Food & drink

Distilling the best parts of life

Colorado’s spirits scene sees growth, diversification

Posted 2/21/17

A lot of ingredients are required to distill good, quality spirits. But one requirement is at the root of them all — passion.

“I went to Kentucky and Tennessee to learn from the distillers there,” said Mitch Abate, distiller at Downslope …

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Food & drink

Distilling the best parts of life

Colorado’s spirits scene sees growth, diversification

Posted

A lot of ingredients are required to distill good, quality spirits. But one requirement is at the root of them all — passion.

“I went to Kentucky and Tennessee to learn from the distillers there,” said Mitch Abate, distiller at Downslope Distilling in Centennial. “It’s really cool to see people’s reactions when they try our drinks for the first time and have their preconceived notions changed.”

A distiller’s passion can be tasted in the dedication to the craft, quality of the spirits and how well the product is received.

“I’ve been distilling for 26 years,” said Stephen Gould, owner and distiller at Golden Moon Distillery and Speakeasy. “To make our drinks, we bring in ingredients from all over the world, and the finished product goes out to countries like the United Kingdom, Italy and Denmark.”

Distilling is the process that purifies alcohol by heating it into vapor, which is then condensed through cooling.

The independent brewery scene in Colorado has been steadily growing for decades, and that same approach is now following suit in the world of distilling. According to the Colorado Distillers Guild, the state is home to more than 50 distillers making everything from whiskey and gin to kümmel and aquavit. In this growing industry, there’s all kinds of room for experimentation and variety.

“We’re Colorado’s only producer of aquavit, which is a Scandinavian spirit,” said Ryan White, owner of Devil’s Head Distillery in Englewood. “We also do vodka and gin, but we wanted to make something that would differentiate us from everyone else.”

Local distillers’ commitment to quality, often locally-grown ingredients, is one reason more people are becoming interested in the industry, White said.

“There’s a greater interest from the public in locally-sourced goods,” he said. “There’s been a renewed focus on supporting local businesses, which has also been beneficial.”

Although people have grown more familiar over time with the process for making beer and wine, the steps and nuances of distilling are still unfamiliar to many, which lends the process an appealing bit of mystery. But one of the goals of distilleries is to educate people, so tours are often offerred to show how the drinks are made.

Downslope Distilling takes education a step further and offers a distilling class once a month. Abate said he’s had students from all over the world learn about spirits and some of the ways they’re made.

“More and more people are coming in these days with at least some knowledge of how the process works,” he said. “This field is really booming, and groups like the Colorado Distillers Guild are helping get the word out.”

Most distilleries have tasting rooms, so visitors can sample the finished product. Golden Moon opened its speakeasy three years ago to provide customers a classic cocktail bar vibe to try the distillery’s many offerings.

Bars like the Schoolhouse Kitchen and Libations in Olde Town Arvada use locally made whiskey to enhance their collection of more than 1,100 whiskeys.

“Colorado’s whiskey scene is exploding right now,” said Lane Abshire, Schoolhouse’s resident whiskey nerd. “We have a lot of demand for local stuff. All the time people come in looking for Colorado whiskey.”

Many of these creations are being recognized in and out of Colorado. Last year, Golden Moon’s single malt whiskey won a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Devil’s Head’s aquavit was recognized at the Denver International Spirits Competition, and Downslope’s Ould Tom Gin received the silver at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Unfamiliarity about spirits and a fear of asking questions may have kept people from trying spirits, but Gould wants to change that.

“What I do is not about excluding people, but making things people enjoy,” he said. “We want to welcome everyone here to learn what they like.”

Downslope Distilling, Golden Moon Distillery and Speakeasy, Colorado Distillers Guild, Schoolhouse Kitchen and Libations, Colorado whiskey, distill spirits, Clarke Reader, food, drink, whiskey, Devil's Head Distillery, Englewood, Golden, Arvada, Centennial

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