Raise a Glass (or a Bottle) to the Troops

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1350 Distilling in Colorado Springs: Stars & Stripes Proud

By Steve Graham

More than 1.3 million active-duty U.S. military personnel serve a huge variety of roles all over the world, but they are united by one symbol with 13 stripes and 50 stars.

“Each of us had our own impression of the American spirit and of patriotism, but we all had the American flag,” said Jake Weien of his fellow owners of 1350 Distilling, a new tasting room and still in Colorado Springs. The military-themed distillery is ramping up its product line to honor each branch of the U.S. military, and plans to help fund veteran-related charities in the Pikes Peak region.

The distillery launched late this summer with its Minuteman Vodka, honoring the U.S. Army. Also available now are Blue Jacket Rum, honoring the Navy, and the Bluejacket’s Manual and Guardian Bourbon, honoring the Coast Guard. Expect to see Wingman Gin for the Air Force, and Leatherneck Rye Whiskey for the Marine Corps.

Jake co-owns 1350 Distilling with his wife Abbie and another couple, Phill and Kandis Bragg. The couples met at Douglass Valley Elementary School, on the Air Force Academy campus, where Abbie and Kandis both work. 

The other strong military connection for the owners is Phill’s 27-year Marine service, including four combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. He later learned about distilling and wanted to start a business. After researching the market and working with the Small Business Administration’s Boots to Business entrepreneurship program, he partnered with the Weiens and leased a prime space in downtown Colorado Springs. 

“My idea was always to have a military themed distillery and I knew we needed a good name,” Phill said. “1350 works because it is not obvious until you hear it and then it is unforgettable. I think it also reflects the inclusion of our brand as we are not just about one service or one role.”

The business had been incubating for about two years. Jake brought experience in both marketing and brewing, but Jake and Phill determined the spirits market was a better fit for them. So they visited distilleries, interviewed experts and attended conferences before leasing a space and launching the business in January 2018.

The first vodka was bottled this June, and the tasting room opened this August. Fittingly, the official grand opening will be on Veterans’ Day weekend. The tasting room is more living room than military barracks, with a long shuffleboard table, sofas, comfortable chairs and games for players of all ages.

Patrons also have a great view of the all-copper, rocket-shaped still, a small-batch still that differs from most working stills. Jake said the still has a steam injection process that helps speed the aging process without sacrificing quality or flavor.

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The tasting room encourages people to gather and maybe bond about military experiences.

“I could tell you about my brother in the army,” he said. “We all like to share those stories. It’s that American spirit that we all can share. In Colorado Springs, it seemed to be a no-brainer.”

The building has a great view of Cheyenne Mountain, and is close to a downtown bike path, so Jake installed “Very Important Pedaler” parking spaces out front.

Despite his marketing background, Jake has not done a lot of advertising yet for 1350. However, he said a tight-knit Coast Guard network across the nation has been hyping the Guardian Bourbon for him. 

He said he gets a couple of emails every week requesting shipments of the Coast Guard inspired spirit, which he is not allowed to fulfill. Recently, an older couple was driving through Colorado on their way home to Oklahoma. Their son, who serves in the Coast Guard, asked them to stop and buy him a bottle. 

“Coast Guard folks tell us ‘We kind of get missed when everybody’s talking about the military,’” Jake said, adding that he is proud to give them some due recognition. 

The distillery has yet to turn a profit, but once the owners are making money, they pledge to give 10 percent to local charities connected to veterans, including Project Angel Heart and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.