Talking with Todd Leopold of Leopold Bros. about spirits, distilling and Colorado craft culture
By Kyle Kirves
Not far off I-70 and Havana, in an industrial district noted for warehouses full of kitchen countertops and custom flooring, there is an oasis of sorts. It is an enclave of sophistication and craft enterprise that seems somehow out of place here in this central Denver commercial park. Once the gate closes behind you, you enter into grounds where landscaping of tall grasses, bright flowers and manicured trees and shrubs is as lovely as you would find in any gardening magazine. The building itself is a modern take on provincial elegance – more farmhouse than warehouse.
And if you go further, following aromas of rich fruit and nutty grains, through a heavy oak door ornamented with wrought iron, you will enter into a cool, dim hall, lit by hanging brass lamps and roofed in dark wooden beams. There is a bar, yes, but just the one, long, communal table, all of the chairs angled so that they face one end, as if class in epicureanism just ended (in fact, one may have). Look around. It is, to my mind, one fireplace away from being the ideal locale to while away a snowy afternoon.
And this, fellow traveler, is the home of Leopold Bros. distillery.
It was my pleasure to sit down with one of the eponymous brothers, Todd Leopold, for a wide-ranging discussion at the distillery he and his brother Scott have called home since 2008. An instantly likeable creator of fine spirits, Leopold emerged from the production floor clad in Carhartt overalls – because he is an owner who actually distills. He could easily be mistaken for an agrarian or an artist. Metaphorically speaking, at least, he fills those roles and more. Most notably, educator.
“We’ve found that once we get people in to see what we’re doing, we are creating customers for life,” Leopold said.
Leopold Bros. devotes most of its marketing efforts to making connections one-on-one with distributors and consumers alike.
“So, when a consumer comes to our distillery, it isn’t a quick 20-minute tour and then on to the tasting room,” Leopold said. “Our tours last sometimes two hours or more. And over those two hours, we’re breaking down barriers and creating better understanding of how spirits are made.”
The goal, Leopold said, is to take the intimidation factor out of vodka, whiskey, gin, cordials, and the host of other fine spirits the distillery creates from scratch. Consumers come out the other side much more discerning and informed about both the product and the process.
“We want people to relax and enjoy the experience and feel more comfortable about what they’re drinking,” he said, drawing parallels to the beer industry. “It wasn’t that long ago people didn’t know what an India Pale Ale should taste like. Now, the average craft beer drinker can tell you what the difference is between a good one and a bad one. Beer got there. We’ll get there too. One customer at a time.”
It sounds like Leopold Bros. is well on its way to being “there.” Distributors and private shop owners are eager to work with the distillery because, quite simply, Leopold Bros. is in demand. From New York to San Francisco, and even internationally, the spirits don’t stay long on the shelves. “A lot of points of purchase have supported us along the way who didn’t have to do so,” Leopold said. “That may have to do with the fact that we distill all of our spirits on site. Others may import one or most of their ingredients or base. Not us. The craft and care that goes into our spirits shines through, differentiates us, and discriminating consumers taste, recognize, and appreciate that.”
When asked if Leopold Bros. has any plans to expand – or listen to one of the many offers from venture capitalists eager to acquire the family-oriented distillery – Leopold said no. And he’ll point you to some industry-specific cautionary tales, if you’re interested.
“We’re right-sized,” he said. “With the staff we have, we can concentrate on the quality of the product. And we like being made in one place and one place only. And we don’t want another ‘branch’ to manage. That’s just not us.”
It’s a philosophy consistent with the Colorado craft movement, he said.
“Businesses are different here. Cultures are different here,” he said. “That’s what I think is uniquely Colorado. And we’ve found that the more we inject our personalities into what we do, the more successful we are. I think that’s true elsewhere as well.”
He cites Fort Collins-based New Belgium Brewing as a signifier of that distinctly Colorado phenomenon.
“They’re known as much for their culture as their product. And their product is awfully good,” he said. Yes, they’re no longer exclusively inColorado. But their presence in North Carolina is consistent with minimizing their environmental footprint via transportation logistics.
“Colorado is very receptive to craft product. If you do a good job and you price things fairly, you will find a market for what you make,” he said. He points to local products from Fruition Farms and Elevation Ketchup as personal favorites and examples of other Colorado-based success stories.
At the end of the day, Leopold said, he’s grateful and lucky to be doing what he loves, in a family-run-and-oriented business, where what matters is what goes in the bottle with his name on it. He’s proud of the successes Leopold Bros. has had and that at cocktail competitions in major cities, people look for and recognize his spirits. All things considered, including their magnificent facility, Leopold Bros. is a great place to be.
For more information about Leopold Bros. distillery, see their website at leopoldbros.com. In addition to tours,
the distillery also offers courses in cocktail creation. You will also find a listing of events where you can find Leopold Bros. products.
Kyle Kirves is a solid dude who believes drinking beer should be a ‘five senses’ experience.