Distillery Road Trip DIY

Drinking local booze is cool wherever you can get it, but you can get a better appreciation for a distillery’s spirits by visiting the distillery itself. I’ve now been to 15 Colorado distilleries in the last 2 weeks. Today I’m visiting Wood’s High Mountain Distillery in Salida before hitting up the Brewers Rendezvous this weekend. Wednesday I was in Boulder visiting Roundhouse Spirits and J&L Distilling Company.

While I encourage everyone to take a booze-inspired road trip, you can always come to the Colorado Distillers Festival at the Rackhouse Pub on September 8 and sample booze from more than 20 distilleries.

A bunch of folks have asked me about my #ColoradoDistilleryRoadTrip and I figured I would give you an idea of how to successfully do a road trip involving booze.


Hanging out with Assistant Distiller Marcus at Trail Town Still in Ridgway, Colorado. Photo: Josh Mishell

• Make a plan. I recently Google Mapped all 1006 licensed distilleries in the country. This is, as far as I can tell, the only map containing all distilleries (current as of 6/30/13). Click on some places in the area you’re planning on traveling to and select a list of the ones that fit your geographic criteria. Want to keep your trip cheap? Visit friends and stay with them! Buy ‘em a bottle of booze in trade, they’ll be stoked. Other more affordable alternatives are AirBnB or VRBO. I’ve found that with a tour, tasting and hanging out is about 1.5-2 hours at each place. You can probably do 3 distilleries in a day, but that’s pretty taxing. I’d recommend no more than two places.

• Do your research. While many distilleries ferment & distill their own products, not all distilleries with a permit are functioning distilleries. Other distilleries purchase finished booze and then slap their own packaging on it. I’d recommend skipping most of those “not-actually-distilleries”. But you maybe wouldn’t not know unless you research the bajesus out of your locations.

• Call ahead. Most distillers are working pretty tirelessly on their craft. I bet if you call ahead and tell them how far you’re coming to meet them, then they’ll give you a little extra on your tour. All of the Craft Distillers I’ve met are very proud of their product and most want to give you an experience you’ll remember. Especially when you walk into a bar or liquor store, or are hanging out with your friends.

• Take it easy. Most craft distilleries proof their booze between 90-100 proof (45-50% ABV), so that you can water it down a bit and still retain a lot of flavor.

So if you’re driving, take it easy, punk!

montanya rum

My traveling partner and I made sure whoever was doing the driving and enjoyed our spirits in moderation. I don’t want you to get a DUI, kill yourself – or even worse, someone else – because that ruins it for the rest of us. If you’re doing a set of distillery tours in a city, take the bus, light rail, Uber, Cabs, rickshaws, ride a unicorn, or some other responsible mode of transport.

Plus if you like what you are sampling, you can always buy a bottle of booze for later. Distillers would be happy to sell you a bottle (or five).

• Pack accordingly. If you are planning a road trip, these things may come in handy:

  • a good friend – I split a plane ticket with a great friend of mine so he could come out and join in the fun.

  • a milk crate or two – these are an easy way to transport lots of 750ml bottles that you’ll invariably be picking up. Especially from places who sell booze you can’t get where you are.

  • beef jerky – we secured 45 bags of it from Duke’s Smoked Meats. Mostly we distributed them to distilleries along the way, but it’s a good source of protein and you can’t really spill it everywhere. I recommend the Island Teriyaki flavor.

  • GPS – not all of these distilleries are easy to find. Some are out on a farm, some are tucked away in alleys. It can be tough.

  • survival gear – if you’re going to be driving roads less traveled (like Cottonwood Pass to Crested Butte, or other mountain passes), rock some sleeping bags, water, and maybe a solar USB charger. It can’t hurt to play it safe.


Hanging out at Arches National Park between distillery visits. Photo: Josh Mishell

• Don’t be afraid to seek out the unexplored and weird. Some of the best stories come from places you weren’t going to visit in the first place. These trips are about exploration, not just about booze. So stop at the weird places. The small towns. The points of interest. The tchotchke shops that sell a ton of junk. Talk to the people at the distillieries, odds are they’re interested in the same things you are.


About Josh Mishell

Josh Mishell is one of the organizers of the Colorado Distillers Festival, on September 8, 2013 at the Rackhouse Pub. He's the Chief Idea Guy of Fermentable Sugar LLC, a one-man full-service marketing agency in Denver. Previously, Josh was the Creative Director at Flying Dog Brewery. He's a real-deal telemark skier, fly fisherman, and passionate about craft-distilled booze, craft beer, and how these uniquely American industries are marketed.