar, the tasting room will have a bar and will host special cocktail nights, workshops and other boozy events in hopes of tapping into the Queen City’s increasing interest in craft food and spirits. “It’ll give us a chance to talk to people about how we make these cocktails and give people a better sense of what craft distilling is all about,” Buttenheim says.
Egan notes that the company decided early on to distill every spirit by hand and from scratch, using as many local and regional raw materials as possible. “We think that’s a point of differentiation for people that are interested in this movement,” he says.
What’s more, Egan says he’s excited to use the space as a tasting lab, where visitors will be able to offer feedback on the test batches, experiments and new products that head distiller Little is working on back at the distillery. “We’re really excited about Burlington,” Egan says. “We think it’s a great place to be.”