Leopold Brothers – Part 2

Continued from Leopold Brothers – Part 1

After fermentation, the washes and fruit musts are transferred to the stripping still for primary distillation. The day we were there a whiskey wash was cooling down after being run in the still. The wash is not lautered, and grain and all is sent to the pot. Again, we see Todd’s technical influence in the pumping unit that stirs the cooking wash by recirculating the liquid tangentially back into the still, causing a whirlpool to prevent scorching. Nerdy? Totally. Does that matter? Who knows, but I like it.

No cuts are taken at this point, and all distillate is collected and placed into low wine barrels at about 30% alcohol. The low wines are then transferred to the spirit still. If the fermentation method is the lifeblood of the place, then this thing is the heart. Efficient, built specifically to a task, but beautiful and subtle in design. It is a modified six-plate eau de vie-style column still. The six rectification plates give full control of the ratio of purity of distillate to flavor compounds that are extracted into the final distilate. This is critical to the broad range of products that come out of this facility. He can open up all of the plates to allow flavors from the (as organic as possible) herbal extractions or whiskeys to pass through, or tighten down the flow and force repeated condensation and redistillation to produce a creamy but wonderfully clean vodka.

A man and his still

Speaking of the herbal extractions, Todd rightfully takes pride in the fact that each herbal extract that makes up his blends are distilled individually to protect each flavor and aroma component. Simply, if you distill two different flowers, it is likely that the specific aroma and flavor molecules re-recognize as each flower may distill at different temperatures. These molecules are volatile and delicate and can be destroyed by overheating even a small amount. Todd protects these molecules by only seeking out one herbal profile at a time. This pays dividends in the final product as each herb or spice can be noted and analyzed.

I love the technical aspects of what is happening, but I should probably discuss the liquor. Each product is done per barrel. The barreling room at Leopold Brothers is fairly small, but it is like a room full of treasures. Pisco to one side and American whiskey to the other. I think I spied some peach whiskey as well. On the day we were there, we were all excited about the fernet that was rumored to be almost ready. Powerfully herbal, this bitter liqueur was made with a pisco base that was distilled from muscat grapes. Todd warned us to let it breathe, as the mint component was still very strong, masking the other characteristics. We discussed barreling and the methods of aging used and moved to the tasting.

We tasted through a good portion of the products available, and some that are not available outside of the distillery or family liquor cabinets. Some of my favorites were a private family rye whiskey and the apple whiskey. There was also a rye white dog that I could have sipped all day with a glass of iced tea. The construction of each was solid; I like the whiskeys that they produce. Grain comes through strongly with just enough vanilla and oak to soften and round the liquor out. Nice drinkers, and the apple aged one is stellar.

The snozzberries really do taste like snozzberies.

What really sets Leopold Brothers apart is when you have a fruit or herb based or fruit aged product, you know where the money went. All of that technical knowledge and care shines through. Some are made through an extraction, while others are aged on fruit, but it tastes like a fresh ripe specimen in your glass. I guess to drag out the tired old Wonka reference, the snozzberries really do taste like snozzberies. The techniques used make for a bold and forward flavor that is very welcome in a field of liqueurs that some might just consider mixers. They proudly stand on their own and could easily be the highlight of a cocktail.

The fernet, by the way, was worth the wait. When we finally tasted it, the mint had trailed off to allow fabulous chocolate and vanilla note to soften the blow of sharp bitterness of the herbal additions. It trailed and lingered and was really, really nice. Would I toss it in Coke or slam it? If it was less rare, probably, and before you scream at me, it would only make the experience that much more amazing. There are only going to be a few cases out there so if you see it, make sure you order some.

I now have a lot of respect for Leopold Brothers that I didn’t know I should have before. The traditional techniques bolstered by strong understanding of biological and chemical principles are pretty amazing. I am glad that I was able to see that balance in action and am happy it is being done here in Denver. Thanks for the experience, and I am looking forward to the possibility of an apple brandy! I will buy a case if it ever comes to fruition.

About Chris Washenberger

What is my favorite drink? Huh... That is a tough one. What do you have? That is probably it.