Posted: April 09, 2013
Made in Colorado 2013: Spirits & wineBy Eric Peterson
There is a clear separation of powers at Leopold Brothers: Todd Leopold handles the distilling and Scott Leopold focuses on the business.
Diversity of product is a strength. Todd has masterminded everything from absinthe verte to blackberry liqueur, stemming from the brothers’ old microbrewery in Michigan, where the law dictates that you can only sell what you produce in-house. So Todd started making everything from gin to triple sec, before they shuttered the place and returned home to Colorado in 2008 to go into the distilling business full-time.
The move has paid off with swift growth and Leopold Brothers is now on the cusp of breaking ground on a brand-new distillery on a four-acre site in northeast Denver, slated to open by fall 2013. “We’re going from two stills to seven,” says Todd. Not only that, the distillery will use 90 percent less water than the industry norm.
He credits Colorado’s microbrewery pioneers for setting the stage for the state’s current distilling boom. “The beer industry is so mature here,” he says. “The heavy lifting was already done by Gov. John Hickenlooper, Kim Jordan, Brian Dunn and a host of others.”
“Montanya is on fire,” says President Karen Hoskin, citing 74 percent growth in 2012 after finishing 2011 up 72 percent. “We’re trying to keep our heads above water.” The company’s light and dark rums are now available in 38 states, after taking rum-loving Florida by storm earlier this year.
Hoskin launched Montanya in Silverton in 2008 and moved the company to Crested Butte in 2011. Today the distillery is based in the historic Crested Butte Powerhouse, re-imagined as a picture-perfect tasting room with copper stills under the old rough rafters.
Karen’s husband, Brice, the founder of Mountain Boy Sledworks, is more involved with Montanya after selling the former company last summer. Says Karen: “It’s really good to have Brice on board.” And that goes double if 2013 shapes up anything like the last two."
Peach Street Distillers
Rory Donovan worked as a fishing guide before he launched Peach Street Distillers in 2005 with Ska Brewing’s Bill Graham and David Thibodeau.
“When we first started, we were one out of three distilleries in the state,” says Donovan. “Now we have the longest running Colorado brands on the shelf since Prohibition.”
Now about 20 employees strong, Peach Street is the reigning Distillery of the Year according to the American Distilling Institute for its whiskeys, grappas, gin and other spirits. And they go through a lot of local Palisade peaches to narrow down the diverse selection. “We did 87,000 pounds of peaches last year and we’re shooting for 120,000 pounds this year,” says Donovan. Sales have grown at a steady 25 percent a year, he adds.
Last June, Peach Street opened a tasting room at its Palisade distillery and it turned out to be much more, accounting for $1 million in revenue, one-third of it direct bottle sales. “I never imagined in a million years I would be using the term $1 million,” laughs Donovan.
“The next wave of expansion will be on the production side,” he adds. “We’re pretty well maxed out. Our still runs 24 hours a day, four to five days a week – minimum.”
After a storied career in British Special Forces, professional polo and the New York restaurant world, John Sutcliffe, the owner of the eponymous winery, planted his first grape vines in McElmo Canyon near Cortez in 1995 and sold his first bottles of wine in 2001. A dozen years later, Sutcliffe has emerged as one of the state’s most critically adored and fastest growing wineries.
“We increased our business by 50 percent last year,” says Sutcliffe, touting production of 4,500 cases. Sutcliffe credits his winemaker, Joe Buckel, for the recent growth. “Joe’s in his fifth year now,” says Sutcliffe. “It takes a while for a winemaker to stamp his will on a place.”
Along with special events and a new-for-2012 wine society, Sutcliffe says relationships with restaurants have been key. “We have restaurants we have almost an umbilical connection with,” he says. “We consider them our restaurants and they consider us their winery.”
But if Sutcliffe had a chance to do it all over again, would he? Put him down as a definite maybe. “It’s very satisfying, but it’s very demanding.” For example, spring freezes required Sutcliffe and company to burn 280 fires in oil drums for five days. The payoff for all of that hard work? “We didn’t lose any grapes,” he laughs.
The world’s highest distillery (9,600 feet) is racking up awards for its whiskeys, vodkas, rums and liqueurs.
Downslope has earned a reputation for creativity with sugar-cane and pepper vodkas, rum aged in wine barrels and the unexpected Ould Tom Gin.
Growing grapes and making wine in the Grand Valley since 2000.
The Infinite Monkey Theorem
Owner and winemaker Ben Parsons graduated from a west Denver Quonset hut to a warehouse in RiNo in 2012.
Mile High Spirits
Mile High makes its own brands of vodka, gin, whiskey and rum, plus private-label brands for customers.
Organic CapRock vodka and gin, plus Eaux de Vie and grappa from Jack Rabbit Hill Biodynamic Farm.
Mead, or honey wine, has been around for millennia, and David Myers has been making Redstone Mead since 2000.
Vodka and gin
Makes a unique honey vodka along with more traditional vodka and gin.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey
Jess Graber turned his illegal hobby into a legal distillery in 2006.
Terror Creek Winery
The highest commercial winery and vineyard in the world (6,400 feet) makes Alsatian-style wines.
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News. He can be reached at Eptcb126@msn.com