Talk Colorado Wine & Colorado's Wine Country: Celebrating Colorado's Craft Distillers, Part I

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Celebrating Colorado's Craft Distillers, Part I

Boy, Coloradans sure know how to get plastered in style! In a pure celebration of all things related to the fermentation of grape and grain, Colorado boasts over 70 wineries and over a hundred brewpubs. Denver is home to Modern Drunkard Magazine and is sometimes labeled the "Napa Valley of Microbreweries."

But what about Colorado's dozen or so craft distillers? This cottage industry is producing limited batches of the hard stuff, and people are flocking to buy it. The Colorado Springs Independent recently highlighted this niche market, including Palisade's very own Peach Street Distillers.

Under the headline, "High Spirits: Colorado's Breweries Aside, Our Dozen Craft Distillers Shall Not Be Ignored," Independent Reporter Matthew Schniper writes:

"Bottle for bottle in Colorado last year, Denver-distilled Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey outsold every other top-shelf whiskey "by a wide margin," according to co-founder Jess Graber."

"I don't have actual sales receipts," he says, "but the liquor stores tell us, 'You sell way more than anyone else.'"

"The small distillery laid its first barrel to mature just five years ago, and still puts out just three barrels per week — which represents about five minutes of production for the mass-producing distilleries. So if Graber's decidedly unscientific analysis is true, Stranahan's sales success could be considered amazing."

"And totally appropriate."

"Anything that's hand-crafted will taste better, period," says Bill Owens, of the Hayward, Calif.-based American Distilling Institute."

"Owens, a former brewer who's been tracking spirit trends for six years now, says the number of current operations, currently around 150, is growing by roughly 20 per year. Colorado distilleries account for a dozen, falling behind only California, Michigan and Oregon nationally, and accounting for about as many craft operations, Owens says, as can be found in all of Europe."

"[The Europeans] scratch their heads and can't figure out why anyone would even bother," says Owens. "They don't understand the American Dream."

"Talk to any small distiller, one producing a few thousand cases versus millions, and you'll find that relentless pursuit of the dream is indeed what it takes to carve a niche alongside the distributors of mass-quantity, mainstream spirits. Because the "barrier to entry" is so high — paying for bottling, licensing and distributorship on top of significant investment capital, with an expected two- to three-year negative cash flow — Owens estimates that distilleries will never surge quite like microbreweries have."

"The ones that are here, though, like Stranahan's, are doing just fine."

This is part one of a two part series. You can check out some of Colorado's other craft distillers here.

So what are some of your favorite top shelf liquors? Have you ever tried any from Colorado?

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