Wet Your Whistle Stops. Sip & shop at Boulder County’s microdistilleries
By Charmaine Ortega Getz
Pub crawls, winery tours and swings through microbreweries have long been stimulating ways to sample Colorado-made adult beverages. Now Boulder County can add microdistillery tasting rooms to the experience. Each stop offers a tour, occasional live music or other entertainment, products to sample, and previews of the next new thing coming to a liquor emporium near you. Call ahead or check websites for hours and reservations. Here is an alphabetical roster. Mix your tour to taste!
Boulder Distillery / 303 Vodka & Whiskey
2500 47th St., Unit 10, Boulder, 303-442-1244; www.303vodka.com/boulderdistillery
Having successfully reproduced his Polish family’s antique recipe for potato vodka, distiller Steve Viezbicke set his sights anew on the first professionally distilled potato whiskey in the world, according to his wife and CEO, Terri.
Its products named for the local area code, this family business founded in 2008 includes the Viezbickes’ adult children, a nephew, and a future son-in-law.
Behind the bar are big glass jugs of vodka and whiskey for sampling, some of them infused with fruit, butterscotch, pickles or even more exotic ingredients.
The tasting room shares space with a quirky bar, a ceiling full of vintage model airplanes, and a space for sippers to enjoy the odd poetry reading and occasional live music. For the Viezbickes, it’s all about creating a soft environment to accompany that “hard stuff,” especially for the kind of novices they admit they once were.
“What’s the experience that people want?” Terri says they asked themselves. “Doing this takes a lot of passion, and there aren’t any shortcuts.”
4843 Pearl St., Boulder, 720-400-1907; www.jldistilling.com
Justin Lee and Seth Johnson were grad students at CU Boulder when they found themselves the only distillers in a local brewing club. They partnered up and went pro in 2011.
The distilling system they designed can be viewed from their new (as of June) tasting room, located in the same industrial-use strip as Boulder Distillery. The pleasant odor comes from yeast feasting on Louisiana sugarcane molasses, resulting in drinkable alcohol for their gin, vodka and European-style liqueur.
“We tried getting Colorado molasses, but it’s a refinery by-product here that mostly goes to feed cows,” Lee says. “Cows don’t care about quality.”
“But yeast does,” adds Johnson.
At the time of this writing, J&L is the only distillery featured here whose entire product line is sold on the premises and nowhere else. Any shopping inconvenience is mitigated by being able to leisurely sample spirits and sip cocktails in a cozy, quiet tasting room overlooking a bike path.
5311 Western Ave., Suite 180, Boulder, 303-819-5598;
Ted Palmer has been fascinated with the alchemy of distillation since childhood, when he witnessed Grandpa’s whiskey concoctions in the garage. He followed his passion through academic science studies, became a master brewer, and finally founded his own distillery in 2008.
Roundhouse Spirits is named for the popular meeting spot for trains featured in Thomas the Tank Engine. Walking into the large room dominated by a Spanish copper still, you can smell the fragrance of herbs from a hand-cranked grinder. If you have your heart set on a copper still of your own, Palmer can make one for you.
In November, Roundhouse opened a tasting room that offers its signature gins; Pumpkin King Cordial, made with organic Baby Bear pie pumpkins from Munson Farms; and Corretto Coffee Liqueur, whose coffee beans are roasted by The Unseen Bean in Boulder. Coming soon is an agave spirit called Tatanka (Lakota language for “buffalo”), which, if it were made in the Mexican state of Jalisco, would officially be known as “tequila.”
Spirit Hound Distillers
4196 Ute Highway, Lyons, 303-823-5696; www.spirithounds.com
Perhaps you read about distiller Craig Engelhorn’s experience of being marooned at his place of work just outside the flooded town of Lyons this September. He wants readers to know, “The whiskey is fine!”
Yes, the whiskey aging in barrels toward its 2015 debut survived the berserker transformation of the St. Vrain River, which backs up to the distillery grounds. As did the stills that, since 2012, have also produced Spirit Hound Gin and Richardo’s Decaf Coffee Liqueur, made by distiller Rick England.
Engelhorn rode out the worst on the distillery’s second floor the night of Sept. 11. His Lyons home and those of partners Wayne Anderson, Matt Rooney and Neil Sullivan were isolated by water and debris like a series of small islands.
Like the late, beloved old hound dog who inspired the Spirit Hound moniker, the partners lived up to their unofficial “Relentless when on the path” motto, and reopened their distillery in time for a Halloween fête.
The tasting room currently offers gin, cocktails, White Dog Moonshine and experimental creations, often accompanied by live music.
105 S. Sunset Ave., Suite A, Longmont;
Tesouro, the Portuguese word for treasure, is what Greg Dubbé decided to name his distillery in honor of the glorious Portuguese copper stills he couldn’t afford.
Dubbé was dreaming of his own business about four years ago when he came across an article about a small Texas vodka distillery. “It got the wheels going—something exciting and different, and yet totally doable,” he says. Only Dubbé preferred rum to vodka or whiskey, so that’s what he ended up making, basing it on raw Hawaiian cane sugar.
It probably helped that Dubbé is a competitive cyclist, used to an unwavering focus, because the effort took “a whole bunch of research” and many trial-and-error recipe experiments before he finally got a product for sale in the fall of 2013.
And it helped that, as a mechanical engineer, he could devise his own still. Now, with a little help from parents Neil and Carol Dubbé, he is turning out a monthly 20 to 30 cases, and his new tasting room is projected to open in time for the holidays.
Charmaine Ortega Getz lives in Boulder and is a freelance journalist. She is the author of Weird Colorado: Your Travel Guide to Colorado’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.