Shelter Distilling is Coming to Western Colorado
Shelter Distilling of Mammoth Lakes, California is coming to western Colorado. The plan, which is currently in the process of being executed, is to build a 23,000-square feet distillery, brewery and restaurant that will be able to accommodate hundreds of guests inside and outside
Photos: Shelter Distilling
California is big: 360 million tourists, 40 million residents, 164,000 square miles. Now Mammoth, despite the name, is not. Mammoth Lakes, California has a population of just over 7,000 residents in an area roughly the size of Montrose. Mammoth Lake is unequivocally, smaller than Montrose. Like any tiny town, the pool of success, the pool of opportunity, the pool of resources is much smaller than in big city counterparts. So success in Mammoth is much more contingent on good relationships. Relationships with your regulars, with local businesses, with distributors and officials.
Shelter Distilling, future residents of Colorado Outdoors in Montrose, seems to have outgrown their own smaller community of Mammoth with the help of those relationships. With just over four years of business under their belt, the team at Shelter have succeeded in growing operations to a point that they are building a new 13,900 foot Montrose facility with nearly 9,000 square feet of manufacturing. That sort of growth stems not just from the success of the product, but the connections that underpin them.
Food and beverage production is largely about sourcing a web of connections that often, eventually, and inevitably leads to a product’s provenance being obscured. The longer the supply chain, the hazier the past. Because of this, knowing a place has become a signifier of quality…think Napa grapes, Tennessee oak, Austrian hops. Of particular interest to the margarita drinkers of the world is mighty Tequila. Tequila is notoriously regional specific (it can only be made in very particular places in Mexico and still be called Tequila), but that name doesn’t do much to protect the spirit in actuality. While for some producers, the name Tequila preserves tradition, quality and culture, other, less reputable, vendors do the bare minimum to satisfy legal requirements (and even that can be suspect, with producer agave trafficking on the rise worldwide).
Craft distilleries (including Shelter) have approached this problem with a handful of unique workarounds. While some distillers will import whole agave (it often ferments too quickly to be shipped Trans-Nationally), most agave spirits in the United States are produced using imported agave syrup from Mexico. This syrup very often comes from Tequila plants, but it could never be used to make Tequila. Rules on making Tequila and Mezcal are strict (especially good Tequila and Mezcal), and using the whole pina (or heart) of the plant is requisite. There is an earthy and vegetal quality there, from the plant matter itself, that syrup spirits would naturally lack, and it is this dimension that is often most noted in Agave spirits from the USA. But beyond the syrup, beyond the imports, lies the fact that Agave are very robust plants across much of the Americas. There are some 50+ varieties of the plant that produce enough sugar to be fermented. Shelter has tapped into that potential.
Jason Senior, owner and head distiller, has created a network of relationships in California that allows him to source distinct agave spirits from his California surroundings. Thanks to unique relationships with California growers, they can use plants that are novel and distinct from what can be used to produce Tequila. Shelter uses California agave, ranging from the robust Americana variety to classically smooth Blue Weber tequila plants.
Since agave is such an old plant when harvested (they’re called century plants for a reason), the flavor of the place, or the terroir of the plant is pronounced. That plant has a memory of drought and floods, is minerally like the soil it grows in, and can soak up the character from neighboring species of plants. California terroir is huge. It's notorious for a reason and Shelter has leaned into that with more than just their agave. One incarnation of their gin included community foraged gooseberry and pennyroyal from Shelter’s very own Sierra Nevadas. They have embraced the place that has allowed their company to grow by imbuing its essence into their spirits.
Naturally that leads to questions of Colorado forward spirits. Shelter’s new location in Montrose is fortunate, if not intentional. The Western Slope is a treasure trove of distiller’s delights, from apples and grapes to grain. But making connections can be notoriously difficult in small farming communities. And yet, upon moving to Montrose, Jason found himself practically swimming in sweet corn from the get go. That can only happen with a penchant for small town connections.
He and his partners look forward to growing those relationships in Montrose. They are reaching out to growers of all sorts, looking to grow their network and help foster the local farming culture. They are doing that for their business, but they are also doing it for their community. Because, while owner Karl Anderson is staying in Mammoth, both Jason and co-owner Matt Hammer intend to live in, and grow with, Montrose. With a proposed 45 jobs across the facility, their potential impact on the local Uncompahgre community is significant.
In fact, while much of the facility will be aimed at production for distribution, the beer will be intended for local consumption. They want to create a space that’s entertaining and fun. Shelter is importing some big beer talent from Mammoth, hoping to give Montrose and Western Slope brewers some stiff competition. The taproom will be a nearly 4,000 square foot bar area, showcasing Shelter beer and spirits. There will be food, and entertainment certainly, along with that coveted riverside that Colorado Outdoors flaunts.
There is cognizance that all of this can only be sustained by being successful: successful at making quality beer and spirits, but also successful at drawing interest. Being a recognized brand helps, certainly, but there is also a need to be a local attraction. This means being successful at getting local and regional support, as well as tourism (one of their tongue in cheek ideas included painting “Distillery Here” on the roof for those flying into Montrose Regional Airport). Before even breaking ground at Colorado Outdoors, they have participated at local events. They are making themselves a part of the community, because Shelter lives here now.