Entrepreneur and Family Business Man: Vermont Distillers’ Ed Metcalfe, Jr.Sep 30, 2021 01:41PM ● By Kristie L. Smith Nikitin
Ed Metcalfe, Jr., one-time owner of what was at the time the only winery in Vermont, has been in the libation business more than once. He has a degree in economics from Bryant University and has held positions in finance but seems to navigate toward liquid gold. Ed, supported by wife Linda and joined by sons in the family business, definitely demonstrates that variety—or is it maple bourbon—is the spice of life.
From Humble Beginnings
The year was 1985, bacon was $1.65 per pound, and Ronald Reagan was president of the United States. Coke introduced a new taste, and Ed decided to open the North River Winery. At the time, North River was the only winery in Vermont. We finally lost that New Coke aftertaste, and Ed sold the winery in 1997. After an eleven-year hiatus from crafting adult beverages, Ed launched Vermont Distillers. “It was something I always wanted to try since I sold the winery,” says Ed.
In 2008, Ed entered a business plan competition sponsored by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and won the $10,000 grand prize. Initially, Vermont Distillers only produced three products. In 2021, they have five cordials, two bourbons, vodka, and a few seasonal offerings. The vodka is Catamount, and the others retail under the name of Metcalfe’s. Ed says, “I have done many things over the years, from banking to managing a large liquor store.” He has sold wine, made wine, and managed a natural history museum. Let’s not forget that stint as a hot air balloon pilot.
He is a dive-right-in kind of guy. So when he began both the winemaking and spirit-making adventures, he started at square one. “Since I did not have much experience in either product, wine or spirits, it started out with a lot of experiments to get the products the way we wanted them,” says Ed. Good thing he did time as a high school science teacher to brush up on conducting experiments.
Ed’s Two Sons
As proprietor and president of Vermont Distillers, Ed is chief cook and bottle washer, as they say. Everything from the books to the production schedule falls under his purview; he has even been known to pour at tasting events. Joined in the business by sons Augustus (Gus) and Dominic, the three divide and conquer the workload. Gus and Dominic are bringing to the family business what they learned in college and at other gigs.
Gus is a graduate of Vermont Technical College with a major in horticulture. He works at the distillery in Marlboro, operating the still and managing all things under the production umbrella. Dominic, a UVM (University of Vermont) grad, has a degree in studio art focused on graphic design and a minor in music. He manages the Burlington Tasting Room and handles all things marketing and events.
Even though he has trusted help, Ed would like to have more free time. “I don’t have any spare time. I would like to semi-retire.”
Many things surprise entrepreneurs. Selling about 6,000 cases of liquor totaling more than $1M in sales is definitely breathtaking. But what shocked Ed even more is “How popular our maple bourbon has become. The market exploded.” While Gus is astounded by “the amount of different kinds of [liquor] we can make. The possibilities are almost endless.”
All three have ideas for expanding the portfolio. Ed and Gus would like to see a gin under their label, and Dominic would like to craft “unflavored whiskey,” he says. “I love our maple and honey bourbons, but I am excited to eventually release some straight whiskey.”
Location, Location, Location
Where’s the best place to find Catamount Vodka or any of Metcalfe’s offerings? For sure, in the tasting rooms or the Hogback Mountain Gift Shop. Some of the varieties are only available in New England, and in some cases, only in Vermont or at the tasting rooms. The website does a great job of highlighting the different varieties and detailing where they can be purchased. As for Ed, his next act is anyone’s guess; there’s a good chance he will stumble on yet another venture when he retires.
West Marlboro, VT