Colorado, the home of many a praiseworthy craft beer, has lately been gaining a reputation for supplying additional cheer, now emanating from more than 50 locally-owned distilleries across the state offering “alternate whiskies,” ultra-premium vodka, spiced rum, gin, bourbon and even a chai tea and decaf coffee liqueur.
Where are these distilleries? Why are they clustered in Colorado? Where are their products to be found?
Producers say Colorado is a good place for a distillery because there’s access to pure water, Colorado state law allows establishments to make and sell their own products and Coloradans are enthusiastic fans of local small businesses.
Chuck Carlson, manager of Bullfrog Liquors on North College Avenue in Fort Collins, is a big supporter of local brews and spirits. He carries Better Days Bourbon, peach brandy and a rye whiskey, all made by Feisty Spirits based in Fort Collins. He’s also a fan of Dancing Spirits based in Loveland. Local breweries are featuring special brews for the winter season: Isolation Ale from O’Dells and Accumulation Ale from New Belgium, both based in Fort Collins.
Open less than a year, Feisty Spirits is Fort Collins’ first distillery and has been in the making for five years and is a continuation of David Monahan’s family legacy of distilling. While Feisty Spirits focuses on whiskey, they produce a wide variety of distilled spirits as they continue to explore endless possibilities. Whiskey can be made from most any grain. Feisty Spirits co-owner Jamie Gulden enjoys experimenting with quinoa, millet and the wheat-rye hybrid triticale and has created “some very interesting flavors.”
Many of these “experiments” are only available in the Feisty tasting room at 1708 E. Lincoln Avenue in Fort Collins. They invite tasters Thursdays and Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays between noon and 8 p.m.
Even before Feisty Spirits was officially open for business in March, the distillery had won a gold medal at the Denver International Spirits Competition for Kamut, the first registered spirit made from khorasan, an exotic grain that originated in Afghanistan and was grown in Egypt.
Feisty’s rye whiskey received a gold medal from TheFiftyBest.com this fall during a blind tasting of 24 rye whiskies. Four rye whiskies received double gold medals in the competition, and 16 entrants received gold medals.
Bullfrog Liquors also carries Gioli Ultra Premium vodka, produced in Oregon by Colorado State University business school graduate Dan Hachmeister and distributed only in Colorado. His vodka is made from corn and is therefore gluten-free. It won a Micro Liquor Gold Spirit Award in 2012 and another gold medal (they seem to be all about) in the San Francisco Spirit Competition in 2013.
Dancing Pines, a father and son operation based in Loveland, has become known for its double gold-medal winning chai tea liqueur. Their spiced rum, gin and bourbon are available at Bull Frog Liquors.
It’s not necessary to stray far from home to check out the following distilleries.
Leopold Brothers, based in Denver, won an award for their Silver Tree vodka and also produces hand-crafted gins and whiskeys with a touch of raisin, plum and peach flavors.
Peak Spirits on Jack Rabbit Farm in North Fork Valley near Gunnison makes use of local grapes, apples, peaches and pears to produce CapRock gin, vodka and brandies — all products of a small “still shed” on the farm.
Downslope Distillery, owned by Mitch Ababte and Andy Causey in Centennial, uses New Mexican dried red chiles and Indonesian black pepper to add unusual flavor to vodkas. They also make wine, barrel-aged rum and malt whiskey.
At Roundhouse Spirits near Boulder, juniper berries from the distillery’s own backyard is used to make gin and locally roasted coffee beans for their Corretto coffee liqueur.
Peach Street Distillery in Palisade on the Western Slope, uses local fruit in its vodka, brandy and Olathe sweet corn for making bourbon.
Stranahan’s in Denver, home of Colorado’s first-born whiskey, only produces a dozen barrels a week and you have to be in the right place at the right time to buy some.
Boulder Distillery located in Steve Viezbicke’s garage in Boulder is known for a potato-distilled “303” vodka.
Montanya Rum, created in Crested Butte by Karen Oskin, is developing an international reputation. Oskin is one of the few women in the business.
Breckenridge Distillery, at 9,600 feet, is the nation’s highest distillery and produces an award winning bourbon.
Woods High Mountain Distillery tucked away in Salida, offers Tenderfoot Whiskey and Treeline Gin.
While far from complete, this selection may serve to spark the imagination and create an appreciation for the creativity of Colorado’s blossoming entrepreneurial producers of spirits. All the above businesses have informative websites and many offer opportunities for tasting.