by Michael Bielawski
HARDWICK – Caledonia Spirits may be moving its primary distilling operations over to Montpelier, but it’s still got a lot happening back in the Northeast Kingdom where its original facility remains, in the town of Hardwick.
A lot of what happens does not take place at any distillery at all, rather it’s the harvesting fields of rye and barley at Thornhill Farm in Greensboro, it’s the grinding of mills of Elmore Mountain Bread and it’s smoking barley in small huts for added flavor.
Todd Hardie, founder of Caledonia Spirits in Hardwick, has recently hit a big checkpoint in the marathon process towards Caledonia’s newest creation, a rye whiskey.
Still years away from any commercial release, this year was nonetheless an important checkpoint in the process. On Thornhill Farm, Hardie has 29 acres of rye and 18 acres of barley which have just been sealed up in white-oak barrels to become the next great whiskey Vermonters will enjoy years from now.
“We’re fulfilling our mission to take care of Vermont, to employ Vermont people, with good jobs,” said Hardie.
Caledonia Spirits is a substantial employer in the Northeast Kingdom, around 40 working local and out of state, and products are shipped around the nation and as far away as East Asia.
The whiskey-making process is one of many steps. After harvest, there is smoking barley for five hours, then they must mill the rye and barley at Elmore Mountain Bread, and then they get to make the whiskey at the Hardwick distillery.
Hardie smokes the barley in a hut on his farm using apple and cherry wood.
“Barley is the portal for getting the smoke into whiskey,” he said.
The number of community players is many. Over at Elmore Mountain Bread, Andrew Heyn makes the mills to mill this flour for their bread as well as the whiskey.
Hardie said he is happy to continue working with Caledonia in this capacity.
“I turned it over to Ryan Christiansen (the new owner) and team two years ago, so I could become their farmer,” he said.
He said his family came over to the states about 200 years ago from Scotland, and all throughout their family farm has always been called Thornhill, including the one in Scotland which started in 1888.
“This is a 129-year family tradition for me,” he said. “And I’m just carrying it on, it’s in my genes. I realized a couple of years ago that I had no choice, it’s genetic, and this is how we make agriculture work, we give value to the gain.”
Hardie said the techniques and enthusiasm, all the way from prepping the soil in the fields to the aging process in the barrels, it all accounts for the finished product.
“The whiskey has got vital energy, when you have that kind of care, taking care of the land, spreading manure, growing green manure crops, picking rocks, doing cover crops, harvesting it, drying it, cleaning it, really taking care of it. The result is the whiskey is good.”
Hardie spoke very highly of Caledonia’s new owner Christiansen, who is now overseeing the big move to Montpelier. It’s not yet clear the fate of the Hardwick location.
“He is the distiller, I am learning distilling from Ryan, and it’s a beautiful partnership,” he said.
Caledonia Spirits is opening up a 30,000-square-foot riverfront distillery on Montpelier’s Barre Street in spring 2018.
Michael Bielawski is a freelance reporter for The Bridge. He can be reached at email@example.com.