In recent years the demand for fine, artisanal spirits has exploded in our state, bringing the vintage cocktail era back into light. Gone are the days where craft beer is the only locally loved libation. In the past decade alone, the distillery scene in Colorado has erupted to now include 54 distilleries statewide and counting. Many of these distilleries offer full tours of the factories, as well as house amazing tasting rooms.

This visual guide aims to introduce you to Denver’s major players in distillation by highlighting four of the best inside city limits. Each offers a unique ambiance and wide variety of housemade spirits.  Enjoy this illustrated tour to get a taste of what Denver’s distilleries have to offer. 

Mile High Spirits

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Photography by Roman Tafoya for 303 Magazine

Where: 2201 Lawrence St., Denver, CO, 80205

Pro Tip: Mile High does not have a sign, so look for the  brick warehouse on the corner of 22nd and Lawrence. Also Mile High makes an amazing Moscow mule but if you’re not a vodka lover, ask for a whiskey mule in its place for a fresh rendition of their most popular drink.

The Low Down: With a recent relocation to a killer new venue, Mile High Spirits is instantly back on top of Denver’s underground nightlife scene. Mile High Spirits is a private label distillery and tasting room that produces some bang out products made in all-glass stills, making this distillery one of Colorado’s most unique. Also known as a music venue, this new location at 2201 Lawrence is twice the size and catered for larger production plans. Denver based rock and roll band, The Congress, played Mile High’s long awaited grand opening mid-November, bringing together music fans and long-lost regulars alike. The new location is beautiful and impeccably designed, complete with a lounge area, wrap around bar and soon-to-be stage with built in PA system.

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The new and improved bar at Mile High. Photo by Roman Tafoya for 303 Magazine

Owners Wyn Ferrell, Joe Vonfeldt and Chase Campbell made their vision a reality by producing several of the spirits in an all-glass still house, leading to a clean, crisp spirit with fewer impurities. Fashioning one of Denver’s best Moscow mules, Mile High’s label Elevate Vodka is distilled six times, creating an exceedingly clean body of flavor. A common goal among the team is to serve up a high quality product for an affordable price, rather than charge top dollar for its labels. A bottle of Fireside Colorado Whiskey runs locally for about $25, and with its caramel undertones and oak barrel aged smoothness it is an absolute steal.  The cocktail menu at Mile High is unpretentious and fun, offering multiple styles of mules and punches, and many build-your-own options if you’re feeling experimental.

Don’t worry if you come to Mile High with an appetite as food trucks cater to the tipsy nearly every night of the week. You can find the trucks parked in the spacious backyard patio where in the warmer months, the bar opens up to an outdoor hangout spot complete with picnic benches and yard games.

By summer, the largely followed cornhole league and bocce ball court will be up and running, so bring your game face. Whether you are coming to catch some live entertainment or just sip on a handcrafted libation, Mile High Spirits maintains an approachable and dynamic vibe every night of the week.

Stranahan’s

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Photography by Brent Andeck for 303 Magazine

Where: 200 South Kalamath St., Denver, CO 80223

Pro Tip: Complementary tours are available to patrons age 21+ everyday except Tuesday. Tours fill up quickly so reservations are suggested.

The Low Down: Just south of Santa Fe Art’s District is Stranahan’s Whiskey, the first distillery to legally batch craft whiskey in Colorado. Founders George Stranahan, foremost founder and owner of Flying Dog Brewery, and Jess Graber, who was working as a volunteer firefighter at the time, met while Graeber was helping to extinguish a fire at Stranahan’s barn back in 1998. The gentlemen began discussing their love of fine whiskey and instantly a business partnership was born. Four years later, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey was founded, along with the invention of Rocky Mountain Whiskey.

Stranahan's new tasting room. Photo by Brent Andeck for 303 Magazine

Stranahan’s new tasting room. Photo by Brent Andeck for 303 Magazine

The distillery is tucked away in a land of wholesale businesses and warehouses, but that doesn’t keep the bright yellow building from sticking out like a sore thumb. Upon entrance, a sweet yet pungent whiskey aroma is immediately prevalent and it instantly prepares your palette and mind. The impressive collection of Vendome branded copper stills can be viewed from the distillery lounge, but if you’re craving the true Stranahan’s experience, complementary tours are available everyday except Tuesday. Last January marked the filling of Stranahan’s 5,000th barrel, allowing the distillery to generate about 10,000 bottles of whiskey each month. Volunteers are paid in Stranahan’s whiskey to hand bottle every batch, each bottle finished with an often humorous, hand written note from the distiller. The end product, what the staff calls “liquid gold”, is a meld of a 2, 3 and 5-year aged whiskey, creating a unique and constantly developing body of flavor. Made from Colorado sourced barley and Eldorado spring water, Stranahan’s truly embodies the essence of the Rocky Mountains.

Wet your whistle with Stranahan’s whiskey right on site at the distillery’s brand new lounge, which is reminiscent of a mom and pop style general store. A seasonal cocktail menu is designed especially for Stranahan’s whiskey, utilizing only local ingredients to complement the spirit. Offering anything from a classic Old Fashioned to a fall inspired Pear Ginger Smash, Stranahan’s whiskey can be enjoyed in a number of creative concoctions. If you’re looking for a cocktail that doesn’t bite, be sure to sample the Sweet Tooth Apiary, a honeycomb infused Stranahan’s available on its own or in a delicious Rosemary Sour.

 

Leopold Bros.

Located in northeast Denver, the distillery features lavender, shrub roses, lilacs, native grasses, agastache, and fruit trees on grounds designed by Bob Leopold, the father of the Leopold brothers. The yeast and pollens from the flowers aid in wild fermentations done onsite. Photo courtesy of  leopoldbros.com

Located in northeast Denver, the distillery features lavender, shrub roses, lilacs, native grasses, agastache, and fruit trees on grounds designed by Bob Leopold, the father of the Leopold brothers. The yeast and pollens from the flowers aid in wild fermentations done onsite. Photo courtesy of leopoldbros.com

 

Where: 5285 Joliet Street, Denver, CO, 80239

Pro Tip: Inquire within to find out which days Leopold Bros. will flood its malting floor, which can be viewed from its tasting room.

The Low Down: Offering 21 all-natural, batch-made, and award winning spirits is Leopold Bros. A truly dynamic duo of genius, Scott and Todd Leopold first opened a brewpub, eventually adding a distillery, named Leopold Bros. in Anne Arbor, Michigan in 1999. After graduating from the Siebel Institute of technology in Chicago with a diploma in Malting and Brewing, Todd Leopold spent some time in Germany interning at breweries, following with distilling school in Lexington, Kentucky. Scott Leopold received a B.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern University, and later completed a Masters in Environmental Engineering from Stanford University. As an environmental engineer, Scott designed a factory with nearly zero pollution, operating as an “eco-brewery”. This concept remained imperative when the brothers decided to shed the brewpub and move the distillery to return to their native homeland of Colorado.

Remaining a family owned and operated small batch distillery, at Leopold Bros., every spirit is made from scratch start-to-finish at one location. Even though the distillery has expanded twice since the operation was moved to Colorado, it is only made up of nine crew members, four of those sharing the Leopold name. Recently relocating to Northeast Denver, Leopold Bros. is now the home of a beautiful tasting room, kiln and malting room, making it only one of six distilleries to malt its own barley in-house.

The spirits themselves are distilled slowly and patiently, allowing the flavors to develop properly over time. Using local and organic ingredients, Leopold Bros. is known for its delectable flavored liqueurs as well as its collection of small batch whiskeys. The award winning Maryland style rye is fermented with hand selected yeast trains and then barreled at 98 proof in charred American oak barrels, coined “Pre-Prohobition” style, bringing this vintage method of whiskey making back to life. Leopold Bros. does not blink an eye at the evaporation losses, or what distillers call the “angel share”, that takes a particular toll in Colorado’s dry climate. The company strives to take advantage of Denver’s mountainous climate, and in turn saves a ton of natural resources. Head distiller Todd Leopold elaborates: “What I’m trying to do here is give it a sense of place. [To] make whiskeys and spirits that can only be made in one place, and take advantage of the Colorado weather.” With the resource saving factory and out-of-this-world, all natural product, Leopold Bros. is the leading edge in distillation throughout Colorado and the nation.

 Laws Whiskey House

laws collage

Photography by Roman Tafoya for 303 Magazine

 

Words by Brittany Werges

Where: 1420 S Acoma Street, Denver, CO 80223

Pro tip: Tours are now open to the public and can be booked online. Make sure to stop by the tasting room on your way out to purchase a bottle of batch one of the Four Grain Bourbon while still in stock.

The Low Down:  Although Laws Whiskey House might be the newest kid on the block in Denver distilling, it isn’t necessarily a fledgling project. Al Laws, founder of Laws Whiskey, planned the opening of this distillery for the last eight years. His vision required time and patience due to his intense dedication to making an ethical spirit from grain to bottle. The phrase “there are no shortcuts” is philosophically written on the walls as a reminder to the promise they made not only to themselves but to the product they strive to produce. Laws even joked that the distillery is less of a place of business and more of a place of worship. He laughed while expressing his initial urge to call it a  “whiskey church” rather than a “whiskey house.” Head distiller, Jake Norris, expands on Laws’ devotion : “Al has always been a whiskey fanatic. He made me fall in love with making whiskey again … There’s been no expense spared, no complication avoided. It’s always been about making the best whiskey and then doing whatever it takes to get to that point.”

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Laws’ team of distillers enjoying batch one of their four grain whiskey. Photo by Roman Tafoya

The result is a distillation process where “not one drop of spirit is sourced,” meaning all whiskey is distilled in-house from grain to bottle. The most recent creation from Laws is a Four Grain Bourbon which is a blend of corn (60 percent), wheat (20 percent), rye (10 percent) and barely (10 percent). The wheat, rye and barely are all harvested from local Colorado farms that produce these grains specifically for Laws. The corn comes from Wisconsin but Norris revealed they are working to source that locally as well. It is all malted in-state by Colorado Malting in Alamosa but is fermented and distilled on location. Every whiskey is then aged for a minimum of two years in American white oak barrels in a partially temperature controlled room (it is never allowed to drop below the dew point). The final product is a delicious and unique whiskey that is best enjoyed just like the process at which it was made — with patience and care.

Come congregate at Laws for public tours which only began last month. There you can meet the makers, hear their philosophies first hand and receive a full education on this much beloved spirit. Even if you’re not a whiskey drinker, Laws – with its passion, dedication and incredible product – is sure to make a convert out of you.

2 Responses

  1. Drew Wallace

    According to the following list (link below), it is unclear as to whether Mile High is actually distilling it's whiskey or just bottling it. I was hoping that with the new location this would change and the article above does little to clear that up and speaks more to vodka than whiskey. Any insight into this?

    Here's the list:
    http://recenteats.blogspot.com/p/the-complete-list-of-american-whiskey.html

    For more on the faux craft whiskey movement check out the following article:
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/07/28/your-craft-whiskey-is-probably-from-a-factory-distillery-in-indiana.html

    Reply
  2. Brittany Werges

    Hi Drew! We reached out to Mile High for comment. This is a direct quote from Chase Campbell, co-owner of Mile high: "We are doing both actually. But with the new equipment we have coming we plan to be 100% in house with in a year to 2"- Chase. Also 303 Magazine is planning on a whole distillery tour once they are completely up and running at the new location. Make sure to stay tuned for that article as it will provide a much more in-depth look of Mile High’s operational side.

    Reply

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