Stonecutter Spirits A Passion Grows By Corey Burdick
● By John Gales
A Passion Grows
By Corey Burdick
Cofounder of Stonecutter Spirits Sas Stewart has been chasing her love of food and drink since her first waitressing job at a deli in Detroit. Her passion has taken her to Copenhagen, Italy, New York City, and eventually to Vermont, where she and cofounder Sivan Cotel launched their business in 2013. When she arrived in Vermont, Sas knew intrinsically that this was the place for her, realizing fairly quickly that she had found her “tribe.”
As Sas and Sivan, former romantic partners who have continued successfully as partners in business, began exploring their options for a tasting room, they decided Middlebury was the spot to launch Stonecutter Spirits. For the spirits Sas wanted to produce, she chose to be on the edge of the mountains and abutting Lake Champlain to allow fresh air to flow through the barrel room year-round. “It affects the wood and pulls the spirit in and out of the wood as if it were breathing,” Sas explains.
The two ultimately found what would become their tasting room on Exchange Street after connecting with Bill Townsend, who led them to the spot adjacent to Vermont Coffee Company. The building is owned by the Carrera family; the space had formerly been a tile factory. Undeterred by the condition of the space, which hadn’t been used in a decade and needed a complete renovation, they set to work with the help of design firm Imhotep. Sas says that Bill “believed in us and understood the passion and the importance of bringing industry back to town.”
Although Sas and Sivan started the business with their own money, securing small business loans from the National Bank of Middlebury and Opportunities Credit Union were critical to forging ahead. The funding allowed them to put gin in barrels in 2014, and Stonecutter Spirits officially opened to the public in 2015.
The gin is aged in bourbon barrels and then moved for finishing to cabernet barrels that are charred and, according to Sas, act like a filter to leach out impurities. Combined with subtle botanicals, this process is part of what makes the spirits so smooth and complex.
In addition to the single barrel gin, which is made up of 100 percent corn, they also produce a whiskey comprised of 60 percent corn, 35 percent rye, and 5 percent barley. The whiskey and gin are distilled in Vermont and go through three different barrels. Sas notes that it is an intensive process, from both a labor and time perspective, and that “patience is the name of the game.” That patience paid off when the gin won double gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2016!
Sas and Sivan had always talked about expansion but had yet to fine tune the details when they received a serendipitous phone call from John Koerner, owner of Folino’s Pizza, which has two locations, one in Shelburne and the other on South Union in Burlington. He wondered if Stonecutter would be interested in taking the work they were doing in Middlebury and bringing it to Burlington, adjacent to his restaurant. The idea turned out to benefit both, as Highball Social will be offering Folino’s menu, while folks visiting Folino’s can grab a beer or cider to go from Highball’s carry-out selection and enjoy it at Folino’s, a BYOB establishment.
As with the Middlebury space, Stonecutter partnered with Imhotep to execute this vision. Sas explains that the design of the space is influenced by the Middlebury marble quarry, with a floor that bears elements of the celestial. The name itself is inspired by the Japanese love of highballs: a basic drink that includes a base spirit and soda, like a gin and tonic or a vodka and soda.
One of the unique elements guests can look forward to at Highball Social is a highball machine where a whiskey soda will flow from a beer tap and have the consistency of champagne. In addition to Stonecutter’s spirits, Sas and Sivan envision Highball Social becoming a place that features numerous Vermont makers while focusing on the importance of creating a space for the neighborhood. Sas hopes Highball can become people’s “third place,” a setting that’s neither work nor home, but one where people can come to congregate, celebrate, and meet new friends.
Although Sas admits that, as a business owner, challenges arise daily, she relishes the fact that in Vermont there are often people nearby who are happy to help. She adds, “I feel pretty blessed that in Vermont people are interested in collaboration, and when you have crazy ideas, there are people who are down to do them.”
Highball Social is open 7 days a week, noon–10pm weekdays and noon–midnight weekends. You can also visit Stonecutter Spirits at their tasting room in Middlebury, which is open Thursday–Saturday from noon–8pm and Sunday from noon–4pm. To stay up to date on the latest, visit www.stonecutterspirits.com as well as on social media.
1197 Exchange Street, Unit A
71 South Union Street