Story and Photos By Neill Pieper
Local. If there is one word that epitomizes rural Colorado it must be this two-syllable word. From packed farmers’ markets in the park to Keep It Local stickers slapped on the backs of ranchers’ pick-up trucks, Colorado communities know that supporting small business keeps the archetypal landscape alive.
For Peach Street Distillery, it’s not hard to stay local. Nestled in the sleepy town of Palisade, Peach Street was founded in 2005 by a couple of guys that found their love of spirits through beer. Bill Graham and Dave Thibodeau, co-founders of Ska Brewing, found that starting a distillery seemed to be a natural, albeit difficult, progression from the brewery that they already brought to fruition. Looking to incorporate Palisade’s home-grown fruit produce into craft spirits, they joined up with longtime friend Rory Donovan and began the trial and error process of creating a craft distillery.
The location of Peach Street seems to have fueled many of their outside-the-box products. The fertile ground surrounding Palisade is blanketed by a quilt of small orchards and vineyards that make up the area known as the Grand Valley. Palisade’s geography gives its community of artisans a terroir unlike any other in Colorado. Cool snow run-off flows from the mountains, culminating in the meandering Colorado River that flows through town. The river fuels the growth of peaches, pears, grapes and a multitude of other fruits and vegetables. The distillery takes advantage of the fertile ground to produce apple, peach and pear brandy, plum eau de vie and muscat grappa, among other offerings.
Peach Street’s current head distiller, Dave Lindig, started “brewing” up one of their more unique offerings in about 2010, after the distillery had excelled in everything from its Jackalope Gin to brandy made from local fruits. Doing a little product research, Lindig found that across the Atlantic, the French had been growing pears inside glass bottles, before filling them with brandy. Back in Palisade it was an easy decision: “We produce award-winning brandy. We’re here and we might as well do this,” Lindig said.
So, in the spring of 2010 Lindig and a few Peach Street employees coaxed a local pear farmer into letting them hang a few bottles on tree branches. Around harvest time the bottles were removed from the trees (about 85 percent of the pears grew in the bottle) and were filled to the brim with craft hooch. The result: a whole ripe pear bobbing ever so slightly, enveloped by pear brandy – a message in a bottle from Palisade.
Fast forward to the spring of 2018, Lindig and the crew were back at it, hanging 300 bottles on pear trees at a local orchard. Without a doubt, it’s a tedious process. Roughly four people spent up to seven hours hanging bottles.
Young, healthy pears are chosen and each bottle is hung upside down, attached to the branch in two places. “Growing in groups of three, each threesome has a king pear,” explains Lindig. The king is the healthiest and is the one that survives and winds up in the bottle.
All this work yields a brandy that is delicious and local, local, local. Each bottle of brandy is made using 20 pounds of ripe pears, plus the single pear inside. The pear inside slowly leeches fresh juice into the brandy, imparting more flavor and sweetness into the final product.
It’s dangerously smooth. And there’s something intoxicating about watching the pear bounce around inside a bottle with a neck that is one-fourth the size of the pear inside.
The final question: What do you do with the pear once the brandy’s all gone? Lindig slowly grins and says, “I’ve only seen a few that have tried to remove the pear … and they were drunk off their ass.”
Neill Pieper uses his considerable thirst for the craft beer scene to provide editorial, marketing and photography at Thirst Colorado.