Beer first came to Colorado with the Gold Rush of 1858. Rocky Mountain Brewery opened in 1859 to serve thirsty miners in Denver, and in Golden the German immigrant Adolf Coors founded Brewery Coors in 1873.
When the culture of microbreweries broke out in Colorado in the 1990s, artisanal distilleries, especially whisky makers, soon followed. Stranahan’s, founded in 2004, claims to be the first microbrewery to open from the living room in the state. According to the American Craft Spirits Association, there were 102 distilleries in Colorado in 2019.
Beer is a natural progression for many distilleries, says Sean Kenyon, bartender/president of the Denver Williams & Graham, Western and American Bonded bars. Grain is grown and fermented in the state to form the basis for beer and whiskey, Kenyon nuts, and in a classic border spirit, the state has embraced both.
Sean Kenyon with a gin feather44 / pictures of Matthew Simmons, Getty
Of course, grain isn’t the only crop that thrives in Colorado. Kenyon shows the local potato fields distilled into salted vodka at the Woody Creek distillery and the orchards transformed into brandy and liqueurs at the Peach Street and Leopold Brothers distilleries, among others.
I could strictly Colorado inspired my rear bar and be very happy with it, says Kenyon. This shows the diversity and quality of the bottles produced in this state.
For those who are ready for such a challenge, here are ten remarkable Colorado distilleries.
Breckenridge fever: Located at the foot of the Rocky Mountains in the Breckenridge ski area, this distillery produces a wide range of spirits. However, it is best known for the Breckenridge Bitter, a bitter amaro-like aperitif made with alpine herbs.
Distillery 291 : This Colorado Springs distillery specialises in the production of whisky in small quantities and produces a variety of bourbon, rye and American whiskies, some of them in one cask. Note that some of the whiskies are finished with sticks of Colorado Aspen.
Golden Moon Distillery: Herbal spirits are at the heart of the Golden Distillery, founded in 2008. Local bartenders have developed their lavender gin (a barrel version in a harbour is also available), and the producer’s invigorating Redux absinthe is worth a try.
Leopold Brothers. / Photo courtesy of the Visit Denver Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The Leopold brothers… In the mid-2000s, Todd and Scott Leopold moved their business from Michigan to their home state of Colorado to focus exclusively on distillation. The distillery is located in an industrial area in the northeast of Denver and comprises the first state malting plant and the distillery, the basis for the production of innovative whiskies in small batches.
Distillation of marble: If you’ve always wanted to stay in a working distillery, Marble offers the Distillery Hotel to make those dreams come true. It is located in Carbondale, near Aspen, and produces vodka and liqueurs such as the aromatic Gingercello.
Karen Hoskin, Founder/Owner, Montania Distillers (left), with Renee Newton, Head Spirits and Distillery / Photo : Nathan Bilow
Montania burner: The company, known for its production of Colorado rum and its focus on environmental sustainability, is led by the founder and owner of Crested Butte, Karen Hoskin. She also leads the Women’s Liquor Guild and advocates for gender diversity in the industry.
Peach Street Distillers: Located in Palisade, in the heart of the fruit and wine region of Colorado, this artisanal distillery takes its name from the many peach orchards in the region. Although they produce a wide variety of spirits, the spirits made with local fruit are their strong point. Their old peach and pear brandies are impressive.
Spring Distillation44 : This distillery in northern Colorado has the quality of the artesian spring water from the Rocky Mountains used to make vodkas and gins. They even offer a detailed water analysis on their website.
Drums and photos at Stranahan / Photo courtesy of Stranahan
Stranahan: The Stranafans of OG Boom Craft Spirit Colorado camp in Denver for their annual Snowflake Whiskey outing.
Woody Creek Distillers: Near Aspen, in the Smelting Basalt region, Woody Creek works with local farmers to harvest Rio Grande potatoes for their powerful farm-to-flag vodka. According to a local legend, journalist Gonzo Hunter S. Thompson, who lived in Woody Creek until his death in 2005, was shot directly over a potato field while preparing vodka.
Published 31 December 2020
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