Ripton Mountain Distillery sets out to make the finest spirits in the state
By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON — The owners of Ripton Mountain Distillery were simply drinking their own moonshine almost two years ago when someone suggested they go into the distilling business.
Co-owner Rickey Carroll, 56, said it made perfect sense to him and his cousin, distiller Kevin “Mule” Murray, 30.
“Instead of just sitting here drinking it, we figured why don’t we just make it?” Carroll said. “So, a farmer and two country boys set out to make the finest spirits in Vermont.”
Carroll and Murray are the two country boys, Bernard Quesnel of Middlebury is the farmer, an investor and part owner of Ripton Mountain Distillery. Sherry Williams is also a shareholder in the company and runs the bar at the distillery, located at 12 Park St. in Brandon.
The partners renovated the former Shapiro’s store and installed a bar, table seating, a stage area for live music and a beautiful, 500-gallon maple and copper still.
Ripton Mountain Distillery opened for business on Dec. 31, 2019. The only thing preventing the moonshine from flowing through the still is the arrival of a federal permit, which should come any day.
Eventually, Carroll and company would like to build a bulk bottling facility and produce moonshine, whiskey, bourbon and vodka. They will offer 19 different flavors of moonshine.
The fact that Brandon’s water is the best in the state made the decision to rent the space on Park Street easy after the original plans to open in Ripton fell through.
Carroll grew up in Connecticut before moving to the Lake Dunmore area at age 12. His grandfather owned The Shamrock bar in Meriden, Conn.
At Ripton Mountain Distillery, Carroll does the cooking in the bar/restaurant, which features a full menu and steak night, burger and a beer night, and wing night.
“I’ve been cooking for years,” he said. “I started cooking for my grandfather at the Shamrock.”
Murray is a native of Richmond. His family moonshine recipe is 200 years old and has been handed down from generation to generation.
“My grandmother taught me ever since I was in high school,” he said. “But she wouldn’t let me make it in the house. I used to go out in the woods and make moonshine. I had a 15-gallon still and that’s what I would do.”
“It’s a craft,” Carroll added.
“It’s like anything,” Murray countered. “You can do it well, but you have to do it often.”
For entertainment, the distillery features indoor corn hole, karaoke, trivia night and live music.
On this past Friday night, Brandon teen band Sweet Sphinx was playing rock covers and a few original songs for a Valentine’s Day party as the bar buzzed with activity and folks enjoyed the food and the music.
Once that federal permit comes through, the partners will really be in business. The still is capable of distilling 300 gallons of moonshine in eight hours.
That still was a big investment, as were the renovations to the Shapiro’s space. The business was helped by a $25,000 loan from the Brandon Revolving Loan Fund to offset some of those costs and pay for permits.
Quesnel’s investment was key to making the distillery happen, as well.
“If it wasn’t for him, we couldn’t have done this,” Carroll said. “He said, ‘Why half-step it when we can just do it?’ What could take 15 years can now take five, and it’s taken off.”
Quesnel has owned many Middlebury-area businesses, including dairy farming, barn building, a slaughterhouse, a carwash, apartment houses and used cars.
“Now, I’m trying the distilling business, just for the hell of it,” he said.
That beautiful still should be fired up soon, and Murray can’t help but note the irony of being a legitimate distiller.
“We’ve come a long way from a still in the woods,” he said.
Ripton Mountain Distillery is located at 12 Park St. in Brandon. Winter hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 4 p.m.–2 a.m., closed Mondays. For more information, visit their Ripton Mountain Distillery Facebook page, or call 465-8224.