by Carla Occaso
MONTPELIER/HARDWICK — Caledonia Spirits, of Hardwick, got a warm welcome from City Council May 29 to move forward on a distillery expansion project in Montpelier.
The company started in Hardwick in 2009 making 235 cases of gin and vodka by distilling raw honey. They quickly grew, won two international awards and now have the greenlight to expand even more. They plan on setting up shop distilling gin, vodka and whiskey in a proposed new 30,000-square-foot facility on property at the foot of Sabin’s Pasture on Barre Street in Montpelier.
During their recent meeting, council members unanimously approved the necessary infrastructure expenses to allow for “a new state-of-the-art distillery to be located on Barre Street,” according to caledoniaspirits.com. “The approval is the first major move toward making this project achievable for us and allows us to focus now on the purchase of said land and plans for construction, which we hope to break ground on in August.”
The company is owned by Ryan Christiansen, who purchased it from founder Todd Hardie in 2015. Hardie began his professional life as a beekeeper, making and selling honey for many years. In 2009 he started distilling the honey to Barr Hill Gin and Barr Hill Vodka. The spirits caught on among consumers and led Hardie to expand operations, bring on workers, and even start selling to urban centers such as Washington D.C. and New York City.
City Manager William Fraser announced in his May 21 City Council meeting agenda memorandum that he has a “draft agreement between the city and Caledonia Spirits for their proposed project on Barre Street. I am outlining the key terms of the agreement, the underlying thought process and the benefits/risks of the agreement.”
Caledonia Spirits is aiming to increase production and also to become a tourist attraction. Fraser writes in his memo that the distillery would be on Barre Street, “on a parcel currently owned by the Aja/Zorzi family.” The project would generate about $72,000 per year in real and personal property tax, and $17,000 to $22,000 a year in water/sewer revenues.
This new development would also bring jobs and “vitality to an underutilized section of the city and may spur additional development in that area, including Sabin’s Pasture.” Finally, it would combat an outside perception that Montpelier is not business-friendly. Actively welcoming Caledonia Spirits would “demonstrate that businesses can and will invest in Montpelier and that the city is willing to be an active partner.” Challenges include “soil issues, rail crossing complications, the need to accommodate the city’s bike path, stormwater issues for both this project and the bike path, sewer connections over two other properties, issues with discharge into the city’s sewer system based on quality of effluent and a property owner who has insisted that bike path easements, Sabin’s accommodations and this project’s considerations all be tied together.”
The city officials have agreed to help out by contributing toward upgrading the water/sewer infrastructure, which is already in the master plan. Caledonia Spirits would pay to relocate the water line to suit their needs as part of construction plans, but the city would fund the rest of the water line at a cost of around $21,700. City officials would also provide a public road to the distillery at a cost of around $50,000. That would involve building a rail crossing to access Caledonia Spirits, which could possibly cost around $250,000.
Caledonia Spirits would build their own sewer connection to the existing system, but the agreement calls for a $40,000 city contribution toward the cost — expected to be recouped in future revenue. In addition, the distillery would likely need a sewage pretreatment plant that could cost around $100,000, with an added $5,000 to fund a preliminary study.
Revenues should exceed costs, however, according to the memo. A total expense to the city is estimated at $466,700, compared with a total projected revenue of $536,000 within 10 years.
In weighing the pros and cons of the project, Fraser writes it would be an economic success and could get work going on the bike path. It could also attract more business. The rail crossing and pretreatment facility come with unknown risks, but overall, pushing the project through the process would be in line with the City Council’s desire to welcome business and development.
Further information can be found at http://montpelier-vt.granicus.com/GeneratedAgendaViewer.php?view_id=2&event_id=1121.