Mark Twain was known to have said, “too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” He probably would have liked Colorado, which over the past decade has been doing a good job of fashioning itself into something of a mecca for craft distilleries. The particular penchant for whiskey, reminiscent of the state’s history as a symbol of the lawless west, has allowed the brown liquor to surpass its peers as the most emblematic hooch to grace the front range. Below are some of the best new releases from producers who continually push the envelope — perfecting the craft with fresh techniques, odd ingredients and a range of local grains.
The Family Jones – Ella Jones
Location: The Family Jones Spirit House is located at 3245 Osage St., Denver. It is currently open only for special pop-ups.
Where to Buy: Its spirits are sold across the front range and can be found here.
The Lowdown: Since opening in 2016, The Family Jones has been producing an array of spirits highlighting local grains both from its Denver-based tasting room and its Loveland Distillery. The latest release, Ella Jones Bourbon, continues the tradition with a blend of 75% corn courtesy of Colorado Stock & Grain and Whiskey Sisters; 15% organic Dillon Rye also from Stock & Grain and 10% malt from Root Shoot Malting. The blended sipper comes from a mix of 19 barrels aged between two and half and three years old. The result is a mellow, white oak-infused whiskey that veers more towards the traditional — the local grains and Eldorado Springs Water lending a notable brightness to the lightly-smoked flavor.
Dry Land Distillers – Heirloom Wheat and Colorado Antero Wheat Whiskey
Location: Dry Land Distillers is located at Alley Entrance, 471 Main St. Unit B, Longmont. It is open for pickup Tuesday – Thursday from 11 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. It just reopened its tasting room for limited access Thursday and Friday from 3 – 9 p.m., and Saturday from 2 – 9 p.m. by reservation only.
Where to Buy: Its spirits are sold across the front range and can be found here.
The Lowdown: Co-founders Nels Wroe, Aaron Main, and Marc Staats have been particularly averse to cutting corners. Their sleek Longmont-based operation has been producing a range of award-winning spirits, all of which benefit greatly from their unceasing commitment to traversing the road less traveled. No strangers to labor-intensive processes and careful sourcing, Dryland has been strict in cultivating their vision of products inspired by and paying homage to the American west. The Heirloom Wheat relies on an ancient grain used exclusively by the distiller, while the Antero Wheat utilizes grain developed by Colorado State University and currently grown at the nearby Arnusch Farms.
Bonus: the Cactus masterfully utilizes prickly pear in lieu of agave to produce a spirit that veers towards mezcal without ever replicating its Oaxacan prototype. It is available in both standard and reposado and is surely the most innovative option of an already highly-original roster.
The Block Distilling Co. – Four Grain
Location: The Block Distilling Co. is located at 2990 Larimer St., Denver. It is currently open for pickup Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Where to Buy: While the whiskey is only available at the tasting room, The Block’s other spirits can be found at stores across the front range, including Molly’s Spirits, Argonaut, Total Wine and More, Davidson’s, Mile High Wine Cellars, Small Batch Liquors, Highlands Wine and Liquor, Toast Wine and Spirits, Amendment XXI, Corks, Mission Control Liquor Store, RiNo Liquor, Wines Off Wynkoop, Hugo’s Colorado Beer and Spirits, Baker Wine and Spirits, Joy Wine and Spirits, The Vineyard Wine Shop, Colorado Liquor Mart, Bottle Shop 33, Divino Wine and Spirits and Grape Expectations.
The Lowdown: Despite having built a reputation on a line of exquisitely packaged seasonally-inspired gins, no-nonsense vodka and a rotating cast of liqueurs, The Block’s Kraig and Kameron Weaver have always found the greatest inspiration in whiskey. This summer’s limited release Four Grain is a corn-free whiskey and combines oats, rye, malted barley and red and white wheat to produce a blend much that sips much greater than the sum of its parts. An interplay between the complex, mildly-sweet flavor and an almost turpentine nose make the beverage more a deep, contemplative experience than a mere intoxicant. While bottles of Four Grain are sold out, it is still available to sip at the tasting room.
Talnua Distillery – Olde Saint’s Keep
Location: Talnua Distillery is located at 5405 West 56th Ave. Unit C, Arvada. The tasting room is currently open Thursday and Friday from 3 – 9 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m., and Sunday 12 p.m. – 7 p.m.
The Lowdown: Patrick and Meagan Miller’s young Arvada distillery Talnua has been crafting some of the state’s more fascinating whiskeys, using an old Irish methodology and local grains, connecting old world tradition with new world terroir. Laying claim to being the only single pot still distillery outside of Ireland, the place uses a technique that was born from evading British Malt Taxes in the 1800s. Despite its illicit origins, the antiquated method was largely responsible for shaping Irish whiskey’s distinctive character. Each Saint Patrick’s Day the distillery releases a new edition of Olde Saint’s Keep — a limited, tasting room-only bottle — with the 2020 version celebrating two years in business. This year’s variation is an intensely nuanced affair, with raisins and dried fruit making way for more subtle caramel tones. The distillery’s massive interior has been neatly arranged to allow for safe social distancing, making it one of the metro area’s most desirable tasting rooms to reopen under the new regulations.
Distillery 291 – Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey and Colorado Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Location: Distillery 291 is located at 1647 S Tejon St., Colorado Springs. The Tasting Room is currently open every day from 2 – 8 p.m. for bottle and merchandise purchase.
The Lowdown: Ever since former New York City fashion and beauty photographer Michael Myers decided to switch gears and open Distillery 291, the Colorado Springs producer has been churning out an award-winning range of high-proof whiskeys designed with ruggedness in mind. Made in an original still Myers made from copper photogravure plates that he had previously used in his photography, the small-batch spirits seldom dip below 100 proof, with some reaching as high as 134. For the past six years running, the distillery has released a special Father’s Day bottle. This year, it will release two new whiskeys to commemorate the occasion — the first batch of both the Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey and the Colorado Straight Bourbon Whiskey. Both manage remarkable subtlety despite being listed at 129 and 134 proof respectively. While the rye hides the booze behind earthy pipe tobacco and cinnamon, the rye is more fruit-forward, the flavor mellowed with notes of mint and herbal tea. “Our Father’s Day releases are always meaningful to us, and these straight whiskeys are a great way to commemorate the day and to acknowledge that we all get better as we get older,” said Myers.
Deviation Distilling – Barista Spirits
Location: Deviation Distilling is located at 900 West 1st Ave #150, Denver. It is currently open for pick-up Wednesday – Saturday from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Where to Buy: The spirits are available at Molly’s Spirits and Argonaut, among others.
The Lowdown: This June, the previously gin-only Deviation Distilling expanded into the whiskey game with the release of Barista Spirits. Consisting of three variations, the new offshoot features coffee-infused whiskey using hand-selected product from neighboring Copper Door Coffee Roasters. “We have been wanting to release a brown spirit for quite some time, and made the plunge by bucking the trend of needing to release a non-flavored whiskey before a flavored whiskey,” said Deviation Distilling co-owner and founder Bob Wiley. Aged in Oskar Blues barrels, the whiskeys — including Americano, Mocha and Aztec — each utilize a different bean, the latter two being bolstered by additional flavors. The Mocha benefits from a healthy dose of cacao shells from Cultura Chocolate, while the Aztec is enlivened by Saigon cinnamon and Madagascar vanilla beans. While all three spirits make for good sipping, each is particularly well-suited as a foundation for experimental cocktail making.