Stephen Gould hasn’t been hiding, but he has been hard at work. For anyone still yet to be acquainted with Golden Moon Distillery — the craft spirits company started by Gould and Karen Knight in 2008 — the recently expanded production facility and nearby speakeasy have been busy making award-winning hooch and impressive cocktails to well-justified praise and growing popularity. This year the location underwent a massive augmentation that included the addition of $2 million worth of new and vintage equipment and a 32-foot silo, which houses 1,600 bushels of grain sourced from the nearby Golden Malting.
The distillery — which offers tours four days a week — is full of a range of antique and highly customized new stills. Gould, who claims to have caught the collector’s itch, is incredibly detail-oriented. His knowledge of equipment, both antiquated and current, is encyclopedic. A 1930s Deroy Fils from Paris is still in operation. “The best way to describe it is they’re less efficient,” said the distiller, going on to explain that imperfection breeds character. The recently expanded facility has a variety of new mechanisms designed to replicate the old-style apparatus. Much of Golden Moon’s most popular products have been produced exclusively with the old-time equipment. Gould hopes that the new machines will be able to make the same quality of beverage on a large scale.
Gould is particularly proud of a massive new still he designed with the help of the late David Pickerell. “I designed it, he unfucked it,” Gould said of the legendary whiskey maker’s contribution. Gould started distilling single-malt 28 years ago and has been close with some of the biggest players in craft-spirit production. Pickerell was known to stay at Gould’s house during his visits to Colorado.
Much of Gould’s stock is produced entirely in-house. He also finishes whiskey — including gold medal-winner at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition Gunfighter 13 Tennessee Bourbon – Orphan Cask — using imported spirits that he ages in a range of rum, port, wine and unadulterated oak barrels. Initially done solely to flush out their own cocktail program, it was decided that the Gunfighter series would be pushed to market due to the overwhelming popularity of the spirit. Lucky for whiskey-enthusiasts everywhere the 100-proof expression is available in New York, Colorado, California and Georgia and with online sales to follow by the end of the year.
Gould has received a plethora of accolades and is a member of some of the most prestigious groups in the beverage community. He is a board member of the Colorado Distiller’s Guild, a small distillery member of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and a member of the American Craft Spirit Association. He is the first American ever to be named a Warden of London’s Gin Guild. Now Golden Moon’s products are available in 16 states, DC and four European countries — England, Denmark, Italy and Germany — with product entering the Taiwanese market soon.
The distiller describes himself as over-educated, though his intellectual pursuits have clearly influenced the way he commits himself to the business. After getting degrees in International Supply Chain Management and Foreign Relations he went on to earn a General Certificate in Distilling specializing in cereals from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in the UK. He is inspired by historical precedents and while the move to Golden was prompted by a desirable job offer for his wife, he’s since come to appreciate the location as a famed site for gold rush moonshine. Casper had Casper Moon, Leadville had Leadville Moon and Golden was known for its Golden Moon.
The best way to get acquainted with the spirits is at the nearby Golden Moon Speakeasy, located in the heart of downtown Golden. The varied menu highlights the hooch across a range of cocktails, many of which Gould gleaned from his collection of rare and vintage cocktail books. The cloud city ($12) is Earl Grey Violette, lemon, ginger shrub and grapefruit bitters. The naturally produced Violette causes the drink to lean more towards the light pink, which may come as a shock to people used to more neon-hued Aviations. The Bruce Wayne ($12) is gin, pineapple, honey, lemon, coconut milk, Blackstrap Bitters and activated charcoal. The tiki-style drink is incredibly refreshing and serves as a nice contrast to some of the list’s more spirit-forward refreshments.
Gould’s deep knowledge and numerous awards are a solid indication of the man’s dedication, but the product speaks for itself. It is clear that the distiller has done his homework but at the end of the day, even he would insist that what counts is how enjoyable the liquor is to drink. Luckily the accolades don’t lie, everything on the line is built with commitment and a deep understanding of tradition. The cocktails don’t lie either.
Golden Moon Distillery is located at 412 Violet St., Golden. It is open Wednesday – Saturday from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Golden Moon Speakeasy is located at 1111 Miner’s Alley, Golden. It is open Sunday – Wednesday from 4 – 10 p.m. and Thursday – Saturday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
All photography by Madison McMullen.