Caledonia Spirits breaks ground on Montpelier distillery

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Vermont's craft brewing industry is booming, but coming up on its heels are craft spirits. Vermont now has 28 local distilleries turning out all kinds of hard alcohol. Now, with a few years under their belts, some of the more established distillers are beginning to expand, creating a fast-growing sector of the state's economy.

Caledonia Spirit's gin is extremely popular, helping the company expand. Officials broke ground Thursday on a new distillery and tasting room along the Winooski River in Montpelier.

"We produce everything and it's a harder path, but to steal a quote from our founder Todd Hardie, 'That's what makes the gin taste better,'" said the company's Ryan Christiansen.

Caledonia Spirits and Smuggler's Notch lead the way in Vermont's expanding liquor industry, accounting for 25 percent of local product sales.

"They're growing by leaps and bounds and over the last 14 years Vermont has seen a number of these distilleries grow from a mere three to now we have 28," said Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont.

"I would describe it as strong," said Department of Liquor and Lottery Commissioner Patrick Delaney. He says three more distilleries opened in the past two years, and sales of Vermont products are growing faster than the overall market. "Business is growing. The increase in case volume has been encouraging. The number of participants in the industry has been encouraging."

Sales of Vermont products were up more than five percent last fiscal year and Vermont companies sold 16,000 cases of alcohol. The 19 Vermont producers selling through the department are making more than 150 products. Delaney says it's all helping Vermont's economy. "I would definitely consider the craft distilling industry to be an economic driver within the state. It does create jobs," he said.

Alcoholic products can often be similar, so Delaney says Vermont companies will need to remain unique to stand out. "For local producers to remain competitive they're going to have to continue upping their game. That has to do with packaging, brand imaging, quality of product and uniqueness of flavor profiles," he said.

And with more space to grow, Caledonia Spirits is toasting its future. "There are major billion dollar companies out there that we go to bat with every single day. They are buying up shelf space, they have flawless marketing, they have all of the shiny objects. Yet, somehow, this little Caledonia Spirits and Barr Hill Gin continue to grow," Christiansen said.

Delaney says Vermont distillers are creating a foothold and the local industry should see expansion in the years ahead.

The Department of Liquor and Lottery sold $80 million dollars of alcohol last year -- and about $16 million came from Vermont companies.