Made in Colorado 2017: Leopold Bros. goes the extra mile to craft its spirits

Denver's mad scientist distillers use time-intensive process to produce juniper-forward gin.

Product: American Small Batch Gin | Made in: Denver |

Co-founder and Head Distiller Todd Leopold says the craft spirit's distinctive flavor owes itself to a big game and a tight deadline.

When he first came up with the concoction, he and his brother, Scott, were running a brew pub in Ann Arbor, Mich., within walking distance of the so-called "Big House," University of Michigan's massive football stadium. The bar would be packed by noon.

Michigan law allowed brewpubs to sell spirits distilled on-site. In 2001, with a much-hyped game against rival Ohio State on the horizon, Todd had a mere week to come up with a gin recipe. The traditional method called for juniper and other botanicals to be distilled in one big batch. The time crunch meant that wasn't possible.

"That can take dozens of batches," says Todd. "What I decided to do is distill each of the botanicals individually."

He was able to play mad scientist and tweak the proportions of each botanical. He mixed and matched his beakers to taste until he hit the flavor profile he wanted.

Critics loved it: It won accolades from spirits writers from the Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers.

"The gin really took off," says Todd.

The brothers shut down the brew pub and moved to Colorado in 2008, and opened a state-of-the art distillery in 2014 that's now open for weekend tours. As gin production ramped up, "The plan was to go back to putting all the botanicals in there together," says Todd, but he ultimately decided otherwise. "It gives me complete control."

In fact, thousands of bottles later, he's barely tweaked the recipe. It remains juniper-forward, whereas many new craft gins reduce the botanical to which gin owes its name. "They dial back the juniper and turn everything up," says Todd. "To me, that's not gin. That's flavored vodka."

Distilling separate spirits to mix means he can adjust the heat to maintain the desired profile for that botanical. For example, traditional gins usually have a tannic flavor that requires vermouth as a masking agent. "With our gin, that's totally unnecessary," says Todd. "That's why gin drinkers love it. They all say the same thing: 'It's gin, but it's completely different. It's clean.'"

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