A Perfect Pairing
Father and Son Create Smugglers’ Notch Distillery
Story by Tracey Medeiros • Photography by Oliver Parini
During the Prohibition era in the 1920s, smugglers used a passage through the rugged Green Mountains to secretly transport alcohol from Canada to Vermont and points south. This area was appropriately named Smugglers’ Notch and today is used for all things outdoors, including visits to the caves where the smugglers hid their illegal stash.
Smugglers’ Notch Distillery creatively coined its name from those earlier days.
The idea for the business began back in 2005 when Jeremy Elliot, a chemist at a pharmaceutical company, found out that his job was being outsourced overseas. Having his home in Jeffersonville and wanting to stay in the area, he began to research his skill-set options. After much soul searching and research, Jeremy thought that starting a distillery would be a good idea: It piqued his creative side and used his scientific skills.
Creating an exceptionally distinctive product was something that lent itself to his role as a chemist. Fortunately, his father, Ron, a retired business executive from a large restaurant group, agreed to come on board to lend his expertise to the project. The two became business partners and have worked together to bring Jeremy’s idea to fruition.
“I handle the product development side and my father is responsible for the business part,” explains Jeremy.
During this period Jeremy started apprenticing at a few distilleries throughout the United States, as well as attending related classes. He recalls that obtaining the necessary permits and manufacturer’s license were the most time-consuming.
Smugglers’ Notch Distillery started off by making vodka, which has become the highest-rated domestic vodka in America. They learned early on that it is very difficult to make an excellent vodka.
“I thought of it as a huge challenge and started tasting the vodkas that were available in order to develop my palate. There were only a couple that I really liked and considered to be exceptional. This made me want to try to produce my own distinctive spirit,” Jeremy recalls.
For this product the distillery uses sweet corn and winter wheat from Idaho. The spirit is blended with water from a spring in Jeffersonville. This vodka is 60% water, giving the distillery’s spirit a true terroir (characteristic specific to Vermont). The selections of raw materials, recipe, technology and process controls allow the distillery to produce a quality product with a hint of sweetness and smoothness.
Smugglers’ Notch Distillery has won awards for its vodka’s unique taste profile. “I am trying to create a vodka that has little taste to it, more reminiscent of an Eastern vodka,” says Jeremy.
“Vodka is a very difficult spirit to make. Unlike a whiskey or rum, which is aged in a barrel for several years to mellow it out, with vodka we are taking the distillate out of the still and consuming it right away. If there is any off flavor, or off smell, most producers will charcoal-filter their products to remove the problem,” explains Jeremy. “We control the process so well that what comes out of the still is ready to be bottled. This gives our product a really unique taste profile.”
It has paid off for the dynamic father and son duo.
The partners have expanded their spirit line to include premium single-barrel, double-aged amber rum, which is made with molasses. This rum is aged for three years in charred white oak barrels; the spirit interacts with the white oak and charring. It pulls some of the vanilla and tannins from the oak, giving the rum color and mellowing it out quite significantly. After three years it is transferred to whiskey barrels, which infuse the rum with complex flavor overtones, each barrel adding its own subtle character and distinctive flavor profile.
“Ours is not a typical rum. At first, the full notes that you get from the rum are a whiskey, followed by a taste of caramel with an actual sweetness when sipped,” he says.
To achieve this unique flavor, Jeremy maintains a single-barrel rum rather than blending three or four barrels to produce a consistently flavored rum. This means that each single barrel ages a little differently in its notes and depth. Jeremy describes, “For example, I just transferred over a barrel yesterday, my fifth, that smelled and tasted a lot like banana. Each one of my barrels is a distinctly different product.”
The father and son team have also been busy working on a Smugglers’ Notch Gin Blend No. 802.
The distillery’s newest premium small-batch spirit offering is a straight bourbon whiskey. In Jeremy’s words, “Straight bourbon whiskey is uniquely American; our bourbon is that and uniquely Smugglers’ Notch Distillery. The possibility of creating something iconic … believing in self and product … enjoying satisfaction from self-expression—all speak to our ethos at our artisan distillery.”
“The overwhelming support from Vermont has been fantastic. It is an unbelievable feeling to be rated the number one vodka in the US, almost the number one in the world—and all of this is being accomplished right here in Vermont. To me, this makes Smugglers’ Notch Distillery very special,” states the proud owner.