The Vermont Tasting Room provides an excellent venue to expand your palate at a very reasonable price – provided you can find it. Located five minutes north of campus on Route 7, the Vermont Tasting Room is housed in what used to be Hillside House Furniture’s storage room. There is now a thin banner below the furniture store’s sign indicating the presence of this wonderfully unexpected drinking locale. I set out with the three other seniors – Neeko Gardner ’15, Joowon Choi ’15 and Maggie Hughes ’15 – with the tough mission of drinking and eating really awesome stuff. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by owner Peter Hopkins’s German Shepherd, Sadie, and led to the roughly 250 square foot room that serves as the bar. The bar seats eight and making a reservation is highly encouraged. The intimate size is a great change of pace from other drinking options nearby and facilitates getting to know your servers and drinking companions,
Peter Hopkins and John Armstrong ’74 started their venture in May of this year. Hopkins runs the Hillside House Furniture store adjacent to the bar, and Armstrong runs a large solar-powered hops farm in Pownal, Vt. When asked about his time at the College, Armstrong insisted that his majors were “beer and rugby.” The duo perhaps best demonstrated their shared love for Vermont beer and wine when they got the Vermont State liquor law changed in order to buy their alcohol directly from the vendors.
The Vermont Tasting Room only serves alcohol made in Vermont, with exceptions made for unusual or unique products from nearby states. They have almost every brew you would expect for sale, such Southern Tier and Wolaver’s, along with a wide variety of seasonal, limited or difficult-to-find bottles. On tap during our visit was Magic Hat’s “Single Chair,” The Shed’s “Mountain Ale” and Wolaver’s “Oatmeal Stout, among others. We were served the beers from lightest to darkest and learned a little bit about their origins and brewing processes.
We also had the pleasure of trying some local wines. Our favorite was the Fresh Tracks Farm’s “Frontenac Gris.” The wine smelled like a “honey flower,” which is a thing that we made up to best describe this delicacy, and tasted like “fruit butter.” We were also served a variety of Marquettes from a select few of the 30 Vermont vineyards. All of the wines we tried were from within 30 to 40 miles of each other, but each wine definitely had its own style and taste. Armstrong and Hopkins shared the quirks of each vineyard and taught us the background of each wine.
Along with our drinks, we were served two platters of snacks. The first was a mustard dip paired with non-fried potato chips and cheese crisps, all made in the back room. The mustard dip had an appealing kick, and a generous scoop will require a healthy swig of light beer to balance things out. The cheese crisps were salty and satisfying, and the advantage of non-fried potato chips is that they actually taste like potato. Later, we were served a wonderful spread of cheeses and sausages, along with some pickled garlic. To conclude our tasting, we were served a platter of chocolates made by Hopkins in the store, and a “beer float” (made with Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream and whatever Oatmeal Stout is on tap) to top it off.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Awesome! But I can’t afford such a fancy night out!” Well, if you have $7 in your pocket, you can. Beer and wine tastings are $7 each, while an “Arc of Meat and Cheese” platter for two costs an additional $9 and is definitely worth it. The dessert platter that we were presented with has not been priced, but will likely be around $5 for a wonderful selection of homemade chocolates. Put simply, taking that cute guy/girl you’ve had your eye on will cost you between $14 and $28, very reasonable considering the quality of beverages, bites and company we experienced at this Pownal paradise. Alcohol prices are low, especially for high-end craft beers. The “make your own six-pack” for $10 consists of local brews that would sell for $11 to $14 per six-pack in Williamstown. At the end of the night, our group of four left Vermont Tasting Room full, knowledgeable, tipsy and satisfied.