Whitingham resident Ed Metcalfe recently introduced his Metcalfe’s Vermont Maple Cream Liqueur, produced at his latest venture, Vermont Distillers, located on Hogback Mountain in Marlboro. As the name suggests, the tasty potion is a mixture of cream, pure Vermont maple syrup, alcohol, and enough water to thin the ingredients to an alcohol content of 17%, or 34 proof. The result is something that’s similar to an Irish cream liqueur – but with a distinctive Vermont maple flavor.
So far, Metcalfe says, the liqueur has been a hit with everyone who has tried it at the official tasting outlet in his Hogback Mountain Gift Shop. Local people who have tried the stuff rave about it. Metcalfe says people stop him when he’s around town to tell him how much they like it. “People go on and on about it,” he says. “The only complaint I’ve gotten is that people can’t keep it in their refrigerator – it goes too fast.”
So far, Metcalfe’s Maple Cream Liqueur is on the shelves at several Vermont Department of Liquor Control (DLC) liquor stores, including Robinson’s Liquor Store in Wilmington and 7-Eleven in Dover. It can be special-ordered through any Vermont liquor store. It lists for $24.99 per 750 ml bottle, but for a limited time, Metcalfe is offering a $5 per bottle mail-in rebate.
But those who stop in at the Hogback Mountain Gift Shop can have a taste of the maple liqueur before buying a bottle. Under his distiller’s license, he’s allowed to give visitors to his tasting outlet a sip of the liqueur in a tiny tasting cup, and he can also sell the stuff onsite.
Metcalfe is no stranger to the spirits business. In 1985, he started the North River Winery in Jacksonville, Vermont’s first winery. But his interest in the industry started a few years earlier. “I was a teacher in Marlboro, NH, in the early ‘80s,” he recalls, “when I got an offer from a friend to run a liquor store in Rhode Island for about twice what I was making as a teacher.”
Metcalfe took the job and, through his connections, eventually became the salesman for Rhode Island’s first winery, where he got the idea to start his own winery. He ran North River Winery for 12 years, eventually selling the business.
Even when he was running the winery he was thinking about distilling spirits, he says, but it would have meant a whole new operation at a new location. “By law you can’t have a distillery that is attached to a residence, so I couldn’t bring a still in to the North River Winery (which was located at a residence).”
In 2008, more than a decade after selling the winery, Metcalfe entered his distillery plan in Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation’s annual business plan competition, and took first place, along with $10,000 in seed money to start his business. Getting the business underway has taken longer than expected, mainly thanks to other business and personal obligations. But now production is up and running in the former Alpenglow building at Hogback.
Vermont Distillers is a family business. Metcalfe’s sons Augustus “Gus” and Dominic are actively involved in everything from bottling to marketing. Dominic designed the company website (www.vermontdistillers.com) and Gus designed the label for their next product, a raspberry liqueur. “I always saw this as a project for us to do together,” Metcalfe says.
The raspberry liqueur, due to be released later this year, is only one of several planned potions. A limoncello is also in the works, and in the future, maybe a vodka.
The raspberry liqueur will be entirely blended at the Marlboro facility. Metcalfe says it will be similar to Chambord, but with a fresher and more distinctly raspberry flavor. “We’re using a concentrated raspberry juice that’s done under low heat and vacuum, so it has a ‘just squeezed’ flavor,” he says.
Because of the startup’s small scale, Metcalfe is currently purchasing the triple-distilled neutral grain spirit for his maple cream from a New England supplier, maple syrup from Vermont suppliers, and the cream is supplied by a company over the border in New York that specializes in blending cream with alcohol. “It’s a highly specialized process,” Metcalfe says of the blending operation. “I tried it myself and got this.” He holds up a jelly jar of clear liquid with a rubbery white “puck” floating in it. “It takes a while for this to happen, but I decided it wasn’t a good idea to mix the cream here.”
But Metcalfe has hopes that, in the future, the product can be made with 100% Vermont ingredients. If the venture is as successful as he suspects it will be, he plans to purchase a vodka still. He says the still would cost between $125,000 and $150,000, so he’ll have to sell quite a few bottles of Metcalfe’s Maple Cream Liqueur, but it would mean the ability to distill onsite. “If this is successful, we’ll have the money to do that, and to renovate the Alpenglow building into something more suitable for a distillery,” he says. “I’ve already got a plan.”