By Jess Hunter, Josh Rapp, Jim Halligan, and PJ Hoberman
I look at the clock. Noon. It’s well-past 5 o’clock in London; the Queen would be sipping her gin, so I can too, right? I sigh and step up to the check-in at Rackhouse Pub on Sunday. Chris Rippe, owner and the impetus behind the Colorado Distillers Festival, is there with his goofy smile and excited energy for the event to get on the road. He hands me my tasting glass, etched with “Colorado Distillers Festival” and I think this is going to be good. It’s not based in fact whatsoever, but I believe that every good festival gives you a take-away vessel. If it’s glass, even better. I tightly grasp my trinket and walk into the Rackhouse dining room-turned-festival showcase. It’s early still, but distillers and reps alike have a giddy and nervous energy as they look expectantly to the door, watching more and more patrons walk in. Folks start to settle, chit-chat, and sip on Colorado spirits. The lectures begin.
First up was Rob Masters from Boulder Distillers/303 Vodka, guiding a gin tasting. We sampled his juniper distillate (which I fantasized snatching later on) and his botanical distillate. We sniffed the various items that can make up a gin, depending on the distiller’s point of view. And we were lulled into the passion that Rob Masters exudes for his craft.
Following Masters was Kevin Burke, bar manager/janitor at Colt & Gray and also fellow writer at Denver off the Wagon. If you have ever gotten the chance to hear Burke wax and wane about cocktails, you then know of the passion and creativity in his mind and through his barspoon. We learned of an improved whiskey cocktail, a true daiquiri, and a Leave It To Me No. 2. Burke also shared his knowledge of the bartender’s shaking and the comparison to one’s “stroking” techniques. Err…
Next, Rob Dietrich from Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey shared about barrel aging. We learned about the Angel’s Share and what Stranahan’s does to combat this, and who better than the barrel room manager and now master distiller to bare all. There was a lot of talk about wood, curvature, and penetration. Hey, it’s what happens when there are drinks on the table.
As if we didn’t share enough libations during the seminar series, we were then let out like wandering cats upon the bountiful array of Colorado distillers and their booths. I sent a silent prayer of thanks to Rippe and his Rackhouse crew for the pretzels, pizza, and wings to share space with the hooch in my belly. We mingled, sampled, laughed, shared oh-so-many stories, and all of them unique.
But don’t just get my opinion, check out what my fellow Wagoners had to say. And trust me when I say you don’t want to miss next year’s Colorado Distillers Festival.
Possibly the most thought-forward spirit of the day, Roundhouse Imperial Barrel Aged Gin stood out as one of the great innovations happening today in beverage maturing. I have never seen an oaked gin, but it makes a ton of sense since the nose and flavors you get from a traditional gin are so “in your face.” Rounding it out with wood takes the edge off, and you really end up with something unique. I believe one of the descriptors was Frosted Raisin Bran cereal. If you can find this stuff (and it won’t be easy due to limited quantities), be sure to ask for two scoops.
What an ill-conceived – and by ill-conceived I mean absolutely amazing – festival. What I can’t grasp is why more people didn’t show up. Fourteen distilleries showing off their goods, mixing them all pretty-like, and free bacon to boot. I had bacon and apple whiskey. Together. In a cup. In my face.
Success! The 1st Colorado Distillers festival was a really intimate and intriguing time where I learned a lot but was still able to let loose and have a great time. The three seminars by Rob, Kevin and Rob were very informative and I think it is always good to add more geek facts to your repertoire. The most impressive thing for me about the festival was how excited the participating distilleries were. A majority had head distillers hanging at their booths or wandering around and everyone seemed very excited to be there. All in all it was something I would have been very sad to miss and am already looking forward to next year. Distillery 291 distillery had just started up and went out of their way to participate at the festival. They brought a few different white dog products and all of them were superb! The un-aged rye had a great syrupy body with a taste like butterscotch popcorn and a hint of citrus. I always love to see what Downslope has in store and they did not disappoint with a great selection of Rum and Whiskey. One of their newer products is a pepper vodka which has some nice heat to it and great flavor. It was a real privilege to try Peach Street’s Bourbon which is currently only sold at the distillery in Palisade. I don’t know if I even have to mention their Peach Brandy or the fine selection of Colorado Soda Company sodas that were paired with their fine spirits, but I will. Ginger beer and anything is a good pairing by the way. And as for Syntax Spirits, they brought along the best pepper vodka that I have had. It had an amazing bell pepper, chili pepper and black pepper flavor without any burn.
Colorado Distillers at the 1st Annual Colorado Distillers Festival:
- Distillery 291
- Peach Street
- Syntax Spirits
- Leopold Bros
- Dancing Pines
- Dude Distillery
- Roundhouse Spirits
- Breckenridge Distillery
- Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey
- Rob’s Mtn Gin/303 Vodka
- Star Bar/Great Divide