Rollinsville couple to open the Stage Stop Pub
by David Josselyn
Just west of Highway 119 in Rollinsville lies an unassuming industrial warehouse, housing a gem of a business Gold Dirt Distillery, operated by Judd and Chrissy Kaufman. The Kaufman’s left their Chicago roots behind to come to this state for two reasons: to raise their children and to open their own distillery. Although working as a team with Chrissy handling marketing and product testing, it is Judd’s passion for distilling that drives the nature of the business. On a hot August day, I walked through the garage door marking the front entrance of their tasting room to a beautifully polished bar for a talk with Judd. As he mixed a couple of signature cocktails, my gaze was captivated by the eclectic wall art and the old-style pinball machine in the corner. Knowing Judd is a recent transplant, I first asked about his journey.
Judd graduated high school in Chicago and went to the University of Kentucky in Lexington. However, Judd was not that interested in college, instead spending more time with other students. He remembers going camping with his new friends and passing around a jug of homemade spirits late at night. This stuff was authentic moonshine – the kind you picture backwoods entrepreneurs creating on their makeshift stills easily disguised as miscellaneous machine parts when the law comes to visit. Judd put his educational efforts into learning the distilling craft and then moved back to Chicago where he met a craft brewer who inspired him to begin brewing his own product as a hobby. Judd was hired by an automotive industry company where he climbed the corporate ladder until there was no more room left for advancement. The automotive industry was boring in comparison to the craft alcohol business, so when the opportunity came to take a distilling class from the bourbon industry big-wigs in Kentucky, he quickly jumped at the chance. Sometimes, expectations are greater than reality and Judd quickly figured out that everything being taught in the class he already knew. Making the most of it, he used the time to hobnob with industry leaders and other distilling enthusiasts creating a widespread foundation of support. Back in Chicago, Judd developed a relationship with an incredible woman, Chrissy, who agreed to marry him. After fifteen years in the auto industry, they made the choice to leave it all behind and put all their eggs in the distilling basket; the only question would be where? Attracted to the established craft industry and the exceptional environment for children (Chrissy was pregnant with their first child), the couple chose to hitch their wagon and travel west to Colorado. They spent some time in Boulder while scoping out locations for a distillery, but when they found the unassuming warehouse in Rollinsville, they looked no further.
As Judd eagerly talked about his wife, Chrissy, he made it immediately clear that he thought the world of her, spouting phrases such as “She’s a fantastic person. She’s the best. I could not do this without her.” Judd describes their relationship as a team; in life and in business and compares it to the distilling process. In distilling, there are several stages and you have to carefully learn each stage to get it right. One person does not have to be an expert in each stage, if they have a partner who does. Marriage is similar in that there are many parts, but you don’t have to be an expert in every part if your spouse has it covered. Judd is the self-proclaimed alcohol enthusiast who knows the distilling processes and Chrissy guides the product development and public relations. “We get along really well,” declared Judd.
The Stage Stop Pub
In October of 2019, the couple bought the vacant Stage Stop building just east of Highway 119 in Rollinsville. The Stage Stop was a favorite meeting place for many locals and tourists alike, so its closing was met with sadness. Judd and Chrissy saw that as an opportunity to give back to the community thinking that they could just slap on a new coat of paint and get it reopened. It didn’t take long for Judd to realize there was a lot more work involved for a long-term viable business. One of their convictions is that a family-friendly meeting place is important for the community, so they are working hard to get the business reopened adding a three-letter word to the name that says it all; “pub.” Pub is short for ‘public house’ which is descriptive of a family-friendly meeting place. Judd wants to serve fresh, non-complicated, quality food; burgers and fries. “The French fry situation in this area is abominable,” stated Judd. He admits the menu is not complete, but they are working on it. Upstairs will continue to be available for events; concerts, meetings, weddings, or “whatever people want to have there.” The stage will stay where it is with some upgrades to the sound system. Perhaps the biggest change will be moving the bathrooms to the back of the hall.
The commitment to a family-friendly meeting place reflects Judd’s view of community. A sense of community “is extremely important, it’s one of the most gratifying things about being here.” Most of the customers are locals. “I didn’t expect that,” said Judd. They are willing to volunteer and help in every aspect of his business. His vision for the Stage Stop Pub has evolved into a composite of his own and that of the community. “I love how cooperative and supportive this community is.” To help the community that is helping him, Judd has organized locals to give to the Gilpin County Food Bank’s school supply drive.
Judd’s moonshine beginnings are reflected in the products available. Gold Dirt focuses on gin with two varietals and several infusions. Judd’s pride and joy is the Rocky Mountain Gin which he describes as “an American style with lots of juniper and floral (thirteen botanicals in all).” Judd prints the ingredients on every bottle, so folks know what they are getting into. The other gin is High & Dry which Judd claims took him three tries before he was happy with the result. For this one, he removed all the flowery components and added sage to the juniper mix. Judd is still experimenting with the fusions and currently has jasmine, rose, and lavender varieties in stock.
In addition to gin, Judd enjoys distilling local beers and whiskeys. He says other alcohol enthusiasts enjoy sipping the original beer side-by-side with the whiskey for a flavor journey.
The Gold Dirt Promise
Judd repeated more than twice during our conversation that there are “a lot of great people here.” In response, he and Chrissy want to give back to the community and give them a sense of belonging and inclusion. “Everybody’s welcome,” said Judd, “nobody’s excluded.” They welcome ideas about their products and the Stage Stop Pub with this promise, “We will listen, we will not always agree, and we will do our best to incorporate your ideas.”