Art, beer, and spirits are in flower

The bar at Village Garage Distillery in Bennington, Vermont.
The bar at Village Garage Distillery

March 30, 2022

The beer taps at the Village Garage Distillery bar fill your glass through the bottom, but they’re just a sideshow at the coolest establishment to open in Bennington in recent years.

The main event is the Distillery itself, now fully open to the public three years after co-owners Glen Sauer and Matt Cushman of Bennington decided (out of the blue, and with no prior experience in the field) to create a distillery in Bennington.

They headed (as inventors will) to the garage – to the Town of Bennington’s former highway equipment garage, to be precise, located in a prime spot near the center of town. A deal was struck, plans were laid, financing was arranged, renovations began, two beautiful pot stills and a supply of oak casks arrived, and in 2021 the Distillery was producing its first spirits.

Meanwhile, work was progressing on the restaurant and bar on the south end of the building.

Beautifully designed and lighted, the place has become an immediate hit with the public. Some come for the specialty cocktails expertly prepared by Adam and Pip (one of mine involved an absinthe rinse), some come for the locally sourced small-plates menu, and some to see those elegant mugs fill from the bottom.

Ryan Scheswohl, the master distiller at Village Garage in Bennington, Vermont.
Ryan Scheswohl is the master distiller

Large interior windows behind the bar look out on the gleaming stills in the north end; video screens can drop down as needed. On the evening that I first stepped inside, the mask mandate had just been lifted, and it was the happiest crowd I had seen in Bennington in years.

“I just want to give people a good time in my hometown,” says Sauer. He and Cushman have hired top talent to produce their spirits and provide for patrons. Jonathan Studley is the chef, Ryan Scheswohl is the master distiller, and Alex von Pfeiffer runs the house. Ryan has already produced a smooth corn vodka, and barrels of bourbon and rye, incorporating Vermont-grown grains, are now maturing in casks. “We’re running hard,” says Ryan, meaning that he’s distilling every day. That shot of clementine liqueur in your cocktail was distilled in-house. Cool.

A crowd of people enjoying the bar at Village Garage in Bennington, Vermont.
Enjoying a lively bar scene at the Village Garage

You haven’t been to Bennington if you haven’t been to the Village Garage. There’s plenty of free parking. Reserve ahead if you want to be sure of a table.

Winter Homebrew Comes to April

Poster for the Winter Homebrew Festival in Bennington, Vermont.
Save the date and buy your tickets!

The March 2020 Winter Homebrew Fest was a big success. Days later, the Covid curtain came down on fests of all kinds, and 2021 was a wash.

This year the organizers took a chance and scheduled the always popular event (now in its fifth season) for the end of April: Saturday, April 30. All Vermont safety protocols in place at that time will be observed, but right now it looks like old times will be here again.

This year’s Homebrew Fest will be taking place in a new downtown location, this time at the spacious Bennington Sports Center on School Street.

The one-day event, which usually draws several hundred beer enthusiasts, can make use of both indoor and outdoor spaces and will take place rain or shine.

Teddy K's Brewing in Buskirk, NY.
Teddy K’s Brewing in Buskirk, NY

Thirty home brewers from the Northeast region, some local, some coming from as far away as Maine and Connecticut, will be on hand to offer their latest creations. There’ll be tasty fare from local providers (this year’s theme is soups, chowders, chilis, and stews) as well as beer-related accessories like homemade jerky and hot sauces for sale from various vendors.

The competition for best brew in show is always keen, and it’s the public that decides. A variety of categories ensures a slate of winners and runners-up. It’s all in good fun, but the Homebrew Fest has helped launch a number of prior participants into the brewery business, including Seth Barrow of Farm Road Brewing, now located in the very center of Bennington.

Entry to the beer area is at noon for VIP ticket holders and at 1 p.m. for general admission; reduced-price designated driver tickets are also available.

Be forewarned: this fest sells out. Get your tickets early to be sure of getting in.

Parks and Rec in Art and History at the Bennington Museum

The April 1 opening of four new exhibitions at the Bennington Museum marks the start of the first season under Executive Director Martin Mahoney. Each exhibition approaches Vermont from a different angle.

The headliner is “Parks and Recreation,” not to be confused with the sitcom. It’s a look at how Vermont has developed and been promoted as a place for encounters with the natural world from the mid-19th century to the 1960s, by which time the state park system had been established and the roadside billboards had come down.

A vintage postcard showing the state parks of Vermont.
A postcard featuring Vermont State Parks

Artists’ depictions of some of Vermont’s iconic mountains, trails, and other features on state park and National Forest lands are accompanied by vintage postcards, marketing images, and other materials that document the history of in-and-out-of-staters’ experience enjoying the Vermont outdoors.

You’ll see, among other things, a copy of the Negro Motorist Green Book for 1947 open to a page listing an establishment in Manchester; thereby hangs a tale, and Museum Curator Jamie Franklin tells it well.

Massachusetts-born painter and silkscreen pioneer Marion Huse acquired a studio in the Vermont town of Pownal, just below Bennington, in 1933 and began to spend summers there. She moved to Pownal full time in 1940. She was a practitioner of Regionalist or American Scene painting and a keen observer of the landscape and people of Pownal. Her sophisticated use of serigraphy (silk-screening) as a fine art medium makes local landmarks come alive. As she was creating artworks, she was also supervising art projects for the WPA and founding and running the Springfield Art School from 1925 to 1940 in a world where female artists rarely attained such prominence.

A silk-screened painting of a covered bridge by Marion Huse.
A silkscreen painting of a covered bridge by Marion Huse

Two exhibitions display the work of younger artists. The first, “Poetry and Art by Young People from The Poetry Studio,” highlights work produced by 7 to 17 year-olds at the Marlboro, Vermont-based Studio from 1995 to 2021. “The studio atmosphere invites a marriage between inner and outer landscapes, where imagination and discovery are often imbued with magic,” says the Museum. Educators Ann and Tom Gengarelly are midwives of a creative process that fuses word and image, as documented in this exhibition and in their 2021 book Another World.

Self Portrait by Dobie Kye.
Self Portrait by Dobi Kye

The Annual Student Art Exhibition also kicks off on April 1. The 2022 show focuses on the work of our region’s high school students and includes work from Mt. Anthony Union High School, Southwest Tech, Grace Christian School, The Vermont School for Girls, Hoosac School, and Hoosick Falls Central High School. 

Art education begins early in these parts, and the results are impressive.

Phil Holland of Pownal writes a monthly post for Vermont Begins Here.