Stonecutter Spirits presses pause on production
MIDDLEBURY — Stonecutter Spirits has at least temporarily suspended production of its gin and whiskey products and will soon close its Middlebury tasting room and its Burlington bar-restaurant, according to business co-founders Sivan Cotel and Sas Stewart.
Cotel, during a Dec. 5 interview with the Independent, said the company has thus far been unable to land a distributor to make Stonecutter products available in markets outside of Vermont. This has limited sales and created a financial pinch that is driving the difficult decisions to downsize the company, Cotel explained.
“We’ve indefinitely paused additional production,” he said. “We’re not exactly sure what the future holds.”
What is clear is that Stonecutter Spirits will close Highball Social, its bar and restaurant at 71 South Union St. in Burlington, and its tasting room at 1197 Exchange St. in Middlebury at the end of this month. But it will be a busy month, as Cotel and Stewart have packed December with parties, pop-ups and fundraisers to “make sure we send off 2019 in a style befitting the Stonecutter ethos,” reads a press release issued last week by the company.
The founders have scheduled a “send-off soiree” for Friday, Jan. 3, beginning at 5 p.m. at the Middlebury tasting room.
While Stonecutter isn’t manufacturing new spirits, it has ample inventory that will be available at Vermont liquor stores, bars and restaurants “for quite some time,” according to Cotel.
The Middlebury tasting room — where visitors will be able to purchase Stonecutter products and cocktails — will continue to be open Fridays and Saturdays through the end of this month.
“We are so grateful for the strong support that our community has shown us since we opened our doors in 2015,” Stewart said through the company press release announcing the Stonecutter retrenching. “We’re proud to be a part of the Vermont ecosystem, and are excited to host fundraisers, collaborations, and holiday parties to close out this year. While we’re sad to end this chapter, it’s only fitting to spend this time celebrating the people and products that make Vermont outstanding.”
“It’s a sad day for us to close the tasting room here in Middlebury and Highball Social,” he said. “Those spaces have been incredibly vibrant and well received by people. We love what they’ve been able to bridge between us and the community. To close those spaces is a real blow for us. But we also had to accept we can’t afford to keep them operating anymore. That’s just a reality we had to work with.”
Stonecutter’s current inventory includes its Single Barrel Gin and Heritage Cask Whiskey, as well as some seasonal varieties.
Stonecutter built a strong reputation for its aged gin and whiskeys over the years, winning dozens of awards along the way, including top honors at Good Food Awards and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The brand is well known for its experiential events and fundraisers, including Adventure Dinners, Secret Bars and the annual Galentine’s Day Benefit for Addison County’s WomenSafe.
“We’ve been so honored to be able to work with the wonderful local and statewide nonprofits that we’ve been able to work with hosting events in Middlebury and Burlington, and the funds we’ve been able to help raise for those folks,” Cotel said. “It goes a long way and it’s been incredibly meaningful to us to be able to offer that opportunity.”
But in spite of industry and customer recognition, the company has been unable to expand into markets outside of Vermont.
“The reality we’ve faced is that everywhere you look, craft spirits is an increasingly crowded marketplace,” Cotel said. “Our reception locally has been incredible, but we’ve never been able to make inroads into other sales areas. Without achieving broader geographic coverage, we just aren’t strong enough to keep operations going.”
At its peak, Stonecutter had around 23 full- and part-time employees tending to the Middlebury and Burlington locations, as well as special events. That number is now down to 11, according to Cotel.
“As we’ve faced financial challenges this past year, we’ve really had to trim down staff,” Cotel said. “Most of that was done naturally, with people finding other opportunities, but it was still very sad for us to slim down to smaller ranks here. At this point, I’m the only one at the Middlebury facility full-time.”
The Middlebury tasting room has also served as Stonecutter’s headquarters.
While the long-term future of Stonecutter is uncertain, Cotel has no plans to leave Vermont. He lives in Vergennes and serves as chair of the Porter Medical Center board of directors.
“I love it here in Vermont,” he said. “I absolutely intend to stay here.”
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.