×

Windsor’s SILO Distillery Sticks to Vermont for Ingredients

  • Chris Maggiolo, head distiller at Silo Distillery in Windsor, Vt., opens a cask to taste the progress of a one-year-old single malt whiskey made with apple wood smoked barley Friday, May 25, 2018. Maggiolo plans to release the spirit to coincide with his wedding at the distillery in July. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Silo Distillery's Head Distiller Chris Maggiolo fills bottles with cacao infused vodka in Windsor, Vt., Friday, May 25, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Chris Maggiolo, head distiller at Silo Distillery in Windsor, Vt., right, serves a young bourbon to Jacque Weir, of Springfield, Va., left, and his brother Steven Maggiolo, of Harrisonburg, Va., middle, at the Windsor distillery Friday, May 25, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Silo Distillary has added Vermont made casks by Green Mountain Grain and Barrel to their effort to source in-state ingredients. Bourbon ages in one of the oak barrels in Windsor, Vt., Friday, May 25, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, June 05, 2018

On a brilliant sunny afternoon, Chris Maggiolo, head distiller at SILO Spirits in Windsor, is overseeing a run of vodka made from Vermont-grown corn in an enormous German-made still that takes up an entire room off the main entrance.

A slurry of fermented corn and water goes first into what Maggiolo calls a pot, a large, copper, onion-shaped tank. The mixture undergoes a first distillation, a steam bath that evaporates and concentrates the alcohol. The liquid then goes back for the finish run, and is channeled into two tall copper columns.

“The columns force the alcoholic vapor to separate itself into different flavor compounds and different alcohols, and when it comes out of the still we’re able to remove unwanted flavors and alcohols and keep the middle part of the run we’re trying to preserve,” Maggiolo explained.

When that process is completed it fills a large tank that looks as though it contains the purest water, but with a faintly sweet smell.

You wouldn’t want to drink it as is, Maggiolo cautioned. Its alcohol content by volume stands at a whopping 95 to 96 percent; once Maggiolo adds purified water, the process known as proofing, the percentage of alcohol content by volume drops to 40 percent.

From receiving the grain to distillation to refining the vodka to bottling takes about 10 days, Maggiolo said.

The slightly worn tagline “farm to table” now has another iteration designed for the craft spirits market: “farm to barn to bottle.”

“The spirits are produced with a conscious tie to the local agricultural economy,” Maggiolo said.

SILO, which draws its name from the characteristic profile of barns and silos in Vermont, was founded in 2013 by co-owners Anne Marie Delaney and Peter Jillson.

The tasting bar, distillery and an upstairs dining room are all housed in a big red barn with an outdoor patio at the distillery’s headquarters in Artisans Park off Route 5. Visitors can look through a huge window into the room where the still is kept to see Maggiolo at work.

SILO’s repertoire includes eight kinds of vodka, gin and whiskey and three special edition spirits: Aisling (pronounced Ashling) Wheat Whiskey, Solstice Summer Spirit and Cacao Vodka.

Although the spirits are available in nine states, New England is the primary market, and the distillery sources as many of its ingredients locally as possible, said Megan Donegan, who is in charge of marketing and business development

The farm to barn to bottle philosophy “is the word we’re trying to spread,” said Donegan.

This means that SILO can “transform raw grain into spirits,” said Maggiolo. Last year, SILO produced 20,000 bottles of spirits, he said; and the distillery goes through about 10,000 pounds of grain every 10 days.

Originally from Virginia, Maggiolo, 30, graduated with a B.A. from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., then earned a master’s degree in gastronomy from Boston University. He has been SILO’s distiller since June 2015.

He gravitated toward artisanal spirits, rather than wine, because of his interest in their history and culture, and because the vogue for smaller-batch, American-made artisanal spirits coincided, give or take a few years, with his own journey into the world of professional distilleries.

Maggiolo also cites as an influence his French grandmother, who grew up in Normandy, the home of Calvados, the apple brandy. And Virginia is noted, he said, for its tradition of producing both wines and spirits.

SILO is one of nearly 20 artisanal distilleries in Vermont, and one of two in the Upper Valley. Vermont Spirits, in Quechee, makes vodka, gin, bourbon, apple brandy and a maple spirit.

The corn, wheat and, on occasion, the rye that go into SILO spirits come from the Grembowicz Farm in North Clarendon, Vt., near Rutland, which specializes in grain production. The apples that lend a grace note to the gin are grown at Sunrise Orchards in Cornwall. The cucumbers that infuse the cucumber vodka are also grown in the state. The Aisling whiskey is aged in white oak barrels made in state by Green Mountain Grain & Barrel. When the grains have gone through the distilling process, the mash is recycled to a local farm as part of the food supply for its pigs.

As do other Vermont distilleries, SILO also offers tastings, tours and a public space for private events. It’s similar to the marketing strategies of Napa or Sonoma valley wineries, only with spirits.

The focus is as much on educating consumers about where and how the spirits are made, and entertaining them in-house (SILO also presents musical performances by local talent on Sunday afternoons) as it is on selling them alcohol. It’s part of the appetite that some consumers, particularly millennials, have for taking part in an “experience.”

“People are more knowledgeable now,” Donegan said. “And they like to feel connected,” Maggiolo said.

Although Maggiolo studied chemistry in his master’s program, and it is possible, he said, to “train a palate and nose,” he relies largely on his own senses of smell and taste to strike the right notes.

“My livelihood is my sense of taste,” he said. And he has a good sense of smell, he said.

The alcohol volume and key ingredients for each spirit are determined by the federal government’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Every distiller must follow those federal guidelines, Maggiolo said. But within those parameters are a host of variable tastes and accents.

A distiller must balance tradition with experimentation, which can be a challenge, Maggiolo said.

All gins use juniper berries, for example. But while the English gins are, he said, dryer and pinier with notes of citrus, SILO’s gin is a little softer, with apples adding a finish like that of an eau de vie. It can be used as a sipping gin as well as a base for a gin and tonic, he said.

“We wanted to do something distinguishable and using a Vermont product,” he said.

Some other distilleries make cucumber vodka, but they tend to use an extract of cucumber while he adds peeled, thin cucumber slices directly to the vodka for an infusion.

While Scotch and Irish whiskies are aged a minimum of three years, and can be aged up 18 years or longer, the SILO whiskies are aged between 15 and 24 months.

“We don’t want to sit on whiskey for eight years,” Maggiolo said.

Americans have responded well to the younger whiskies because of the bolder taste, he said. He uses a chili analogy: the younger whiskey is like a pot of chili cooking on the stove for two hours while an older one is like a chili that’s been simmering for 10 hours. In the younger whiskey or chili, the flavor of each ingredient is more pronounced while the flavors in an older whiskey have mellowed and blended together.

Sometime this summer SILO will add a hard cider to their repertoire, Maggiolo said.

As to whether there’s any temptation as a distiller to over-indulge, Maggiolo shook his head.

“When you’re around it all the time, over-consumption is no longer an interest. I’ve always respected it,” he said.

He wants consumers to respect it as well.

“I’m a big proponent of consumer education, and being able to engage people with that dialogue. It’s about getting people to think about what’s in the glass, not just that they have something in a glass,” he said.

For information about the distillery and tours and tastings go to silodistillery.com or call 802-674-4220.

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@nicolasmith.org.