BRATTLEBORO — Saxtons River Distillery founder Christian Stromberg says he was able to get more serious about bringing gin into production about two years ago.
"We kind of put the equipment together ourselves. It's a unique system. It's a vacuum system," he said. "It's done at a much lower pressure than atmospheric pressure, which reduces the boiling point of alcohol and water and just about anything. It's boiling at a much lower temperature."
The system helps keep the flavoring. Stromberg said some aromas would be killed at a higher level of heat. During initial tests of the new product, now called Snowdrop Gin, his team was shocked at the scent of the juniper berries they were not able to smell in previous rounds of distilling.
Stromberg said he started playing with gin over eight years ago while still working out of his barn in Cambridgeport, but needed to focus on what he was already making. He has since moved to 485 West River Road off Route 30 where operations and public tastings occur.
Snowdrop is heading to stores in Connecticut and Massachussetts, and to other distributors. Bottles will make it outside of New England but the distillery's not promoting much outside that region.
"It's going to take a bit to get into Vermont. Because it's a system, we have to make a presentation to the state," said Stromberg.
Getting it ready to sell took some time. A label had to be sent back and forth between the distillery and federal regulators before approval came in April. This limited how much marketing could be done in the meantime. If looked at carefully, a covered bridge can be see on the label.
Also, the distillery's boiler cracked after the first time the gin was produced. Some defects led to the equipment being rewelded to ensure the vacuum would hold up, Stromberg said.
"Now, this is our first run," he said. "Our first bottling took six separate distillations."
Brewer and distiller Ivan Hennessy was responsible for distilling all of the first batch.
Guarente and Hennessy are constantly checking the gin to see what it smells like.
Different batches may have higher amounts of botanicals than others. The company plans to change the proportions to mix up the flavors as time goes on.
"This isn't a particularly high citrus version of it," said Stromberg. "We plan on having a high-citrus version."
A special label likely will be created if a much larger dose of citrus is added.
People were polled before Snowdrop was developed.
"We asked, 'What do you like in a gin?' Because once you create clean gin, it really becomes, 'What do you want?' We probably have over 20 different commercially available gins around us just to see what others were like. We didn't want to end up with something someone's already making. We just wanted to make sure it was unique and good and right," Stromberg said. "It's a fairly complex gin. But that's what makes it fun."
A little bit of cocoa was used so hints of it can be detected upon tasting, he said, calling the end result "a gin for all seasons."
Drew Kacik, marketing and promotions manager, will be developing recipes for the gin. The distillery does the same with its other products.
"It's a big departure from sapling and bourbon," Stromberg said. "It's something I've wanted to do for a long time."
He started the distillery in 2006. He moved it to Brattleboro five years ago.
Several tastings at liquor stores around New England are scheduled for the summer. Kacik said he will be bringing Snowdrop to the Killington Wine Festival, Ottauquechee Musicfest, and Garlic Festival in Bennington.
"I will be promoting this everywhere," he told the Reformer.
"Ultimately, we're pretty proud of the product but people have to taste it," said Stromberg. "Only a few other distilleries are doing gin this way. But everyone's going to have their own take on it."
The goal is to have a well-known regional gin, he said, hoping it will become a Vermont style that shares some attributes with other American-dried gins.
Distilling it takes roughly eight hours.
"It just runs off hot water but it's in a big tank. Even that has to come up to temperature. It's insulated so we don't lose heat. You're pretty much pulling the last bit when it's time to close down here," Stromberg said. "We hope at some point to be able to use solar."
Oil or wood chips would be needed for a traditional system, he said. But the new equipment could allow Saxtons River Distillery to move to solar hot-water heating.
Stromberg keeps an eye on sustainability when it comes to his business.
"If for some reason, there's another oil crunch, we'll still make gin," he said.
Contact Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.