The Colorado Distillers Guild has created the Spirits Trail, a guide to some of Colorado’s best #distilleries. Here is a selection of those West of 105 so you can traipse around and taste all manner of alcoholic tipples and concoctions
DEERHAMMER, BUENA VISTA
Started in 2010 by Amy and Lenny Eckstein, Deerhammer was inspired by the ambition of the settlers who ended up in #BuenaVista. The Ecksteins describe Deerhammer as a grain-to-glass #distillery, meaning they are laser focused on the process and over the years have experimented with every step to better understand the effects of subtle choices on their final product. While the original distillery was built with Lenny’s own hands, the Scottish-style direct-fire 140-gallon copper pot still was custom made - it is the distillery’s prized possession and one of the reasons they feel their spirit is superior. Deerhammer Single Malt Whiskey is, they say, the company’s cornerstone contribution to the field of American craft spirits. Starting its life as a porter-style 100 percent malted barley mash, it’s further shaped by open-air fermentation before passing through the stills and maturing in charred virgin white oak.
WOOD’S HIGH DISTILLERY, #SALIDA
Wood’s High, or at least the idea of it, was born in the Grand Canyon when PT Wood’s rafting companion brought more than two dozen whiskeys for them to try. Like every craft distiller, PT wants to make great spirits, but he also wants #spirits that are distinctly Wood’s High products. PT says he respects tradition but he wants to learn, not copy. Currently producing eight (or so) spirits, the Mountain Hopped Gin is an interesting one. Using fresh cascade hops, it is both an homage to Colorado’s brewing history and a new take on a old classic. Another unique spirit is the fleur de sureau, an elderflower liqueur made with Colorado grapes and infused with local elderflower and sweetened with local honey. A San Luis Potato Vodka and a single barrel Sawatch Whiskey are on the horizon. Currently producing just 1,800 cases annually, current upgrades mean that the distillery will start churning out up to 15,000 cases annually in the near future.
KJ WOOD DISTILLERS, #OURAY
Back in 2010, K J Wood was already an experienced home-brewer and winemaker but he thought the time was right to turn this hobby into a business. A couple of years of research and development followed, and when the time was perfect he took the plunge and opened his distillery in beautiful Ouray. The payoff was immediate with his Jinn Gin winning a Gold Medal at the 2013 NY World Wine and Spirits competition. KJ Wood has since gone from strength to strength. Currently, the company produces four brands: Berthoud Blue Vodka, Jinn Gin, Dead Drift Whiskey (a blue corn bourbon), and Ourye Whiskey (a 100 percent Colorado rye whiskey). For the past two years KJ Wood has been producing around 2,000 gallons of spirit total, but there is a plan in the works to increase that to around 6,000 gallons across the brands in the next five years.
IDLEWILD SPIRITS DISTILLERY, #WINTERPARK
Owner and master distiller Jeff Ruhle first got involved with spirits in the same way as many other distillers, by brewing beer at home, expect in Ruhle’s case it was college and it was because he couldn’t legally buy beer. The decision to start a brewery eventually materialized but after getting some work experience at a friend’s brewery he realized it took as much business acumen as beery alchemy to run a successful business and so attended business school. In the interim, a friend introduced him to moonshine and Ruhle realized that it was a better fit for him and a better opportunity - and Idlewild was born. Idlewild currently produces vodka, a few kinds of gin, a couple of rums, white whiskey, bourbon, rye, single malt, a coffee liquor and grappa. And you can be sure that Idlewild will continue creating, after all, Ruhle says, that’s his favorite part.
PEACH STREET DISTILLERS, #PALISADE
In the early 2000s, Bill Graham, Dave Thibodeau and Rory Donovan (the first two being the founders of Durango’s Ska Brewing in 1995) built a still and began distilling out beer, beer-lees and cider at home for fun. In 2004 they purchased a Christian Carl Brandy Still and secured a location in Palisade - “the greatest fruit growing region of the world,” Graham says with more than a hint of seriousness. They opened the doors to Peach Street in September of 2005. At Peach Street they only use products that come from the valley, including juniper berries from surrounding mesas, sweet corn, and peaches “that are so fresh they’ve never seen the inside of a cooler.” Currently Peach Street produces just over 4,000 cases made up of 25 different products available to the public - they also make several that are only for the tasting room. Graham is most proud of their Colorado Straight Bourbon.
MONTANYA DISTILLERS, #CRESTEDBUTTE
Montanya owner Karen Hoskin has a slightly more exotic and exact story than most about her distilling epiphany: she fell in love with rum in India in 1988. Even more specifically, she says it was while walking down the frozen Zanskar River in Ladakh, India, fueled by yak butter and Old Monk Rum, the noble spirit, as she describes it. Twenty years later, in 2008, after brand building for other companies through her own design company, she thought it was time to make some rum. Her philosophy is simple: pure, raw ingredients that are grown by farmers without pesticides or genetic modification. In April 2018, Montanya released a limited 10th anniversary rum called Aniversaria that had been aged in three different Colorado barrels. Currently Montanya produces four rums and 12 different rum-based cocktail bitters.
MARBLE DISTILLING CO., #CARBONDALE
Owner Connie Baker likes to tell people she went from drugs to booze when they ask about how she got started with distilling (she previously worked in the pharmaceutical industry). With a love for vodka and a fascination with the fact you can make it out from seemingly anything, she signed up to a distilling school and the rest, as they say, is history. At MDC they focus on sustainability which includes sourcing local ingredients and water and heat reclamation through the first-of-its kind Water and Energy Thermal System (WETS). Even their grain is grown just half a mile away (spent mash is sent back there to be utilized on the farm). The Sierra Club named MDC as one of five distilleries in the world to drink at if you want to save the planet. As for best products, Baker has a tough time deciding (“they’re all my babies”) but settles eventually on Gingercello and Reserve Gingercello.
10TH MOUNTAIN WHISKEY & SPIRIT COMPANY, #VAIL
Ryan Thompson and his 10th Mountain co-founder Christian Avignon have both had a long-standing appreciation for spirits that exemplify their class and type. They have both always been entrepreneurial, too. After monitoring the craft distillery industry, the pair eventually decided the time was right to jump in. They attended the first ever class of Moonshine University in Louisville, KY, returned to Vail, wrote a business plan and started the business. Using tried and tested techniques, they have a pretty simple aim: to produce the best products they can. Currently they produce five products: 10th Mountain Bourbon, 10th Mountain Rye, Colorado Clear Mountain Moonshine (a non-aged corn whiskey), 10th Mountain Potato Vodka, and Alpenglow Cordials (sage, peach, and vanilla). Their best seller is their bourbon while their most awarded product is their rye.
BRECKENRIDGE DISTILLERY, #BRECKENRIDGE
Bryan Nolt was a busy doctor and had no plans to enter into a new career, but his passion for whiskey eventually condensed into a single, eureka moment after a day fishing with a friend, an ER doctor that spent much of the day complaining about medicine. Nolt is all about quality, as all craft distillers are, and he doesn’t have time for yarns or sob stories about the process. Instead, he says, if I can’t win you over with our product, it shouldn’t be in our portfolio. Currently the company produces over two dozen spirits, some of which are only available at the distillery. Ranging from flavored vodkas to award-winning whiskeys, Breckenridge Bourbon is one of the most awarded craft bourbons around, winning the 2018 Icons of Whisky award for Brand Innovator of the Year, among others. On September 17 the company’s latest product, the Sauternes Finish Whiskey, was released.
DURANGO CRAFT SPIRIT, #DURANGO
Michael McCardell remembers clearly when he had his spiritual epiphany. Back in the early 2000s he was introduced to craft spirits in a blind tasting and was blown away by the flavors. He thought that just as craft beer is superior to the large beer producers, craft spirits would go the same way. There wasn’t a distillery in Durango at the time and he thought the timing was perfect to start one. So he did. As for his philosophy, he is passionate about tying his products to where they are made by only using regional grains, mashing, distilling, aging, and bottling in house and then tying them to stories of Durango’s rich history. DCS currently produces approximately 2,500 cases per year (that’s expected to double in 2019) across three products: Soiled Doves Vodka, Mayday Moonshine, and Cinder Dick, their award-winning, Colorado straight bourbon whiskey.
HONEY HOUSE DISTILLER, #DURANGO
A conversation over dinner back in 2012 about the emerging craft distilling industry eventually led to the creation of Honey House Distillery. The parent company, Honeyville, has been producing small batch, handcrafted honey products since 1918 and so it seemed kismet that the idea would blend, literally, with Honeyville Wildflower Honey. Honey is used in each of the five mainstay spirits, although they occasionally also produce limited editions. The five are: Colorado Honey Whiskey; Cinnamon Honey Whiskey; Hex Vodka, which is distilled from house-made mead; Red Cliffs Spiced Rum, a spiced rum with caramelized honey; and a cold brew coffee liqueur. Forgotten Barrel Rum, which actually got lost for a time among the other barrels, is a honey rum that was aged in a used whiskey barrel. It is limited to just 200 bottles. Honey House currently produces around 10,000 bottles and uses around 4,500 pounds of honey every year.
SPIRIT HOUND DISTILLER, #LYONS
With a passion for fine spirits, Spirit Hound uses local ingredients like freshly-picked juniper berries to create spirits that evoke a sense of place. Then there is the desire to be original, perhaps that’s why the team built much of the distillation equipment themselves and why the recipes they have, while based on classic production techniques, are unique to them. The a desire to create an original and unrivaled straight Colorado malt whiskey gave birth to Spirit Hound. In addition to whiskey, Spirit Hound also produces gin, vodka, moonshine, and, somewhat unusually, sambuca. They also realized that their custom-built still could also produce an outstanding rum. So they made Mountain Bum Rum. Made with Caribbean molasses and cane sugar, it is twice distilled. Some is then bottled to make their Silver Rum and some is aged in spent whiskey barrels.
SHAKE IT UP
Ready to play bartender? The folks over at Durango’s trendy speakeasy The Bookcase and Barber shared a delectable recipe that fuses some locally-produced vodka with lime and egg white to give a frothy, delicious party in your mouth. We also have the prohibition classic, the Aspen Crud. Grab your shaker and get to it.
LIFE OF PI
Bookcase Original by Mera Debenham
Metal Mixing Tin
Hawthorne or Julep Strainer
Large Coupe Glass
Marble Vodka 2 ½ oz
Vanilla Simple 1 oz
Lime Juice 1 oz
Coconut Milk ½ oz
Egg Whites 1 oz
Dry shake egg whites with lime. Add the rest of ingredients. Shake with ice and double strain into large coup. Garnish with lime slice on edge of coupe.
Be sure to check out our Durango Destination feature to read more about The Bookcase and Barber.
THE ASPEN CRUD
J Bar at Hotel Jerome, #Aspen
Bourbon 2 oz
Ice cream 3 scoops
Ice 12 cubes
Milk 2 oz
Blend ingredients until smooth. Serve in a tall glass.
During prohibition J Bar was turned into a soda fountain and when adults ordered the Aspen Crud a shot of bourbon would find its way into their shake.
Photos: (above) Andrew Cameron-Walter; (below) Hotel Jerome / J-Bar
Read the full article in the Autumn, 2018 issue of West of 105, available for free here.