By Steve Peters
Where do you like to go when your out-of-state friends visit you here in Vermont? I can think of at least a dozen possible itineraries, with many more I’ve yet to explore.
Last week I added a new one to the list when my girlfriend and I explored the town of Stowe. Up the road from Waterbury on Route 100, Stowe is just over an hour and a half away from Rutland, making it the perfect day trip or accessible weekend getaway.
Looming over Stowe is Mount Mansfield, Vermont’s largest mountain. And with the mountain comes a variety of year-round outdoor activities, from hiking to skiing. While, back in town, there is an impressive line-up of annual events, including a jazz festival, Renaissance fair, British car show, a foliage festival and, while we were there: the hot air balloon festival.
You may recall the sandwich competition I won back in May with McKenzie Deli, in which I received a balloon ride and weekend stay in Stowe. Well this was it. And despite a rainy weekend, we had fun exploring the town and were lucky to catch a sunny morning for a successful balloon launch.
Being completely unfamiliar with Stowe, we stopped by the visitor’s center on Main Street shortly after arriving. We found out just about everything we needed to know. First, about their new tasting trail, and second, about a craft beverage trail. Both feature a variety of businesses offering both food and drink deals. These were exactly the kind of tools I wanted to help me get around town to see the sights.
The Stowe Tasting Trail is a brand-new promotion. In fact, I believe we were the first ones to try it out. The way it works is you buy either five tokens for $30 or ten tokens for $60. Each token is redeemable at one of the participating businesses for a tasting, such as a flight of cider, an appetizer or a dessert. Each spot has a unique set of options. Currently, there are 14 local businesses participating.
The Stowe Craft Beverage trail, at $10 per person, provides discounts at a local winery, brewery, distillery, cidery and a few other stops. You also get a corkscrew, pair of sunglasses, and free chocolate over at Laughing Moon Chocolates. Several of these discounts include half-off beverage tastings.
After buying two tickets to the beverage trail and five tokens on the tasting trail, we sat down over coffee to plan our route. Both trails are self guided and give you several options on where you can go. And between the two, there is some overlap, which is even better. Considering the rain, this was an ideal activity, giving us places to duck into and relax when it was too wet for walking about.
There were many highlights and few disappointments between all of our stops. Green Mountain Distillers, a short drive up the road in Morrisville, was one of our first visits, where we had half-off a tasting. We sampled their selection of handcrafted organic vodkas, as well as their gin. We were impressed with the Green Mountain Organic Maple Liqueur, the only organic maple liqueur available anywhere in the world. As they’ll tell you, it embodies the true essence of Vermont. But even their regular vodka, Original Sunshine, was bright and pleasant tasting. Later this month, they’re launching their first straight malt whiskey.
Another fun stop was back down in Waterbury at the tasting room of the Boyden Valley Winery. You can find their wines at many of the Vermont sections of local stores, yet the tasting experience was excellent. They have some classic reds and whites, and also some more unique finds such as rhubarb, cranberry, cassis and Vermont Ice Cider.
A third stop I’d highly recommend is the Bierhall at von Trapp Brewing, for an Austrian-style beer tasting. They combine Austrian ingredients with Vermont spring water for some clean, crisp beers that go wonderfully with a bite of bratwurst or a plate of chicken schnitzel. Ask for a table with a view of the mountains to gaze upon, and imagine you’re actually in Austria.
Of course, we needed to balance out all the beverage tastings with some food. Back in Stowe, after browsing the fine bookstore and a few other shops, we enjoyed milkshakes at the Depot Street Malt Shop. It has a fun retro theme and plenty of classic diner fare. Later, we stopped by for an appetizer of kale hummus dip at Charlie B’s Pub and Restaurant, which is part of the Stoweflake Resort where we were staying. Both the milkshakes and appetizer were part of the tasting trail.
When it came time for dinner, we chose well with The Bistro at Ten Acres. It’s right nearby von Trapp Brewing. We started with an unexpected find of a crab cake and watermelon appetizer. We used one of our tasting tokens on that, and then shared a plate of handmade sun-dried tomato pasta. Not only was the food great, our server was wonderful, and we took in even more mountain views from our cozy table.
The next day, after walking the Stowe Recreation Trail, we stopped by the Stowe Public House for a beverage and the warm pretzel and Vermont maple mustard, also part of the tasting trail. Whether you walk, bike or cross-country ski it, the recreation trail, a total of about five miles from start to finish, is a complete pleasure as you pass through woods, over streams and by fields.
In the end, by the time we left Stowe, we probably ate and drink a bit more than necessary. But it was a weekend getaway after all. Whether you head there for the mountain, one of their many events, or an indulgence in the variety of local food and beverages, Stowe is worth a visit.
Learn more about the tasting and craft beverage trails at gostowe.com.