Annual event growth reflects Colorado’s distilleries
By David Josselyn
On Saturday, June 27, the City of Central and the Business Improvement District hosted the third annual Stills in the Hills event attracting large crowds to Central’s once barren Main Street. Two years ago, Doc Holliday Casino shut its doors on June 13, 2013, a major closing in a series of failed casinos that left the City government trying to squeeze blood out of nonexistent turnips to make up the deficit in device fee revenue. That same year, Stills in the Hills was born, bringing thirteen regional distillers to the street offering samples of their lovingly distilled spirits. This event; along with other summer events, cosmetic changes along Main Street, creative leasing to utilize empty spaces, the rebirth of the Main Street Commission, and the intergovernmental pursuit of historic buildings too far behind on taxes, has helped re-energize this town and see a resurgence of visitors and good spirits. Speaking of good spirits, the Stills event has more than doubled its size bringing 25 distilleries plus one start-up distiller yet to open. Joe Behm, Executive Director of the Business Improvement District, exclaimed, “This is the biggest ever; we have four more distilleries (than last year) and sold more tickets.” In describing the event and speaking off the cuff, Joe said “It’s going to be a party: debutants, distilleries, and debauchery.” Behm immediately corrected that last word and said there will be no debauchery; the word just flowed with the others. The event is more of a civilized affair. This year’s event coincides with the annual Yellow Rose Ball and Flower Girl Presentation that kicks off the Opera season. Just as the number of distillers has grown for this event, Colorado distilleries have exploded from a mere eighteen (estimated) in 2011 to more than 50 today.
As the number of vendors grow, the event changes. The spirit vendors were limited to a fenced off area about one-third the length of Main, allowing non-participants plenty of room to mosey along the sidewalks on either side. At times, this made it challenging for participants to move freely from booth to booth; however, no one seemed to mind. On the Eureka side of Main, two bands took the stage: The Lookout Mountain Boys and Parkside. The remainder of the street housed the booths of non-distillery vendors such as Twisted Leaf Designs, Dostel Alley, Connie and Connie Soaps, JKQ BBQ, Mountain Mocha, Century Casino, Reserve Casino, and Reliving the Past Studio. The Stills in the Hills also partners with the Model A Ford Club and several stylish, classic Fords were parked along the outer edges of the event. Director Behm sees the Stills event evolving into one of Colorado’s best, rivalling the Aspen Food & Wine Festival.
The VIP tent, where patrons can enjoy cocktails created by the distillers along with bar snacks and food, was catered by Revelry Events. Owner and Chef Esteban Thomas and owner Jenn Glenn came to Central in person to serve up tasty morsels; blue cheese sliders, bacon wrapped jalapeno grilled cheese, and fried sausage stuffed shells. Chef Esteban was the winner of 2014’s Bacon Fest cook-off.
Bear Creek Distillery – Owners Jay Johnson and Jeff Dickenson were accompanied by Laurie Dickenson to bring their products to Gilpin County. The owners are all Bear Creek High School alumni and named their distillery after their alma mater. Jay Johnson worked in pest control for 15 years before finding his passion about four years ago. Jay’s favorite mixed drink: dirty martini.
Blank and Booth Distilling – Owners Nick Blank and Joel Jackson represented Blank and Booth from the heart of Denver. The two engineers wanted to develop a moonshine you could drink straight up. Nick’s favorite mixed drink: old fashioned. Joel’s favorite: whiskey on ice.
Laws Whiskey House – Brand Ambassador Kristan Famularo and Sales Manager Lauren Byers presented the Laws Whiskey House whiskey. Their signature four-grain bourbon is made with open air fermentation and uses 60% corn, 20% wheat, 10% rye, and 10% barley grains. Lauren’s favorite mixed drink: the last word – a prohibition-era cocktail.
Mobb Mountain Distillers – Brand Ambassador Daniel Sans Crainte (meaning “without fear”) came empty handed to the Stills event. Mobb Mountain, a grain to glass distillery, is in its start-up phase having recently finished their building in Fort Collins. The name, Mobb, comes from the word for a group of crows defending their territory. Daniel’s favorite mixed drink: brandy Manhattan.
Peach Street Distillers – Ryan Negley brought his products across the state from Palisade. The distillery has agreements with farmers in the fertile West Slope and distills twenty-four unique spirits. Peach Street holds the first Colorado distillers license, Number 001. Ryan’s favorite mixed drink: Negroni.
Rado Distilling – Vanessa Burkholder and founder Kevin Conner were showcasing their Beet Spirits. They distill rum in every shape and form that rum is distilled except for the sugar. Since cane sugar is harder (more expensive) to come by and not grown in Colorado, they use beet sugar which is why their products are “not” rum. Kevin’s favorite mixed drink: dark rum and Coke.
Tesouro Distillery – Greg Dubbe (along with his mom and dad) made the trek from Longmont to feature his products. Greg read an article about Tito’s Vodka which got him dreaming about distilling his own product. Greg’s favorite mixed drink: rum and Coke.
Vodka 14 –Josh Laguna and Anastasia Denentyeva brought their products from Boulder. The distillery is a father/son company and uses 100% organic wheat. Josh’s favorite mixed drink: cucumber martini.
Spirit Hound Distillers – General Manager Talia Tiran and Steve Williams brought their spirits to town. Their distillery is located in Lyons and they are just beginning to recover from the disastrous flood isolating the town in 2013. Talia was excited to announce their first aged batch of whiskey since the flood will be released this July. Talia’s favorite mixed drink: whiskey on the rocks.
KJ Wood Distillers – Brand Ambassador Cassie Taylor brought KJ Wood’s special products to Central. They use blue corn in their vodka and give their gin, titled ‘Jinn,’ a hint of lavender behind the juniper berries. The tasting room will be moving next month to Ouray. Cassie’s favorite mixed drink: salty dog with vodka
Woods High Mountain Distillery – Proprietors Lee and Trish Wood brought their products for sampling. They use local products as much as they can and even hand-pluck the elder flowers. Lee’s favorite mixed drink: Negroni.
Snova Vodka / Top Shelf – Brand Manager Tommy Skinner teamed up with the folks from Top Shelf Premium Cocktail Mixers to feature his vodka. Both products are produced by unique companies, but distributed by Classic Wines LLC. Snova’s vodka has a unique bottle with the appearance of shattered glass. Tommy’s favorite mixed drink: Moscow mule.
Dancing Pines Distillery – The distillery sent bartender Samantha Hogness to pour their spirits. Dancing Pines uses all natural products for all their spirits. Samantha’s favorite mixed drink: Manhattan with chai liqueur.
J&L Distilling – Justin Lee, the ‘L’ in J&L enthusiastically poured his crafted beverages, Sno Vodka, Sno Gin, and Fyr Whiskey Liqueur. Their distillery uses a computer controlled 37 plate packed column for continuous distillation and a consistent product. Justin’s favorite mixed drink: bourbon neat.
Syntax Spirits – Heather Bean, owner and still mistress, along with Ryne Sherman, still monkey (although he prefers to be called the still Godzilla), came to Central from Greeley to feature their wares. They are a grain to glass distiller using all Colorado Products including water from the Poudre River. Ryne’s favorite mixed drink: screwdriver with vodka
Vapor Distillery (formerly Roundhouse Spirits) – Bar Manager Mike Pal (Palasciano) and Brand Ambassador Stephanie Dunbar represented Vapor Distillery. Due to some trademark issues, they have rebranded from Roundhouse Spirits with new bottles, new labels, and added a new product: Pruf Vodka using “subtle ingredients for a unique flavor profile.” Mike’s favorite mixed drink: vodka cherry lemonade.
Feisty Spirits – Chief Monkey Boy Jamie Gulden and Joan Eurich brought their products from the first distillery in Fort Collins. They distill twenty-five varieties of potent liquor. Jamie reflected that the distilleries are popping up all over Colorado and he sees a day coming soon when the market will be over-saturated. Jamie’s favorite mixed drink: whiskey straight.
Stranahan’s – Tour guides Jess Knight and Franke Gentile presented Stranahan’s whiskey. Stranahan’s is Colorado’s first legal distiller, each product handmade using Rocky Mountain water and malt barley. Jess says of their whiskey, “It starts like scotch and finishes like bourbon.” Jess’s favorite mixed drink: Colorado mule.
Mile High Spirits – Adam Taylor came up to Central City to promote their spirits. They make all their products to be gluten free using only non-GMO ingredients. Adam’s favorite mixed drink: tequila old fashioned.
Downslope Distilling – President Chap Nelson and Chris Wangerin came to Central to showcase their wares. Downslope uses a double diamond head still for their “extraordinarily small,” business. Chap’s favorite mixed drink: whiskey ginger ale.
Golden Moon Distillery – Brand Ambassador Noah Heaney and his friend Garrett brought back to Central their very popular absinthe and Crème de Violette products. They use only pre-prohibition era recipes and local products as much as possible. Noah’s favorite mixed drink: summer gin and tonic.
Black Canyon Distillery – Owner Susan Lesnick and Amanda Kimball came to Central from Longmont, contrary to the name. The founder, Susan’s husband, Fred, got his inspiration from the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park while visiting his daughter. The distillery uses only Colorado products. Susan’s favorite mixed drink: bloody Mary with pepper vodka.
Breckenridge Distillery – Liquid Chef Billie Keithley and Whiskey Ninja Kyle West came to Central City hauling the Breckenridge Burro; a bar on wheels with the appearance of a small food truck. The Burro comes equipped with an impressive sound system which was being employed this Saturday. Billie’s favorite mixed drink: Manhattan.
Covodkaco – Owners Brittany Russell and Aaron Steinke shared their products. Covodkaco is unique in its name and the founder created the recipe for the 5284 Vodka on a napkin in a bar. Brittany’s favorite mixed drink: Negroni. Aaron’s favorite: gin and bitters.
If you missed this year’s event, plan on making it next year – it’s a cool way to beat the summer heat up in the mountains, and nobody went away thirsty!0202