Mike Girard shining bright at 3 Hundred Days Distilling after long, dangerous road

Above: Mike Girard is shown working on his moonshine at 3 Hundred Days Distilling in Monument. Photos Dylan Hochstedler

By Dylan Hochstedler

Retired 1st Sgt. Mike Girard owns and operates a distillery in Monument, but his interest in moonshine was sparked years ago in Afghanistan.

Originally from small-town Montana, Girard joined the U.S. Army right after high school. He spent nine years in the infantry before he decided to get into explosive ordnance disposal, commonly known as EOD.

“It takes a special breed to want to defuse bombs,” Girard said, after explaining that EOD work is voluntary among all branches of the military. “I felt more in control in situations with an improvised explosive device than I did with people shooting at me,” explained the owner of 3 Hundred Days Distilling.

 First Sgt. Mike Girard conducts counter-explosive operations in his bomb suit along the Pech River in Afghanistan in 2006. Photo: Courtesy Mike Girard

First Sgt. Mike Girard conducts counter-explosive operations in his bomb suit along the Pech River in Afghanistan in 2006. Photo: Courtesy Mike Girard

Girard said that after 9/11, the direction of the EOD community shifted. The tight-knit group went from focusing on military explosives to defusing and disposing of homemade bombs that insurgents produced on the battlefield.

“Every device we pulled out of the ground was a life saved,” Girard said.

In 2003, he lost his mentor, Staff Sgt. Mike Sutter, to an improvised explosive device in Iraq. That’s when Girard decided to get more serious about training with the devices. “Losing my buddy Mike was what drove me to invest so much time into being as knowledgeable as I could with this stuff so I could share it with the EOD community,” Girard said. “He was a friend, mentor and Uncle Mike to my daughter.”

Girard spent the next decade on several deployments to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan, all as an EOD team leader.

While deployed in Afghanistan in 2012, Girard’s EOD Company had its own compound. He had heard stories of other soldiers producing homebrew while overseas, but he had other ideas. Girard had everything he needed to start distilling in Afghanistan except a hot plate and packet of distiller’s yeast, which he ordered from Amazon and had delivered directly to his compound.

 “A lot of guys spent their down time playing videogames or watching movies,” he said. “I spent my down time with a science experiment. I just wanted to see if it would work or not.”

Girard’s company had a surplus of root beer stacked up, which he saw as a perfect medium to use as fermentable sugar. After pitching his yeast into the root beer, Girard eventually had fermented alcohol.

Because pressure cookers were a common tool for insurgents to make bombs with, his company had a few extras that they used for field training. Girard used a pressure cooker to distill his fermented root beer. “Chemical reactions from explosives fed my curiosity of making moonshine. Using chemicals and different materials to make alcohol is what I was trying to do,” he said.  

“I had a little locked-up room off to the side,” Girard said of his setup. “There were some odd smells coming out of the room at times but nobody ever thought anything of it.”

 Girard and his team rest in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, 2006.  Photo:Courtesy Mike Girard

Girard and his team rest in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan, 2006. 
Photo:Courtesy Mike Girard

Although he said his distillate in Afghanistan was never consumable, 

Girard planted the roots for what would be his second career at 3 Hundred Days Distilling, named for the number of sunny days each year in Colorado.

Girard’s last deployment in Afghanistan was a successful one, not only because he discovered a new passion, but also because he made it back to American soil with his entire unit.

As he transitioned to civilian life, he made a hobby of moonshining in his garage and experimenting with flavors and ingredients. Girard’s moonshine eventually ended up in the hands of an investor at a Broncos tailgating party, who was fascinated with the libation. He sat down with investors in January 2014 and sold his first Mason jar of moonshine on Black Friday 2014.

Since then he has experimented with different flavors and techniques to bring fresh products to fans of 3 Hundred Days. Some of the spirits include Rocky Mountain Sweet Tea, Firebomb and Colorado Harvest Honey Moonshine.

Girard is fortunate that he has been able to grow his small business since it opened and couldn’t be more thankful for the support his family has provided. “Most EOD techs that do a full 20-year career don’t make it out with the same spouse. My wife was my rock,” Girard said. 

Recent Metro State University of Denver graduate Dylan Hochstedler enjoys exploring and writing about the Colorado scene.