BENNINGTON – Village Garage Distillery is a new local hangout created by Bennington locals for Bennington.
The distillery founders thought about every detail to create the new downtown hotspot. Located at 107 Depot St., the distillery is by reservation only and open Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
How it all began
Glen Sauer and Matt Cushman, born and raised in Bennington, are the founders of Village Garage Distillery.
“We both had this secret fantasy of running a distillery,” Cushman said.
“It just escalated into a few drinks to be interviewed three and a half years later,” Sauer said.
They got to talking and came up with a plan. They had two goals in mind: to bring Vermont onto the whiskey scene and to create a downtown destination for locals and tourists.
The brand new bar connects to a lounge area and one of two garage doors that will be open in the warmer months for outside seating and the occasional gig.
Recently, they had Carly Rogers, a country singer, play. Sauer said they sold out, but he doesn’t plan on doing regular performances.
“We are first and foremost a distillery,” he said.
Ryan Scheswohl, the in-house distiller, oversees the process from start to finish, starting with where the distillery sources its grain. Corn and rye come from Grembowicz Farm in North Clarendon.
Scheswohl pointed out how clean the distillation process is. It uses a chemical-free boiler, for example. It uses steam to clean all parts, instead of acids or other chemicals.
“We chose to install better equipment…so we didn’t need to have chemicals that everyone said, ‘Oh, they’ll just burn. Do not worry. Well, we worried about it and pulled out,” Sauer said.
Scheswohl begins the process by raising the temperature of the grain to kill any bacteria that might end up in the alcohol. Then everything is transferred to the fermentation tanks. The tops of the fermentation tank are open because the wild yeast in Bennington’s air will affect the flavor of the alcohol.
“We could build this distillery 100 miles away, same process, [and get] a little different flavor, because of the local Bennington yeast floating around,” Scheswohl said.
After fermentation, everything is transferred to a Vendôme copper stove for distillation. The stove is beneficial to the distillation process because it helps remove unwanted compounds that would make bourbon taste bad.
Finally, everything is assembled and put in barrels for two years. After the wait, all spirits are bottled in-house.
“We bottle everything. … Hand-labeled, hand-numbered,” Sauer said.
Details in the architecture
Both Scheswohl and the project’s architect, Geoff Metcalfe, appreciate the building’s vintage details. Scheswohl pointed to the square-head bolts used throughout, which went out of production in the 1960s. The fire door looks like a patchwork of metal and has vintage lettering. Scheswohl said the gate was made from scratch, like so many other parts of the distillery. For example, the restaurant booths were made with the help of a friend of Sauer’s from New Jersey.
If something wasn’t made, it was sourced. Sauer said the letters above the bar came from a basement in Virginia and the panels behind the letters came from Greenwich, NY Sauer took his time finding the vintage lights which have since been fitted with LEDs.
The goal was to have a vintage and cohesive aesthetic. “There’s nothing that jumps out at being, ‘wow,’ it’s just consistently awesome,” Metcalf said.
The attention to detail extends behind the scenes. Each fermentation tank is numbered with reference balls.
“Literally, we had to number the tanks. I had leftover cue balls from motorcycle and car builds in my toolbox,” Sauer said.
When construction began, Metcalfe left the block walls, exterior walls, and main room trusses intact. Everything else has been upgraded or replaced.
Metcalfe also had the pleasure of designing the bar menus. He said: “It was an explosion. It was the icing on the cake. When you look at the menu, Metcalfe’s architectural firm is credited, and the visual effect of the menu is reminiscent of a blueprint.
“Everything here has a story,” Sauer said.
Stephen “Pip” Roffi is not your typical bartender; he is also the mastermind behind many of the drinks found on the menu. He said he wanted to put a modern twist on classic cocktails. The cocktail menu features a martini, white russian, moscow mule, sazerac, old fashioned and more.
“It doesn’t have to be too complicated. Sometimes you can do it with two or three ingredients to make something that’s right,” Roffi said.
He lets the whiskey speak for itself. Roffi uses top notch ingredients to match the high quality alcohol. The mixers used behind the bar are all created to complement the alcohol, not overpower it.
“We have to let the alcohol shine,” he said.
Don’t expect the Village Garage Distillery menu to stay the same forever. Roffi said: “We plan to evolve.” Keep an eye out for the spring cocktail menu.
The distillery team is always looking to the future.
“It’s not just about what we’re doing right now, out of the gate. It’s pretty much where we plan to be in a year, two years and five years, because we don’t fly at night here,” Roffi said.