Friends collaborate on craft brewery, distillery and soda company
Photos: Courtesy of Ska Brewing, Peach Street and Ska Fabricating
Back in 1995, when craft brews were just starting to change the American palate, three friends launched Ska Brewing Company in central Durango, near the iconic Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. The trio shared a love of crafting local brews that showcase the flavors of Colorado.
Like their chocolatier neighbors, what started small now has a high-profile footprint throughout Colorado and several other states, including Hawaii. Ska also has a connection to Colorado-made, nationally distributed spirits and sodas.
Ten years after creating Ska, co-founders Matt Vincent and Bill Graham helped Moose Koons and Rory Donovan open Peach Street Distillers in Palisade. Originally, the goal was to be the first distillery in the state. While they weren’t the first to make bourbon in Colorado, Peach Street was first in vodka and gin.
Across the Rockies, Koons also opened Rocky Mountain Sodas in Denver, completing what he calls the “liquid trifecta” of Colorado. All three companies focus on Colorado ingredients and they even use Colorado-made industrial equipment. Rocky Mountain Sodas uses a bottling device made by Ska Fabricating, an offshoot of the brewery.
Ska started canning beer in 2003, shortly after Oskar Blues but before most craft breweries. When he started, Vincent couldn’t find packaging machines small enough to work at the craft brewer’s scale. Being a “self-proclaimed problem solver,” he designed a new machine and launched a new company. Since then, Ska Fabricating has sold more than 300 Can-I-Bus Depalletizers across the U.S., and is starting to sell the equipment internationally.
All three beverage businesses are growing as well, and taking advantage of Colorado’s climate and produce. Peach Street produces an award-winning bourbon. According to Graham, Palisade’s Grand Valley location gives it an edge. Oak bourbon barrels are kept in conditions that subject them to the natural temperature swings of Palisade. “It ramps up the amount of time that the bourbon spends in the barrel,
so our three-year-old bourbon is equal to a seven-year Kentucky bourbon,” Graham said.
He added that they use humidifiers in the summer to make up for the lack of humidity in the high desert. Once finished with the bourbon, some barrels are sent down to Ska Brewing Company to age such specialty beers as Dementia, which is the bourbon barrel-aged version of Euphoria Pale Ale, Ska’s winter seasonal.
The other ingredient that gives Peach Street’s whiskey an edge is Olathe corn, grown just seven miles from the distillery. Graham said Peach Street also uses the local corn in its vodka.
Palisade cherries, peaches, grapes and pears shine in brandy and other spirits. Pears get particularly special treatment in a limited-edition pear brandy. Each spring, 1,000 bottles are placed over select baby pears while still on the tree. Each pear grows in the bottle and remains there as brandy, crafted from 20 pounds of overripe Palisade pears, is poured into the bottle. Ska Brewing Company also enjoys incorporating Palisade fruit in small-batch seasonal beers that are only served in the Durango tasting room.
Peach Street uses hand-picked local juniper berries for its popular gin. The distillery also uses hops from Simply Grown Hops of Palisade for its Plum Hop Gin. The same hops are used to make Ska’s popular Hop Ivy, an All-Colorado Ale brewed with 100-percent Centennial State ingredients, earning one of the first platinum ratings from the Real Colorado Beer Project.
Even Rocky Mountain Soda uses Colorado ingredients, making small-batch sodas with Rocky Mountain elderberries, Grand Mesa grapes and those perfect Palisade peaches.
From three locations in Colorado, this trifecta of liquid ambassadors is offering a refreshing representation of the Centennial State to drinkers of all ages.
Amanda Arnold has written professionally for various publications for 10 years. When not writing, she explores the backcountry of Grand Canyon National Park with her young son.