It’s an unseasonably warm September Thursday evening in downtown Winooski, and the restaurants and bars that encompass the center of town are bustling. As I poke my head into Misery Loves Company, ready to embark on my first Cocktail Walk, I’m greeted by Jen Smith and Chris Howell, who will be taking me and a dozen other people on a tour of three restaurants/bars nearby, punctuated by cocktails.
Cocktail Walk evolved to highlight local spirit makers and let them tell their stories in an engaging format. Each location offers small bites designed to complement the cocktails. The September 10 walk featured WhistlePig Rye and Urban Moonshine bitters in each drink. Hot and sticky wings with a soy and bitters glaze emerged at Mule Bar to accompany a tiki-style drink; Misery Loves Company offered a housemade ricotta with a honey vinegar and plum jam; and Oak 45 presented an extensive local cheese, olive and baguette board.
Launched in the summer of 2013, the concept grew out of Chris Howell’s other business venture, Vermont Farm Tours, where Howell leads people on full- and half-day tours of Vermont farms. Around the time he was thinking about growing his tour business, he met two of Vermont’s many distillers, David Howe and Todd Hardie.
Impressed by the quality of their spirits, Howell had a light-bulb moment. He thought, “Vermont has an ever-growing list of craft distillers and an unusually high concentration of well-run restaurants with talented chefs and bartenders. I think I can help tell their story in a way that benefits all of us,” Howell says.
Since their launch two years ago, the list of spirit makers on board has continued to grow. Local partnerships in 2015 have included Urban Moonshine bitters, Groennfell Meadery, Caledonia Spirits, Dunc’s Mill, Eden’s Orleans, Metcalfe’s, Boyden Valley, WhistlePig, Saxtons River, Vermont Spirits, Silo and Appalachian Gap Distillery.
Cocktail Walk hasn’t succeeded only in telling the stories of Vermont spirit makers and the local bartenders who whip those spirits into tasty libations, it has also fostered the development of many personal connections. “After three cocktails, everyone’s usually in very good spirits,” Howell said.
Corey Burdick’s favorite cocktails typically incorporate as many local elements as possible! She particularly enjoys those that include raw honey and Barr Hill gin.