Bending the rules is part of the spirit at Distillery 291

Photo: Neill Pieper

Photo: Neill Pieper

Michael Myers is the founder of Distillery 291 in Colorado Springs. Photo courtesy of Distillery 291

Michael Myers is the founder of Distillery 291 in Colorado Springs. Photo courtesy of Distillery 291

By Joe Ross

Michael Myers loves bending the rules and it has definitely worked in his favor at Distillery 291 in Colorado Springs.

In a growing and competitive market, Myers gained some notoriety by finishing his whiskey with aspen staves, short strips of wood taken from barrels. More importantly, he garnered attention by producing great tasting whiskey that has won multiple awards.

Myers launched his distillery after moving from New York. He had seen the best and worst of the Big Apple. While enjoying a flourishing fashion photography career, Myers and his family experienced the horrors of 9/11 and eventually decided it was time to move on.

They landed in Colorado Springs in 2004 with Myers eyeing a new career. 

Once in Colorado, Myers first began tinkering with the nuances of distilling whiskey. He stumbled across the use of aspen staves when he was planning a trip to a friend’s place in Boulder. He poured whiskey from a barrel into a Mason jar and stuck a couple of aspen staves in the jar before starting the drive. When he arrived and tried the concoction, the results were intriguing. “It had a great nose on it,” he said. “It was subtle. I was just trying to shake things up a bit.”

Photo: Neill Pieper

Photo: Neill Pieper

After some testing and mixing, he found the perfect blend: add about three aspen staves to a 10-gallon barrel over a three-week period. While touring the distillery in the Springs, one might see a Weber grill out back, which is used to toast the staves. He wanted his first whiskey to be truly mellow, and the aspen staves helped accomplish that.

For a distiller who is still settling into his second career, Myers prides himself in not necessarily breaking the rules of making whiskey … “but I bend them really, really hard.”

With the help of eight people, Distillery 291 is producing whiskey and liqueur. Myers said distiller Eric Jett and others have made the Colorado Springs outlet successful and fun. “I have an amazing team,” he said. “That’s what really counts.”

The best-known 291 spirits are the Colorado Bourbon Whiskey, which won double gold in the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and the Colorado Rye. It won a bronze from the American Distilling Institute and always finds favor among the crowd in Breckenridge during the Still on the Hill craft spirits festival. The 291 Colorado Whiskey won a 2016 World Whiskies Award for American Rye Whiskey-No Age Statement. The Decc, a “citrus clove whiskey liqueur,” also earned gold honors from the 2014 International Review of Spirits.

Myers has continued to bend the rules by teaming up with a local brewery to try something new. About a year ago, he and Triple S Brewing Co., in the Springs, set out to create a malt whiskey. He used wort from Triple S to barrel a whiskey that will be tested over the next year or two to determine when it’s ready.

He is still expanding in Colorado, primarily aiming to distribute his products in happening Colorado towns where people flock to enjoy the local lifestyle.

Eric Jett, head distiller at Distillery 291, gives a tour of the Colorado Springs facility.  Photo: Neill Pieper

Eric Jett, head distiller at Distillery 291, gives a tour of the Colorado Springs facility. 
Photo: Neill Pieper

He recently started distributing in California and has also mentioned Texas and New York as distribution targets -- “places I have connections to.”

As for the increasing number of distillers across the state, Myers said he “loves that Colorado has so many good whiskeys.” 

Distillers such as Laws Whiskey House, Deerhammer Distilling and Woods High Mountain Distillery produce great products, he said. The strong, quality competition helps drive 291. “I aim to make the best whiskey I can make daily.”