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Locavore Libations Sumptuous Syrups aren’t just for infusing your booze with flavor; you can stir up some DIY sodas or even splash them into your baked goods to pack a punch. Photo courtesy of Sumptuous Syrups. By Tamara Scully “The syrups for Don were just for fun,” Fox says. “We played with these syrups for a year and a half, and I made 11 different flavors. We had no idea that this would turn into a business.” Perhaps it should have been expected that this gift, given in this time and place -Hardwick, Vermont, the small town which re-invented itself with local food -was going to become revolutionary.
The pale-yellow drink that Don Horrigan sets down on the bar resembles a mashup of a coconut daiquiri and a miniature terrarium. A green leaf pokes from the rim of the curvy Collins glass, and a charred jalapeño pepper bobs at the foamy top.
Turns out this Spicy Basil Paloma is devoid of coconut or cream; the foam results from shaking the drink’s citrus juices so hard they froth. The first sip is all simmering heat and myriad jostling flavors. That charred pepper, along with jalapeño-infused tequila, lends the drink its slow, gentle burn. The leaf is basil, and the herb’s sweet flavor laces the rest of the drink — it’s from Sumptuous Lemon 3 Basil, one of the simple syrups that Horrigan cocreated and sells under the name Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont.
The Spicy Basil Paloma is among about a dozen gutsy winter cocktails served at Positive Pie in Hardwick, where the lanky, 39-year-old Horrigan, a blur of kinetic energy in a newsboy cap, manages the bar. In the back, Horrigan chars his peppers in the same wood fire that turns out pizzas, as well as cooking the bacon for a house bacon-infused bourbon.
“I look at drinks as a microcosm of what goes on on the plate, except you’re getting [the flavors] all at once,” Horrigan says. In other words, a drink can’t be deconstructed in the way a plate of food can. “If a drink isn’t perfect, you know it right away,” he adds.
Flavor harmony is paramount in a good cocktail, and getting it right can take a lot of trial and error. At its heart, a cocktail is simply “the perfect balance of spirits, sugar and bitters,” Horrigan says. But balance in drinks, as in life, can be elusive — especially when the ingredients may include herbs, fresh fruit and pickled vegetables. When it all comes together, libations such as the Spicy Basil Paloma result.
The Texas-born Horrigan doesn’t like to talk much about himself, but he allows that he first came to Vermont for a Grateful Dead show in the 1990s and never left. He took college classes and worked both in the mental health field and in restaurants — on the line, washing dishes or tending bar. During his time living in Burlington, Horrigan frequented local bars to feed his growing interest in craft cocktails. After he moved to the Northeast Kingdom with his partner, Leah Pontius, the dearth of watering holes inspired him to develop a formidable home bar, he says.
About six years ago, Horrigan walked into Claire’s Restaurant & Bar in Hardwick looking for a job, and then-chef Steven Obranovich hired him to tend bar and develop drinks. Horrigan and Obranovich shared an interest in local ingredients, and Horrigan began to create recipes based on available produce grown nearby. In the Kingdom, with its short growing season, that was sometimes a challenge.
“Most of the year, it was hard to do localvore cocktails with fresh herbs, fresh fruit and fresh veggies,” says Horrigan. He coped by using pickled veggies and the broader selection of Vermont-made spirits that eventually became available. And syrups.
Sumptuous Syrups grew from a partnership with Hardwick resident Linda Fox, a regular at Claire’s. She had been creating simple syrups at home with fruit from her garden — blackberries, rhubarb, strawberries — and toting them to Claire’s for Horrigan to use in his libations. Soon the two hatched an idea: Why not make and sell their own syrups?
“We realized there were only four or five companies that were doing what we were trying to do,” Horrigan says. By that he means sourcing local produce for pure, highly concentrated simple syrups and targeting bartenders and serious home mixologists.
In Fox’s kitchen, she and Horrigan experimented with dozens of flavors — from raspberry to chocolate mole — trying to perfect the concentrate. “We tackled some hard stuff,” recalls Horrigan, such as creating a basil syrup that was palatable to both of them. “We tried teas. We tried tinctures. We tried juicing basil, but that didn’t really work.”
Fox and Horrigan were among the first clients of Hardwick’s Vermont Food Venture Center, which opened in 2011. That potent Lemon 3 Basil was one of their initial four flavors.
After Horrigan left Claire’s in November 2010, he concentrated on building the Sumptuous Syrups brand by attending Vermont food events with Fox, doling out punches and samples. He also began private consulting. When Hardwick’s Caledonia Spirits launched its Barr Hill Gin and Vodka, the owners hired Horrigan to come up with an initial drinks menu. He invented concoctions such as the Caledonia Cooler in a marathon, three-hour mixing session at the distillery.
Last year, Positive Pie’s owners lured Horrigan back behind the bar, and he designed tap lists and drink menus with Hardwick’s clientele in mind. “Rum’s the big thing in this town,” he says. The tap list ranges from Bud Light to Hill Farmstead Brewery.
The drink menu is Horrigan’s baby, and a portion of it is devoted to vintage cocktails delivered in dainty, 4-ounce glasses. A Rye Ginger Sling is a potent, scarlet-hued thing in which Bulleit Rye and tart, fresh lemon juice jangle against cherry-infused brandy and a vein of spice from Sumptuous Yellow Ginger Syrup. A “drunken cherry” lurking at the bottom seems to ooze more nectar into the drink.
That same syrup also appears in a Whiskey’d Apple, Horrigan’s twist on a classic whiskey and ginger ale that ingeniously uses Citizen Cider Unified Press for zest and effervescence. It’s a shame to leave such an original drink behind on the bar, but when snow starts to fall outside and the road home is long, that’s what I do. Not without first asking Horrigan some more questions.
SEVEN DAYS: What was the first alcohol you ever drank — where, when and how did it taste?
Don Horrigan: My mother’s Canadian Mist with Diet Pepsi and lemon, when I was about 9 years old. I totally hated it and am still not fond of Canadian whiskey to this day.
SD: What are the basic components of a solid, functional home bar?
DH: Personally, I can’t get along without whiskey. I’d say the five core spirits [whiskey, rum, vodka, gin and tequila] and bitters, always bitters. A true cocktail is just spirits, sugar and bitters. Without bitters, you lack balance. Also, a good cocktail shaker and a citrus peeler or zester.
SD: How did you start building your own home bar?
DH: After I first moved to the Northeast Kingdom, what I missed most about living in Burlington and Montpelier was a truly good cocktail. Parima, the Daily Planet, the Alchemist and the Black Door [Bar & Bistro] were all out of reach during the daily grind. With no watering holes in the area, Leah and I built our home bar, the Voodoo Lounge, and I began to follow the progress of [artisanal mixologist] Scott Beattie [of the Goose & Gander in St. Helena, Calif.] and his extensive use of fresh, sometimes unusual cocktail ingredients.
SD: What do you like most about what you do?
DH: With Sumptuous Syrups, I love the creative process, [from] crafting and perfecting the syrups to creating new cocktails. And marketing gives me a chance to spend an extraordinate amount of time in bars and cocktail lounges throughout the Northeast, chatting up other bartenders. It’s definitely a win-win. I also love the rush of a heavy bar shift; there’s nothing more challenging and satisfying [than] to have the bar standing two to three deep and to be hit with a large dining-room order of specialty cocktails.
SD: What kind of drink do people most often ask for?
DH: “I want something fruity and a little bit sweet.”
SD: What’s your favorite bartending book?
DH: My bar Bible is a 1973 edition of Playboy’s Bar Guide; it has all of the classics without the fluff of the late ’70s and ’80s.
SD: How do you get inspired for new cocktails?
DH: Thirst. And fresh, seasonal produce is always inspiring. Working with Caledonia Spirits Barr Hill Gin and Vodka, Dunc’s Mill Backwoods Reserve Rum, Eden Orleans, Boyden Apple Crème Liqueur and Citizen Cider Unified Press has made it easy this year, as they’ve given me the highest-quality platform to start with.
SD: When you’re developing a new cocktail, who’s your go-to taster?
DH: Leah [Pontius, Horrigan’s fiancée] is really the only person I am truly trying to impress with new cocktails. She’s not afraid to let me know if I’m off the mark with a new cocktail idea, but [she] will champion the great ones.
SD: Are there any other Vermont bars where you like to drink?
DH: Prohibition Pig [in Waterbury], any day of the week. And the Daily Planet [in Burlington].
SD: Were there any Sumptuous Syrups flavors that never saw the light of day?
DH: Yes! A sweet and smoky syrup with fresh jalapeño and liquid smoke.
SD: What do you think is the next big thing in cocktails?
DH: Rumor has it that ’80s drinks are on the way up, as is anything from Brazil.
SD: What liquors can you not get in Vermont that you wish you could?
DH: Tuthilltown [Spirits]’s entire line. And Crème de Violette. Without it, you can’t make a proper Aviation.
SD: Favorite nonalcoholic beverage?
DH: A large glass of ice-cold milk after a late bar shift.
Positive Pie, 87 South Main Street, Hardwick, 472-7126. positivepie.com; sumptuoussyrups.com
When Seven Days last spoke to Chad Hanley, in 2010, the French-trained chef had recently returned to his native Jeffersonville after years cooking in the kitchens of Roy Yamaguchi and Masaharu Morimoto. Back then, a cooking gig at the Brewski wasn’t making much use of Hanley’s skills for haute cuisine. He’ll need those refined touches when the Restaurant at Edson Hill, located at the newly reopened Stowe inn, debuts on Thursday, January 22.
Hanley was already catering at the inn for previous owner Billy O’Neil, who sold the business last summer. New “head of estate” Carl Christian made major renovations in the fall, including a remade restaurant space.
Besides Hanley, the restaurant’s team includes noted Vermont bartender and Sumptuous Syrups cofounder Don Horrigan. They’ll preside over an elegant dining room and the more casual Tavern at Edson Hill, each serving what Hanley calls “a rustic New England take on food.”
Vermont-flavored dishes will include Edson Hill pork and beans, a combination of braised local pork belly, “savory legumes” and a maple-poached egg. The menu also emphasizes Massachusetts-caught seafood, included seafood-and-corn chowder, grilled Atlantic salmon and a New England clambake entrée.
Hanley, a scion of Jeffersonville’s Hanley’s General Store, continues the family tradition of making bacon from scratch in his kitchen at Edson Hill. His cured meats also include a more ambitious charcuterie plate, paired with Vermont cheese.
Even the restaurant’s desserts show a local touch: One option is an apple-cheddar spice cake served with rosemary-olive-oil ice cream.
Starting this week, Edson Hill is open Thursday through Monday for dinner. For now, breakfast service is limited to guests, but Hanley hopes to serve three meals daily to the general public by summer.
“It surprised me when I did the research that we appear to be the first commercial cocktail syrup company in the United States with a direct link to the farm,” Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont co-owner Linda Fox said. “Sumptuous Syrups farm-to-bar concentrated craft cocktail syrups are old-fashioned bar syrups. They are farmer connected. These are the highest quality cocktail syrups in the country.”
Farm wineries, breweries and distilleries grow their own raw product, and transform it into liquid assets. On the other side of the craft beverage equation are the bartenders, busy concocting up cocktails created with fresh-from-the farm ingredients. Somewhere in the middle is Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont, creator of farm-to-bar cocktail syrups, where the emphasis is on partnering with local farmers to grow high-quality, organic or sustainably-farmed ingredients, and crafting a line of artisan cocktail syrups.
Fox, who is a chef, and partner Don Horrigan, a bartender renowned for his farm-to-bar philosophy, are working with a handful of regional organic and sustainable farmers, as well as sourcing non-locally available products from around the world, to create small batch artisan cocktail syrups. Their syrups are one link in the growing craft beverage movement, where locally-grown ingredients have found another road to travel from the farm to the table.
“Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont’s bottom line mission is to create markets for small family organic farms,” Fox said. “We can help support them and they support us. When the produce we need is not available locally, we look for sustainably-grown organic produce in other areas of the United States, and the world.”
Fox and Horrigan didn’t start out with the intent of forming a business. Fox created a few syrups as a gift to Horrigan, who was then working as a bartender at a farm-to-table restaurant in Hardwick, Vermont. Horrigan was interested in utilizing local ingredients in his beverages, and Fox was growing a garden full of fruit. Using an abundance of fruit, the syrups Fox created became the basis for some of Horrigan’s best cocktails.
“We played with these syrups for a year and a half,” Fox said. “We had no idea that this would turn into a business.”
Two things then coincided to catapult the “just for fun” syrups into a business. Horrigan’s patrons, mostly beer and wine drinkers, were enthusiastic about the cocktails he was creating with Fox’s syrups. Then it was announced that the Vermont Food Venture Center was being built in town. Fox and Horrigan formed a business, spent over a year on research and development as well as test marketing, and were one of the first clients when the VFVC opened in the summer of 2012
The Farmers and the Flavors
“We are excited that in 2015 we will be able to contract with some of our farmers for the first time. This means that their crop is already sold before they plant it,” Fox said.
Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont currently offers five flavors. Although they previously made more, they settled on four – with the fifth added later – when they began production in 2012. Their Black Currant syrup is made with CurrantC brand black currants from Walnut Grove Farm, in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Black Berry syrup is made with locally-harvested wild blackberries, as well as organically harvested cultivated blackberries from Provender Farm in Cabot, Vermont. Provender Farm also provides Thai, sweet and lemon basil, as does Mystic Morning Farm, also in Vermont, for the Lemon 3 Basil syrup. Yellow Ginger syrup is currently made with certified organic, rainforest-grown ginger sourced from Peru, but Fox is hoping to have Vermont product available in the near future. Organic hot peppers for the Chocolate Mole are sourced locally, and from New Mexico.
“Our flavor choices are determined by our ability to reliably source high-quality ingredients,” Fox said. “We live in an area where our friends and our family work incredibly hard to produce fabulous organic produce. Living in northern Vermont, we understand that there are lots of ingredients that cannot be grown here or grown only in greenhouses.”
Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont are hand-crafted in the Vermont Food Venture Center. Staff there have provided assistance with recipe development, helping Fox not only with determining the best practices for concentrating and creating the syrups, but in doing so for small commercial production sized batches. Production size will cap out at 600 gallons per batch, which still allows for “people-created,” consistent batches, Fox said. Current production, however, is between 20 and 60 gallons a batch, so there is plenty of room for growth.
Batches of syrup are made from concentrates, which are prepared from the fresh produce. The concentrates are frozen until they are needed for the syrups. This allows year-round production of the syrups, which have at least a six month shelf-life once opened, when kept refrigerated. Products available throughout the year, such as the yellow ginger, are purchased when needed for the syrups, and used fresh.
The syrups themselves are non-alcoholic. They are designed to be mixed with alcohol to create cocktails. Horrigan even creates cocktail recipes for the brand. They syrups are sold to restaurants, bars, liquor stores, distilleries and direct-to-consumers at events or online. The syrups can also be used for dessert toppings, cooking, pancake syrup, marinades and salad dressings.
Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont are priced so that the farmer is paid a fair price for their produce. In order to have a product which can be sold at a price point which more customers can afford, without affecting is premium quality, a few changes were made in the recipe. By concentrating the flavor intensity, the serving size was reduced. This also reduced the sugar content per serving, while delivering the same flavor burst.
“Don and I both have so many friends and family who are farmers, chefs, composters, seed growers and specialty food manufacturers that we wanted to be a part of the movement to remind people where their food comes from and who grew it, how they grew it and why,” Fox said.
Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont may have nothing to do with Vermont’s famous maple syrup production, but they have everything to do with Vermont’s thriving local food movement. Their fresh from the farm cocktail syrups are helping to keep farmers growing, one beverage at a time.
Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont, www.sumptuoussyrups.com,
A Vermont Manor with Long Weekends in Mind
It’s okay if you haven’t made Valentine’s Day plans yet.
You were just waiting for whiskey, bathtubs and fire to align.
And now they have.
At Edson Hill, a freshly revived Vermont country manor full of soaking tubs and fireplace butlers within striking distance of Stowe’s ski slopes, now reopen.
It’s still a 1941 brick-and-wood mansion surrounded by four guesthouses on 38 acres of forest and pristine countryside. Close one. But now they’ve renovated all 25 rooms, as well as the living room, dining room and tavern. So… “everything” would also be accurate. (Here’s the slideshow evidence.)
Your day can go a few ways:
—Drive 10 minutes to Stowe and hit the slopes early.
—Make use of the property’s extensive cross-country skiing trails or local snowshoe paths.
—Spend it soaking in one of the King suites’ fireside tubs while you call for a fireplace butler to do fireplace butler things.
As for how you’ll end it: at the dining room’s corner table with a doe-eyed companion and some venison stew (here’s the menu). Then, hit the tavern for local beers and whiskey-based Smoking Revolvers with chocolate mole syrup and a mezcal rinse.
Pretty typical inn stuff.
Cherry Cherry Tart Cherry News!
Out of the blue, I got a call last spring from a farmer in Michigan. Jack King of King Orchards in Center Lake, MI called to say that he thought we should make a Sumptuous Tart Cherry from his cherries.
He read about our syrups in Wine and Craft Beverage News and he wanted to be part of the action! http://wineandcraftbeveragenews.com/growing-farm-to-bar-with-craft-cocktail-syrups/
[ All farm and fruit photos are from Kingorchards.com]
“Brothers John and Jim King, along with their wives Betsy and Rose and their children, have been growing fruit in Northern Michigan since 1980, specializing in Montmorency tart cherries. We are a first-generation farming family growing into the second. We love the farming life and work hard to grow quality fruit.
We actively grow over 180 acres of Montmorency tart cherries which we use for our tart cherry juice concentrate, in addition to Balaton cherries, black sweet cherries, apples, peaches, pears, apricots, plums and nectarines.
Our orchards are located in the heart of Michigan’s famed cherry growing region, atop glacier-formed ridges and rolling hills near Torch Lake and Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay. Just 35 minutes north of Traverse City and 45 minutes south of Petoskey, our two farm markets offer convenient locations for the majority of Northern Michigan travelers and residents. The quality of our harvest is second to none.” www.kingorchards.com
“From Blossom to Harvest”
We started the process by exchanging products. Jack sent me the cherry juice for my Research and Development and I sent him bottles of various flavors of Sumptuous Syrups. YUM!! all around.
Six months later the first bottles of Tart Cherry syrup were released to the public to delighted customers. One of my first deliveries was to the bartenders at the Daily Planet restaurant in Burlington VT. This is the Tart Cherry Margarita they made for me. So delicious and refreshing – even though it was a cold and wintry night.
The always amazing Christopher James, Bar Manager for Jockey Hollow Bar & Kitchen, one of the finest restaurants in Morristown, NJ, made Tart Cherry Daquaris for me and a friend with his first bottle of the syrup.
Warren Bobrow aka The Cocktail Whisperer is delighted to get his first bottle of Tart Cherry syrup. We had to have Sunday morning taste with some very special bourbon to try it out. Klaus the Gnome approves!
Don Horrigan creates fabulous cocktails. Here is one with the new Tart Cherry syrup for you to try.
Tart Cherry Ol’ Fashioned
2 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon or other bourbon
1/3 oz Sumptuous Syrups Tart Cherry
dash Dutch’ Spirits ProhiBitters
Cheers from your friendly neighborhood barkeep
@Don Horrigan @ssvtdrinxcrftr at Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont