CRAFT DIS­TIL­LERIES MAKE THEIR MARK IN COLORADO

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Jason Blevins

The driv­ing force be­hind Colorado’s ro­bust craft dis­till­ing scene — now 80-plus strong — is whiskey. Sparked by the mash-re­cy­cling moon­shin­ers at Strana­han’s who forged Colorado’s first mi­crodis­tillery more than 13 years ago, Colorado has be­come the birth­place of Rocky Moun­tain Whiskey, a hand-crafted move­ment in­ject­ing youth­ful vigor into the cen­turies-old whiskey busi­ness.

For fans of whiskey and other spir­its seek­ing a tour, here’s an as­sem­blage of dis­til­leries where in­ven­tive ped­dlers are tweak­ing grain pro­files to fuel a new era of Colorado dis­till­ing.

1. Feisty Spir­its, Fort Collins

Start­ing up north, the small batch whiskey ar­ti­sans at Fort Collins’ Feisty Spir­its — the city’s first dis­tillery — con­jure up bour­bon, rye and malt whiskeys in a cop­per still called Aphrodite. Try the nutty Blue Corn Bour­bon, the award-win­ning, more sug­ary Red Corn Bour­bon or the unique, clear Quinoa Whiskey for a dif­fer­ent twist. Stop by the dis­tillery

for a nip and a tour at 1708 E. Lin­coln Ave #1, Fort Collins, 80524. 970-444-2386. feistyspir­its.com

2. Strana­han’s, Den­ver

Den­ver is a hot­bed for whiskey-mak­ing. Credit for that goes to Jess Graber, the fire­fighter who met beer-maker Ge­orge Strana­han when his Woody Creek barn was aflame. The barn burned but the duo brewed up a plan to use Strana­han’s Den­ver­made Fly­ing Dog beers — and left­over mash — as a spark to start dis­till­ing whiskey. The beer (and Graber) are no longer part of Strana­han’s whiskey, the bar­ley-mash sin­gle malt is still hand-pro­duced in small batches in Den­ver. East Coast liquor dis­trib­u­tor Prox­imo Dis­tillers bought Strana­han’s in 2010, spark­ing, no doubt, hope among fledg­ling whiskey-mak­ers that they too, some­day, could walk away rich like Graber. De­spite the new own­ers, Strana­han’s re­mains the bench­mark for qual­ity Colorado whiskey. Book a tour of the Strana­han’s Dis­tiller at 200 South Kla­math St., Den­ver 80223 at strana­hans.com

3. Laws Whiskey House, Den­ver

While ev­ery­one knows about Strana­han’s, the genre-defin­ing whiskey that paved the way for dozens of Colorado dis­tillers seek­ing some­thing more from their grains, some of the state’s most ar­dent whiskey lovers avow al­le­giance to A.D. Laws. The Laws Whiskey House, where Al Laws and his team copy­righted the phrase “Whiskey Above All,” is a must-stop for any­one with a fond­ness for bour­bon. The Four Grain Straight Bour­bon, made with Colorado-grown wheat, rye and bar­ley, is aged three years in white oak bar­rels. Law’s Sin­gle Bar­rel Se­cale Straight Rye packs a creamy, choco­latey punch and de­serves every gram of its gold medal from the 2016 World Spir­its Com­pe­ti­tion in San Fran­cisco. For a real treat, get over the Laws Whiskey House for a Thurs­day whiskey flight night to sam­ple the ar­ray of Law’s whiskeys. Oth­er­wise, book a 90-minute tour on a Fri­day, Satur­day or Sun­day at lawswhiskey­house.com. 1420 S Acoma Street, Den­ver, 80223. 720570-1420.

4. Leopold Bros., Den­ver

The fam­ily owned Leopold Bros. dis­tillery in in­dus­trial north Den­ver labors over every step in its liquor-mak­ing process. The sprawl­ing fa­cil­ity boasts the coun­try’s largest malt­ing floor, where 700,000 pounds of bar­ley steeps every year, seed­ing nearly 50 va­ri­eties of liquor. Todd Leopold trav­eled to Europe to study malt­ing de­signs be­fore build­ing the coun­try’s only pagoda-topped malt­ing kiln, which uses 18th cen­tury tech­niques to cure his ger­mi­nated bar­ley. Giant open vats of bub­bling brews are sprin­kled with pollen blown in from peach trees and laven­der bushes out­side the open win­dows. Leopold em­ploys a wide va­ri­ety of yeast strains when fer­ment­ing his Mary­land-Style Rye Whiskey, a more fruity than creamy rye that can be hard to find on shelves af­ter its sea­sonal re­lease. Visit the Leopold Bros. tast­ing room Wed­nes­days through Fri­days and book tours and cock­tail work­shops at leopold­bros.com. 5285 Joliet St., Den­ver, 80239.

5. Axe and the Oak, Colorado

Springs

Colorado Springs is fos­ter­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of whiskey mak­ers. Started by five friends seek­ing a life­style shift, Axe and the Oak Dis­tillery fol­lows the grain-to-glass ethos paved by Leopold’s and Laws, where every drop is made in-house. Last year, three years af­ter launch­ing, Axe and the Oak whiskeys won three sil­ver medals at in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tions. The dis­tillery also opened a tast­ing room across town from its dis­till­ing op­er­a­tion, craft­ing cock­tails and gourmet pub-grub in­side a for­mer el­e­men­tary school. Try the To­bacco Old Fash­ioned for a newschool twist on a time­less cock­tail. ax­e­andtheoak.com. 1604 S. Cas­cade Ave., Colorado Springs, 80905. 719 660-1624.

6. Deer­ham­mer, Buena Vista

Amy and Lenny Eck­stein have been dis­till­ing their Deer­ham­mer ar­ti­san whiskeys in down­town Buena Vista since 2010, start­ing with a 140-gal­lon cop­per pot and, now, a 600-gal­lon sis­ter still. With a mad-sci­en­tist ap­proach to mak­ing whiskey, the Eck­steins em­ploy cold-smoked oats, Colorado-grown corn and rye and four va­ri­eties of malted bar­ley for their high-coun­try spir­its. The cho­co­late and cof­fee fla­vors make for a unique spin on Deer­ham­mer’s sig­na­ture sin­gle­malt whiskey. Lately, the dis­tillers have been work­ing with Colorado mi­cro­brew­ers — like Wit’s End and Crooked Stave — who age their beer in Deer­ham­mer whiskey bar­rels; Deer­ham­mer then fin­ishes its 2-year Amer­i­can Sin­gle Malt whiskey in the bar­rels af­ter the beer mak­ers are done. The Deer­ham­mer tast­ing room in Buena Vista a whiskey lab­o­ra­tory, with mixol­o­gists tweak­ing mi­cro­batches of whiskey — like a ghost pep­per whiskey with a pow­er­ful kick — to cre­ate one-of-a-kind cock­tails. “We are not try­ing to re­place Maker’s Mark. We are find­ing our own path and our own fla­vors,” Lenny says. deer­ham­mer.com, 321 E Main St., Buena Vista, 81211. 719-395-9464.

7. Wood’s High Moun­tain,

Sal­ida

Down the road from Buena Vista is Sal­ida, where both­ers P.T. and Lee Wood have been dis­till­ing their Ten­der­foot Whiskey and smoky, choco­latey Alpine Rye Whiskey in an old car­repair garage for more than four years. Us­ing a 19th Cen­tury Ger­man pot still, Wood’s High Moun­tain Dis­tillery hon­ors the cen­turies-old grain-to-glass ethos, us­ing lo­cally grown grains and lots of la­bor. Like his pal Lenny up U.S. 24, P.T. de­ploys an ar­ray of bar­ley malts, malt rye and malt wheats in his mash bill to craft dis­tinc­tive whiskey and Colorado-styled gin. The brickand-steel tast­ing room of­fers comfy church pews for sip­ping spir­its and watch­ing the Sal­ida traf­fic on sum­mer days, when the garage bay doors are raised and the townie cruiser bikes are stacked deep out front. woods­dis­tillery.com, 144 W First St., Sal­ida, 81201. 719-207-4315.

8. Mon­tanya, Crested Butte

Crested Butte is the home of Colorado dis­till­ing lu­mi­nar­ies Karen and Brice Hoskin. Their Mon­tanya Dis­tillers doesn’t make whiskey, but the new-school rum-run­ners should be part of any dis­tillery tour. The Hoskins are nine years into their ef­fort to dis­man­tle the no­tion that rum be­longs on a beach. Start­ing in Sil­ver­ton and mov­ing to the ski vil­lage of Crested Butte, the cou­ple is one of Colorado’s orig­i­nal craft dis­tillers. “I wish I had $100 for ev­ery­body who told us we couldn’t pos­si­bly start a rum dis­tillery in Colorado,” Karen says. To­day, the Hoskins em­ploy 20 work­ers at their dis­tillery and craft cock­tail bar, one of down­town Crested Butte’s must-stop joints. What started out as a dis­tillery with a bar has evolved into a chef-guided bar with a dis­tillery. But don’t think the bustling restau­rant has hin­dered the rum mak­ing. Us­ing sugar cane from Louisiana farm­ers who grow specif­i­cally for Mon­tanya, the award-win­ning Mon­tanya Platino — aged in Colorado whiskey bar­rels and fin­ished with a touch of Colorado honey — the Montyana Oro and the lim­ited Mon­tanya Ex­clu­siva are avail­able around the coun­try. In­ter­na­tional fla­vors are abun­dant in the tast­ing room, where pho and street food-type ap­pe­tiz­ers are washed down with clas­sic rum cock­tails like mo­ji­tos and pina co­ladas and Mon­tanya mar­ti­nis, like the oneof-a-kind Ma­haraja, with fresh gin­ger, car­damom and In­dian spices in­spired by Karen’s trav­els through In­dia. mon­tan­yarum.com, 212 Elk Ave., Crested Butte, 81224. 970-799-3206.

9. Peach Street, Pal­isade

Keep head­ing west on U.S. 50 out of Gun­ni­son to­ward Colorado’s wine coun­try. There in Pal­isade, in the heart of the Grand Val­ley, sur­rounded by winer­ies, dis­tiller Rory Dono­van and Dave Thi­bodeau — the mas­ter­mind be­hind Du­rango’s Ska Brew­ing — are 12 years into dis­till­ing some of Colorado’s finest bour­bon. Start­ing with vodka and one of the state’s first tast­ing rooms, the liquor mak­ers at Peach Street Dis­tillers have tapped all sorts of fruit, corn and flow­ers grown around their dis­tillery to craft an ar­ray of gins, whiskeys, brandies, agaves, grap­pas and liqueurs. Check out the state’s old­est, lo­cally-owned dis­tillery and tast­ing room for a nip — maybe af­ter a ride on the un­for­get­table Pal­isade Rim Trail — and, for a good story, make sure to ask how they got that pear in­side the bot­tle of their Pear Brandy. peach­street­dis­tillers.com, 144 S Kluge Ave., Build­ing #2, Pal­isade, 81526. 970464-1128.

Pho­tos by Amy Broth­ers, The Den­ver Post

Bar­tender Mag­gie Har­ring­ton makes a cock­tail at Strana­han’s in Den­ver.

Cop­per stills at Leopold Bros. dis­tillers in Den­ver.

A pour of Ten­der­foot Whiskey at Wood’s High Moun­tain Dis­tillery in Sal­ida.

“Ash­ley,” an an­tique Ger­man pot still built around the 1880s, at Wood’s High Moun­tain Dis­tillery in Sal­ida. Pho­tos by Amy Broth­ers, The Den­ver Post

The bar­rel room at Laws Whiskey House in Den­ver.

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