Last week, we celebrated Thanksgiving in the U.S. This normally also means a long weekend. While most folks opt to go shopping and participate in the madness of Black Friday and morning deals, my husband and I don't participate in this craziness. Instead, we usually opt for a low key, non shopping weekend or a trip somewhere else. This past weekend, we visited Vermont with our two friends, Lauren and Arjun. We've traveled with them a few times, from China to Key West to Peru so our trips are always eventful.
We set out to visit Vermont early Friday morning. From New Jersey, it takes about 4-5 hours depending on where you go in Vermont. Vermont is known for some great snow, but as we don't ski or snowboard, we opted to check out Vermont's local food and drink culture instead. Here's a glimpse of what we did. Hopefully, this inspires you to take a trip up to Vermont for a weekend. It's totally worth it! If you are going between December to February, make sure you have an AWD drive vehicle. The snow can get pretty intense. Vermont is known as the "Green Mountain State" and it's the second least populous state so you will be driving through lots of mountains, hills and open farm spaces.
We were out and on the road by 7:30 am in New Jersey. With a quick stop at a diner for breakfast, we proceeded to Middlebury, Vermont to check out the Middlebury Tasting Trail. This trail consists of 8 cideries, distilleries, breweries and a vineyard so there's something for everyone to drink along the way. We ended up visiting 3 out of the 8. They were very close together so you are no wasting time driving around. A few were closed due to the Thanksgiving weekend. The flight samplers were pretty inexpensive and the vibes were pretty laid back and cool. What I didn't know was that Vermont had all of these locally made spirits. Ingredients are sourced locally and are made in plants that are powered by renewable resources.
First Stop: Wood Chuck Cider
I only got introduced to ciders because it was a gluten free alcohol. When I did the paleo lifestyle a few years back, I still wanted to drink, but didn't want beer so ciders became my drink of choice. The ciders at Wood Chuck are crisp and smooth. Decide which one you like by doing the tasting flight. Everything is in glass so there's very little waste. Hang around for a bit by the bar. You can choose to take your favorite home in their reusable growlers or from their pack selection. The free self-guided tour is short and you can do so in your own time. I love how all of the apples are locally grown and sourced. They are also a pretty responsible company using cow manure, solar energy and sourcing locally from farmers.
Second Stop: Stonecutter Spirits
This was a two minute drive from Wood Chuck and in a nondescript looking warehouse. It's pretty small and you get to sample a whiskey and a gin. The alcohol is aged in the barrels in this warehouse, but are distilled at another facility. The gin was very smooth here. Easy to drink and doesn't have that strong juniper taste. The whiskey is aged in former bourbon barrels and then finished in Cabernet barrels so it has a lighter taste. Note that the gin is gluten free so add it to the list to be had.
Third Stop: Otter Creek Brewing
This place was pretty busy when we got there. This was also one of the few places that serves food with their beer. You can get a flight tasting from Otter Creek or Shed. I really enjoyed their Stout. I'm not a big fan of IPAs, but perhaps you'll like them. They do their brewing next door. In fact, you can see their facilities, but there are no tours. You can also bring your own, clean growler for a refill if you want to take some home.
Fourth Stop: Magic Hat
From Otter Creak, we left Middlebury and headed to Burlington to check out Magic Hat. It's a 40 minute drive. We just missed the guided tour so we went through the self-guided tour. Their tour has some cool looking art displays. You can see over the brewing facilities and use the virtual tour to zoom into certain areas of the facility. They do offer a taste test at the end of the tour. It's free and of course requires ID. I love the fact that Magic Hat also takes into account the environment when brewing, recycling some of the water they use and using the "brew doo" for compost. Biogas is used to generate around 40% of the breweries energy which I think is amazing. See you can drink beer and be conscious about the environment.
Last and Final Stop: Citizen Cider
We continued in Burlington and headed to Citizen Cider. They have a pretty cool, tasting room. I though the ciders there were very good. Light and crisp. A few sweet ones, but generally mostly dry to me which was excellent. They also serve food and the burgers from locally sourced beef was pretty tasty. Ciders are made from locally sourced apples from Vermont and New York. I guess there's no shortage of apples in the Northeast.
We didn't get a chance to go to this one, but this was recommended by a friend, Four Quarters Brewing. Check out Vermont Brewer's Association for other tasting trails. I love how everything is local and the brewers are sourcing as much of their ingredients as locally as possible. They are also taking care of the environment in the process. A side note that all of the places we visited provided taste tests in glass containers so no plastic use here. If it's served in a plastic cup, I wouldn't recommend tasting it anyways. As always, drink responsibly. Get a designated driver. Vermont roads can be very dark and slipper at night so don't risk it.
After our last taste test, we made our way to Watersbury where we booked our Airbnb. The town is 20 minutes from Stowe and still a bit quiet as the snow season is in not full effect yet. The weather was also slightly warmer so the snow wasn't sticking around.
Of course, you can't go to Vermont without doing some hiking. So after a day of cider tasting, not hard drinking, there's a difference, we went hiking the next morning. We opted for the Stowe Pinnacle Trail. Rated a Moderate by AllTrails.com. It was a good 3.1 mile hike. A little treacherous in some parts as there was ice and very slippery leaves on the ground. We made it with just our hiking boots, but a few groups after us had on traction slips which I would recommend if you are coming when there's some snow and ice on the ground. It's just easier and better to be able to confidently step on the ground. The view at the top was well worth it though. The sky cleared briefly and were were able to see the mountains. The air felt so clean. Dress in layers and dress appropriately. The weather can change very quickly.
Food In Vermont
There are plenty of good food options in Vermont. We didn't see too many restaurant chains where we went, except maybe for a Subway, which seemed like it was everywhere. Vermont totally supports local businesses.
This is a small cafe in Watersbury with fresh pastries and breakfast items. I had the maple walnut scone and it was delicious. We also had the freshly made breakfast empanadas. Grab your coffee here before you go hiking. The owner's beautiful dog may greet you by the door so watch out.
Our post hiking meal consisted of burgers, mac and cheese, and locally sourced salads. All totally delicious! The burger was amazing to say the least. Doc Pond's was pretty busy when we got there. It was a 10 minute drive from the hiking location and in the heart of Stowe. Easy to get to, friendly service. They had some tasty looking milkshakes as well (served in paper straws), but I skipped on that in the hopes of a Ben & Jerry's visit.
We had Sunday breakfast in Monpelier. It's the capital of Vermont and a 15 minute drive from Waterbury. Excellent breakfast with locally sourced ingredients. Everything comes in some sort of crepe with gluten free options. Plenty of options to eat well. Take out coffee cups and straws are made of compostable plant material. Yay!
We can't forget about Ben & Jerry's. It's in Stowe and easily accessible. They have a $4 guided tour. The factory was in maintenance mood when we got there, but nice to see how and where ice cream gets made. The samples come in paper cups at the end of the tour. The tour is good for kids and adults alike. If your child or your are lactose intolerant, I'm sorry, but you can get a sorbet instead for your free ice cream. I learned something new about Ben & Jerry's too. Despite them being owned and acquired by Unilever, they maintain their own separate Board of Directors allowing them to continue their company mission of making good food sustainably. They pay a premium for local milk coming from cows without hormones. You'll see a solar grid next to the factory that is used to power some of the plant's energy. Makes eating ice cream almost guilt-free, almost!
Stores to Checkout
If you are looking for some more local food to take back to the house, check out the Cabot Annex Store where you can sample and taste test Vermont cheddar before buying. And by taste test, I mean have an entire meal made up of cheese.
The Stowe Maple Products Store offers maple and honey products. The owner was very nice. In fact, as you come down VT-100, you may see some of the maple pipelines in place.
The Cold Hollow Cider Mill is home to some good apple cider donuts, a tasting of apple cider made in store and plenty of other local goodies. Worth checking out since all of these stores are close to each other. Their cider mill is open so that you can see the process.
You can get your caffeine fix at Stowe Street Cafe or Green Mountain Coffee. All have sit-down options so you can reduce the single-use coffee cups. Stow Street Cafe has a bookstore next to it and some small items for sale from local artisans. It also has good recycling and waste management options including a compost bucket. I'm not necessarily a big fan of Green Mountain Coffee and Keurig because of their wasteful pods. I was able to see that they are doing some work to make recyclable coffee pods for the future. A step in the right direction given how popular their coffee is.
Last thing, don't forget to keep an eye out for those covered bridges. Vermont is home to over 100 authentic covered bridges. Covered bridges were build to protect it's structure from bad weather. You'll find many that are completely enclosed protecting horses from shying away from the river around it.