This week, Denver off the Wagon sits down with Kristian Naslund to talk about Dancing Pines Distillery. From Polka music, to talk about starting in Loveland, CO, his “house” liquor, and his rocking liqueurs, we go into it all.
Name of Distillery:
Dancing Pines Distillery
Where did you grow up?
How old were you when you had your first drink of a spirit? What was the story behind it?
Alcohol was never really a big deal around the house when I grew up. I was taught to appreciate it, not abuse it. My first taste of straight Tequila was memorable, I loved it instantly which was probably not the reaction my mother had hoped for but then she shouldn’t have given me such high quality Tequila.
What’s your favorite cocktail?
It changes with the weather. This summer I have preferred Mint Juleps, Caipirinhas.
What cocktail best showcases your distilled spirit, if applicable?
That’s the beauty of making a wide variety of spirits; it lends to a wide variety of cocktails. We (the distillery) all enjoy the creativity of our Colorado bartenders and each one seems to be able to make something truly unique when playing with our spirits.
What food pairs well with your spirit, if at all?
That’s the beauty of spirits, they can be mixed to pair with anything!
Why are you Colorado-based? If you moved to Colorado to start your distilleries, why?
My wife and I grew up in Loveland and it is where we have decided to raise our family.
How long have you been distilling?
Legally? Since I received my permit in June of 2010.
Now, how long have you really been distilling? (By that, how did you get into it?)
I don’t remember the year but my first batch was an apple brandy about 6-7 years ago.
How did your distillery get its name?
My wife wrote me a song titled dancing pines. I had moved my family into a small cabin while I was remodeling it, I loved it but there was 1 problem after another. My wife and children were getting tired of living there but one day after a blizzard we had a peaceful moment watching trees dance to some polka music. Then she wrote me a song about it. The full story is posted on our website.
What’s a fond memory you have of distilling? Please include as many details as you’d like.
I haven’t had a bad one yet. The first stream of rum coming off the still in our new distillery was pretty incredible
Where do you get the ingredients for your distillate?
All over. We source as local as we can but you can’t get tea or sugar cane molasses made here in Colorado.
How do you make your neutral grain spirit?
We make 2, one is from corn and one is from cane sugar molasses. Both are run through our column still to neutral spirit of 95%.
What’s your favorite spirit to make and why?
Tough question to answer, it’s like your kids.. you can’t pick a favorite because you love them all.
Do you filter? If so, why?
We decant our liqueurs, filter the vodkas we make and leave the rest alone. My wife is filtering my interview answers, does that count?
What’s your philosophy on heads and tails removal?
Heads are good for cleaning, tails are good for the drain and that’s about it.
What do you listen to while you brew/filter/distill?
Willie, Mumford and dub step. Lately there’s been a resurgence of 80’s music as well.
Tell us about your still. Is it a column or pot still? Does it have a name?
We have 2 very glorious stills! “Paso Doble” is a copper alembic pot still. It is a very traditional hand hammered pot still. It is beautiful to look at and fun to distill spirits on it. The second is a column pot still that we made in-house. It has yet to be named. It is stainless steel throughout with copper column trays.
What do you think of selling new-make white dog?
No opinion, just depends on your taste and goals. Mine is good but I don’t sell it. You may occasionally be offered a taste while visiting the distillery.
What type of whiskey do you make? (bourbon, straight etc.)
Bourbon for now, Rye and single malt are in my plans.
How long is the average age of your whiskey?
A year in 15-30 gallon barrels. We are adding 53 gallon barrels next year.
What are the predominant flavors in your whiskey?
Everybody’s palate is different, I’ll let you taste it and see what you come up with. The beginning is sweet from the corn, next comes malt character from the barley and the finish is spicy from the rye. We have heard interesting comments about flavors from everyone who tastes it.
How do you drink your whiskey?
Neat, I do appreciate a well done whiskey cocktail from time to time.
What style do you use to distill your gin? (London method, blending method etc.)
It is a “new west” style because it doesn’t really fit in the traditional gin categories. We cold macerate the herbs and botanicals for several days and then distill it through our copper pot still.
How many botanicals are in your gin and what are they?
We use 6, juniper, fennel, coriander, grains of paradise, licorice root and grapefruit rind.
Are there any of the botanicals that you believe set yourself apart?
All of them in combination create a very nice balance, you will notice some of the individual botanicals will stand out in certain cocktails but it works well in every classic cocktail (we’ve tested a lot).
What is your favorite way to drink your gin?
Today, the Bees’ Knees, last week, Negroni.
What is the base for your wash? (grapes, potatoes, apples, etc.)
Tell us about your water source. Where is it? Why did you select it?
We have a house vodka but we don’t sell it. We use local water as it comes from snow melt off Rocky Mountain National Park.
What is your vodka distilled from?
What is your filtration system like?
Activated carbon, we built our own filtration system.
What (if any) flavoring/bittering agents do you add?
How do you like to drink your vodka?
The only drink we serve it in by itself is the Moscow Mule and that’s really the only one I enjoy.
What type of rums do you make (dark, spiced, light)?
All of the above. We like rum here.
Where do you get your sugar/molasses from?
Currently from Brazil, we are working on a more local source but that is proving difficult for us to work out.
How do you age or blend your rum (if applicable)?
The spiced rum is “blended” by macerating vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks and whole crushed nutmeg for 10-14 days, then we sweeten it a little with molasses. We age our Cask Rum in new charred American oak barrels. It is really designed to be a Gold Rum but most gold rums are colored with caramel and ours gets its color from the oak.
What’s your favorite way to drink your rum?
Depends on the rum. Silver I enjoy served up with our Brulee Liqueur and orange bitters stirred with ice and strained. Spiced [rum] as a hot toddy, and Cask [rum] on the rocks.
Is there anything that sets your rum apart from other products?
Our rum is smooth and distilled in a manner so that you can still taste it in a cocktail. We don’t distill it like a vodka but more like you would a brandy. This means it smells like cane sugar and the finish tastes of molasses.
What’s your array of selection with your liqueurs?
We make 5 currently: Chai, Espresso, Cherry Tart, Brulee (caramel) and Black Walnut Bourbon.
What’s your favorite to sample newbies on?
The Chai, everybody loves it and it is our most popular, we ship it all over the place from people who heard about it form friends or family. There is truly nothing else like it.
How should your liqueurs be served?
We have many cocktail recipes but some people love them after dinner to sip on. We don’t overly sweeten them so they can be consumed alone. Check our website for the recipes. We also print them on the neck tags. My favorite right now is the chai with gin and ½ & ½ our version of an Alexander.
Where do you get your base ingredients from?
All of our ingredients are whole products meaning we don’t use any extracts or artificial flavoring to make our liqueurs. We buy organic herbs, botanicals and spices. The only thing that is not organic is our espresso beans, they come from a local roaster who owns the plantation where the beans are grown in Brazil (they are brothers who own the plantation and the roaster).
Are there any other less than mainstream products that you distill?
We make some interesting liqueurs.
If budget was no issue, what would you like to try to distill? Yes, bacon is an acceptable answer
I’d buy a vineyard and a few different orchards to distill brandies.
What are some developments you’re planning on in the coming future?
We are releasing a gin and a black walnut bourbon liqueur this October.
Why should folks buy local CO spirits?
Because they are good!
Thanks Kristian for a GREAT interview!