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Vermont Buzz: Bee-Worthy Notes in Caledonia Distillery’s Gin

Photo Courtesy of Caledonia Spirits
Photo Courtesy of Caledonia Spirits

Gin and bees. Sound like a strange combination?

Not according to the folks behind Montpelier, Vermont-based Caledonia Spirits Distillery. And not for those who’ve tasted the company’s Barr Hill Gin.

Each bottle captures the numerous botanicals foraged by honey bees – and it’s not just owners Ryan Christiansen and Todd Hardie who say so. The distiller and beekeeper thought what they created was delicious, but it wasn’t until they sent their gin to two prestigious spirit competitions in New York and Hong Kong that the reviews flooded in and they knew they were on to something.

Hardie first became fascinated with bees on his family’s farm in northern Maryland. His grandparents expanded both his mind and senses on honey, and he and his brother grew up enjoying Golden Blossom honey from flowers and black locust trees on their breakfast toast. They were taught how that type of honey was made and how it differed from the honey bees made on their farm. Hardie loved how the bees were always moving and fell in love with the insects he calls “gentle and industrious.” At the ripe young age of 12, he made the decision to dedicate his life to bees.

Photo Courtesy of Caledonia Spirits

After studying agriculture at Cornell, he worked for the Elders of Beekeeping in the Finger Lakes region of New York for a few years. Then, fulfilling the commitment he made as a boy, he started working for the Department of Agriculture in northern Vermont. There, he grew the number of hives he had from 11 to 1,900 spread out across the Champlain Valley of Vermont and St. Lawrence River Valley of Northern New York State. After the hives peaked in number, he started making value out of products, starting with honey, traditional plant medicine with raw honey and then eventually honey wine, gin and vodka.

He found a like-minded soul in home brewer Christiansen who was equally passionate about bringing the agricultural aspect of beekeeping into distillation. In 2011, the two built Caledonia Spirits Distillery, which prides itself on its mindful approach. As it says on their website: “The land spurs our creativity and serves as a guide on our quest to produce flawless Landcrafted spirits.”

Barr Hill’s three main spirits are Barr Hill Gin, Barr Hill Vodka and Tom Cat Gin. All of Bar Hill’s gin is finished with raw northern honey which, according to the founders, creates an interesting complexity that you won’t find in a normal gin.

Photo Courtesy of Caledonia Spirits

Barr Hill’s vodka is distilled entirely from honey, and the amber-colored Tom Cat is gin aged in new American barrels for about six months. The owners say it boasts all of the robust characteristics of a barrel-aged spirit, while still retaining the coniferous qualities and enticing aromas of the distillery’s unique gin.

Signature product Tom Cat Gin actually started as a “happy accident” during the early days of Caledonia Spirits. Christiansen was working on perfecting the recipe when one day he ended up with a batch that was just a touch off, but too good to throw out. He had an oak barrel available and decided to put the gin in there as an experiment rather than pour it down the drain. After letting it age, he was taken aback by how remarkable the gin tasted. Barr Hill Tom Cat Gin was born.

“Raw honey makes Barr Hill Gin and Barr Hill Vodka more wonderful and taste better,” said Hardie. “It’s important to me to keep the honey raw and by doing that it allows honey to be a medicine and a food as well as a sweetener.”

And there’s more buzz to the business: with all their good fortune, Christiansen, Hardie and everyone at Barr Hill have not forgotten to give back to those they owe much of their success to – the bees themselves. Once a year they shine a spotlight on the importance of bees in our food and drink system with a host of events (and cocktails!) as part of a Bee’s Knees Week, with much of the funds raised applied to bee-focused organizations. Try the recipe for the cocktail below to get a taste of Caledonia Distillery’s spirits.

Photo Courtesy of Caledonia Spirits

Old Fashioned Mill No. 4


1 oz Barr Hill Tom Cat
1 oz Apple Brandy
1 bar spoon Cinnamon Syrup
1 dash Apple Bitters
1 dash Angostura Bitters
Lemon and Orange Twist


Combine ingredients in a mixing glass, add ice, stir, and strain over a large ice cube in a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with a lemon and orange twist. (And a cinnamon stick for fun.)



Laura Henty

NYC resident Laura Henty loves to write and be social. Follow her on Instagram at @lauraahentyy6.


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