Next month, Wild Hart Distillery will open its doors at the Vermont Artisan Village in Shelburne. The two principals, Naomi Clemmons and Craig Stevens, have been friends and colleagues for 25 years. They were working as consultants in the public health field in Boston, but both felt the urge to do something different. The result of that urge is their new, small-batch craft distillery making vodka and gin, something Stevens refers to as their “encore career.”
It was in December of 2014 that Clemmons first thought about the idea of a distillery. “I was thinking about the assets in my life,” she said, “and I thought about Tom Kenyon who farms on my parents’ property. I love bourbon and here was a farmer who grew local grains.”
Clemmons admits her husband thought she was crazy, but friends began responding positively to the idea and when she told Stevens of her plans that spring, his response was “I’m in.” The duo signed up for a class at Vermont Technical College, came up with a name for their distillery, and incorporated in the fall of 2015.
Their VTC instructor, Duncan Holaday, mentored them and helped connect them to their distiller, Joe Buswell. Clemmons and Stevens spent several months trying to find a location before discovering the Vermont Artisan Village. They enjoyed the fact that they could be part of the design process for the new building. Wild Hart is fully licensed and expecting their certificate of occupancy, with a goal of opening their doors on June 1.
Although Clemmons first thought about distilling bourbon, the pair decided to start their operation with gin and vodka, which don’t need to age as long. They are using Tom Kenyon’s grains for the vodka and are experimenting with flavoring for their gin.
“We’ve based our flavors on the gin wheel,” Stevens said, “but we balance the juniper with other herbs that add subtleties. We want a unique flavor that isn’t too radical.”
The duo is very happy with their Shelburne location. “It’s in a well-knit community,” said Stevens. “The town has been really interested in our progress.” Campbell is a native of Charlotte, and Stevens believes her “social capital” has helped promote the venture.
In addition to selling spirits from their new location, they hope to attend farmers’ markets and take part in local special events, as well as doing tastings at liquor stores and restaurants. Stevens is hopeful the Vermont Artisan Village will become a destination in its own right. “It’s between Shelburne Museum and Vermont Teddy Bear Company, which are two Vermont landmarks,” he said. The space can be used for small events, and Stevens thinks it is suitable for groups to rent out for special occasions.
Clemmons describes herself as a “goofy dreamer,” while Stevens is referred to as a “compulsive doer.” During their public health days, the two thought they would enjoy working together, and their complementary personalities seem to be working well. Clemmons admits she is “freaked out” over their impending opening, but Stevens clarified: “That captures so many things,” he said. “You can be incredibly happy, stressed or excited. If we’re in any one place for too long we might feel defeated or have a false sense of security. Instead, we go through all the emotions.”