Stills in the Hills brings booze, blues and booms

Soaking rain fails to dampen spirits in Central City

By David Josselyn

  The special events of Central City Days featured Stills in the Hills on Saturday, July 13th. Stills in the Hills brought thirteen distillers from Buena Vista to Lyons to favor participants with samples of their craft on Main Street. The event also featured three bands and nine booths from local entities. The day started warm and sunny, but quickly became overcast. A drenching thirty minute downpour from 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. failed to keep people away. As the echoing thunder boomed across the valley, many people sent cheers up to the heavens; whether from the firework quality of the thunder or the joy of true moisture for the dry land, it was unclear. The crowd, ever in high spirits, came right back for the rest of the afternoon, regardless of an intermittent rainfall. Punctuating the event, on the top of the hour, every hour, the Wild Bunch Gang put on a brief show ending in a gunfight. Amazingly, the same ruffians who were shot came right back the next hour, as if nothing had happened. In fact, several were seen sampling the offerings of several distillers between shows. The music from the live bands was of exceptionally good quality. Robert Williams, lead singer of Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys, remarked that the sound was “the best he’s had in a long time.” Joe Behm, Executive Director of the Central City Business Improvement District declared the event such a success, that it will be brought back next year.

The Distillers

  Breckenridge Distillery – located in the town of Breckenridge, the distillery will have been in business for four years this October. They utilize traditional open-top Scottish style fermenters and distill in a custom copper combination pot still. Billie Keithley, Liquid Chef, was on hand at the event and had some advice for anyone wanting to go into the distilling business; “research.”

  Downslope Distilling – located in Centennial, the distillery has been around for four years. They use malt from Northern England and Southern Scotland for a distinctive flavor in their whiskey. Andy Causey, co-owner, started brewing beer, but liquor was a dream of his, which motivated him to start the company with Mitch Abate. Andy has some advice for anyone wanting to go into distilling – “to save a lot of money.”

  Golden Moon Distillery – located in Golden, the distillery has been around for five years. Stephen Gould, owner; however, has been in the business for 20 years. He is one of only a handful of distillers crafting absinthe. His advice about going into the business would be to learn as much as you can about the craft and make sure you know what you’re getting into regarding the cost and labor. Golden Moon is also the only local distiller making Crème de Violette; a drink made from violet flowers and buds.

  Leopold Bros – located in Northeast Denver, the distillery has been operating locally for 10 years, although getting its start in Chicago in 1996. Taryn Kapronica, Event Specialist, presented their full line of liqueurs as well as their whiskey, vodka and gin. Taryn stated that while most distillers make whiskey and add fruit at the end to create a flavored whiskey, they start with the fruit and make whiskey, giving their products a full fruity flavor. They use the finest ingredients, such as apples from Washington and peaches from Palisade, Colorado.

  Black Canyon Distillery – located in Longmont, the distillery has been operating for three years. Chris Broadfoot asserts that their product is distinctive because they use all Colorado products to make a “high-proof sipping whiskey.” Chris advises to be patient if you’re going to go into the business.

  Mystic Mountain Distillery – located in Larkspur, the distillery has been open for five years. The owner, Fred Linneman, is carrying on his family’s tradition of crafting Rocky Mountain Hooch. His great-grandfather worked for Coors after emigrating from Germany in the late 1800’s, before starting to distill his own spirits. They use only Colorado grains, all natural ingredients and artesian well water in their products.

  Deerhammer Distilling Company – located in Buena Vista, the distillery has been in business for one and half years. Lenny Eckstein, owner and distiller, got into liquor because “beer was getting boring.” This was his opportunity to make his own whiskey with his own spin. Lenny’s approach was to research historical methods of distilling, and then to duplicate the process while infusing slightly different flavors. His advice for burgeoning distillers is to “be true to yourself, do it right,” and to “learn to brew beer” first.

  Mile High Spirits – located in Denver, the distillery has been around for one year and four months. Owner Wyn Ferrell explored distilling after being in finance and hating the job. Wyn found a sales job for a distillery which ignited an interest in distilling, being fueled by his own passion for brewing. Mile High Spirits features artisan quality spirits at an affordable price. Wyn’s advice for distilling entrepreneurs is to be resilient and be marketable.

  303 Boulder Distillery – located in Boulder, the distillery has been in business for five years. They use potatoes for their whiskey, which are rarely used in this modern age, making their whiskey distinctive and different from other brands. Owner Brandy Schafer got into the business for the customers and because it is a “really fun job.” She gets to use chemistry and physics to craft a product that she has a lot of pride in. Her advice to anyone wishing to craft the spirits is to “be honest in everything you do.”

  J&L Distilling Company – located in Boulder, the distillery has been open for three months, with its products in stores in mid-July. Owner Justin Lee, a chemical engineer, started the business with Seth Johnson, a physicist, to “bring science into the craft,” and to make spirits they liked. For people eager to start their own distilling business, Justin offers the following advice, “Don’t do it.” Justin quickly added to “practice, practice, practice,” and “have a really good business plan.”

  Dancing Pines Distillery – located in Loveland, the distillery has been operating for four years. Kristian McNay found he needed more humor and serenity after years of being a firefighter, so shared his dream of distilling with his father, Christopher, and the company was born. They now occupy an 8,000 square foot building and distribute to 37 states. Christopher’s advice about going into distilling is to “go small, work extremely hard,” and to “constantly network” with others in the business. He also warns to learn the regulations. “Your whole life is going to go into this business,” so make the best product you can.

  Syntax Spirits – located in Greeley, the distillery has been around for two and half years. Owner Heather Bean used to be a computer engineer before going into distilling because she “needed to find a cheaper way to drink.” Having degrees in chemical and mechanical engineering, Heather makes everything from scratch, using whole ingredients. She advises future distillers to be prepared for it to “take longer than you think” to be successful.

  Spirit Hound Distillers – located in Lyons, the distillery has been operating for seven months. Being a small batch distiller, they can “perfect minute flavor differences” in their products. They use only Colorado products. Steve Williams, assistant to the distiller, advises to do a lot of research if you’re going into the business.

The Retailers

  Non-distilling retailers operating booths at the event were: Mountain Mocha, Century Casino, Gilpin History, Fired Up Creations, Dostal Alley, A & M Works, Gilpin Arts, Johnny Z’s Casino, and The Reserve Casino.

The Bands

  Three bands kept the energy up entertaining the crowd. Ethyl and the Regulars, a “high-octane honky tonk” band; Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys with rock ‘n roll sounds of the 50’s and 60’s; and Dave Alvin and the Guilty Ones, who have been featured on the FX original series, Justified.

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