Vermont Tasting Center Opens Near Mass. Border

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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John Armstrong, left, and Peter Hopkins have opened the Green Mountain Tasting Center in the Hillside House in Pownal, Vt.

POWNAL, Vt. — Two businessmen are bringing some of the Green Mountain state's finest foods and drinks into one place.

The Green Mountain Tasting Center is now open inside of Hillside House, just some 400 feet over the Massachusetts border.

The center is the newest project from Hoppy Valley Organics and brings some of the state's finest cheeses, pepperoni, beers, wine and other specialty products into one place. The company offers both the items for sale and provides tastings.

"We opened around the first week of May. We did a very, very soft opening," said co-owner Peter Hopkins.

Inside the furniture store, owned by John Armstrong, the pair renovated a 1,300-foot-section and installed a bar, a window for growler sales, beer and wine retail section. They've "curated" a menu for tastings and retail.

"We are really pleased with the way it came it. It appears very warm and homey and inviting. The bar is terrific, made out of red elm, which is very unusual. All in all, it is a nice place to spend an hour," Hopkins said.

The two have also spent the last few months traveling the state looking for products. They've even gone so far as changing Vermont state law. Through a bill Hopkins filed, companies that hold second-class alcohol permits can go directly to small wineries and bring the products back to their retail store. Previously, the second-class licenseholder had to go through a distribution center, which cut off the ability to transport bottles from the smaller wineries.

"We've got a very good selection of Vermont wine now but we're excited to have wine from the little Vermont wineries," Hopkins said, waiting until July 1 when the new law goes into effect.

From 1 until 5 p.m. on the weekends, Hopkins and Armstrong are providing tastings of the goods. They are scheduling groups of eight to come in throughout those hours. They do have plans to expand hours and the menu but for now, they are still feeling the new venture out.

"We continue to take things at a measured pace so we understand things that work and things that don't work," Hopkins said.

He later added that since opening, "we have not been swamped, which is exactly what we wanted. We wanted to be able to sit and understand what went right that day, what went wrong. What people liked and what people didn't. Now, we think we're ready to go."

Armstrong said he has been fielding calls from local organization looking to hold events there and has booked an Otter Creek beer tasting on May 31. He is going to be changing the sign out front to attract more attention — right now, the tasting center is only a small portion of the furniture store.

"People don't realize what this is. They don't know about it," Armstrong said.

Meanwhile, Hoppy Valley Organics is in its second year of growing hops to sell to craft beer breweries. The hops are growing at a much faster pace this year and a bigger yield is expected. Armstrong said more and more breweries have called to talk about their product so the market to sell than has improve greatly.

This year, Otter Creek has committed to buying some of the hops for a special brew.

"This whole industry is so compatible. Everybody, whether they are a brewer or a grower, they all like to talk about what they are doing different," Armstrong said.

Tags: food,   local produce,   locavore,   tastings,   

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