by Tamara Scully
“It surprised me when I did the research that we appear to be the first commercial cocktail syrup company in the United States with a direct link to the farm,” Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont co-owner Linda Fox said. “Sumptuous Syrups farm-to-bar concentrated craft cocktail syrups are old-fashioned bar syrups. They are farmer connected. These are the highest quality cocktail syrups in the country.”
Farm wineries, breweries and distilleries grow their own raw product, and transform it into liquid assets. On the other side of the craft beverage equation are the bartenders, busy concocting up cocktails created with fresh-from-the farm ingredients. Somewhere in the middle is Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont, creator of farm-to-bar cocktail syrups, where the emphasis is on partnering with local farmers to grow high-quality, organic or sustainably-farmed ingredients, and crafting a line of artisan cocktail syrups.
Fox, who is a chef, and partner Don Horrigan, a bartender renowned for his farm-to-bar philosophy, are working with a handful of regional organic and sustainable farmers, as well as sourcing non-locally available products from around the world, to create small batch artisan cocktail syrups. Their syrups are one link in the growing craft beverage movement, where locally-grown ingredients have found another road to travel from the farm to the table. “Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont’s bottom line mission is to create markets for small family organic farms,” Fox said. “We can help support them and they support us. When the produce we need is not available locally, we look for sustainably-grown organic produce in other areas of the United States, and the world.”
Fox and Horrigan didn’t start out with the intent of forming a business. Fox created a few syrups as a gift to Horrigan, who was then working as a bartender at a farm-to-table restaurant in Hardwick, VT. Horrigan was interested in utilizing local ingredients in his beverages, and Fox was growing a garden full of fruit. Using an abundance of fruit, the syrups Fox created became the basis for some of Horrigan’s best cocktails. “We played with these syrups for a year and a half,” Fox said. “We had no idea that this would turn into a business.” Two things then coincided to catapult the “just for fun” syrups into a business. Horrigan’s patrons, mostly beer and wine drinkers, were enthusiastic about the cocktails he was creating with Fox’s syrups. Then it was announced that the Vermont Food Venture Center was being built in town. Fox and Horrigan formed a business, spent over a year on research and development as well as test marketing, and were one of the first clients when the VFVC opened in the summer of 2012.
The Farmers and the Flavors
“We are excited that in 2015 we will be able to contract with some of our farmers for the first time. This means that their crop is already sold before they plant it,” Fox said. Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont currently offers five flavors. Although they previously made more, they settled on four – with the fifth added later – when they began production in 2012. Their Black Currant syrup is made with CurrantC brand black currants from Walnut Grove Farm, in the Hudson Valley region of New York. Black Berry syrup is made with locally-harvested wild blackberries, as well as organically harvested cultivated blackberries from Provender Farm in Cabot, VT. Provender Farm also provides Thai, sweet and lemon basil, as does Mystic Morning Farm, also in Vermont, for the Lemon 3 Basil syrup. Yellow Ginger syrup is currently made with certified organic, rainforest-grown ginger sourced from Peru, but Fox is hoping to have Vermont product available in the near future. Organic hot peppers for the Chocolate Mole are sourced locally, and from New Mexico. “Our flavor choices are determined by our ability to reliably source high-quality ingredients,” Fox said. “We live in an area where our friends and our family work incredibly hard to produce fabulous organic produce. Living in northern Vermont, we understand that there are lots of ingredients that cannot be grown here or grown only in greenhouses.”
Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont are hand-crafted in the Vermont Food Venture Center. Staff there have provided assistance with recipe development, helping Fox not only with determining the best practices for concentrating and creating the syrups, but in doing so for small commercial production sized batches. Production size will cap out at 600 gallons per batch, which still allows for “people-created” consistent batches, Fox said. Current production, however, is between 20 and 60 gallons a batch, so there is plenty of room for growth.
Batches of syrup are made from concentrates, which are prepared from the fresh produce. The concentrates are frozen until they are needed for the syrups. This allows year-round production of the syrups, which have at least a six month shelf-life once opened, when kept refrigerated. Products available throughout the year, such as the yellow ginger, are purchased when needed for the syrups, and used fresh.
The syrups themselves are non-alcoholic. They are designed to be mixed with alcohol to create cocktails. Horrigan even creates cocktail recipes for the brand. They syrups are sold to restaurants, bars, liquor stores, distilleries and direct-to-consumers at events or online. The syrups can also be used for dessert toppings, cooking, pancake syrup, marinades and salad dressings.
Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont are priced so that the farmer is paid a fair price for their produce. In order to have a product which can be sold at a price point which more customers can afford, without affecting is premium quality, a few changes were made in the recipe. By concentrating the flavor intensity, the serving size was reduced. This also reduced the sugar content per serving, while delivering the same flavor burst. “Don and I both have so many friends and family who are farmers, chefs, composters, seed growers and specialty food manufacturers that we wanted to be a part of the movement to remind people where their food comes from and who grew it, how they grew it and why,” Fox said. Sumptuous Syrups of Vermont may have nothing to do with Vermont’s famous maple syrup production, but they have everything to do with Vermont’s thriving local food movement. Their fresh from the farm cocktail syrups are helping to keep farmers growing, one beverage at a time.
Growing farm-to-bar with craft cocktail syrups
by Tamara Scully