Three Distilleries to Add to Your Bucket (or Tumbler) List
Mark Your Maps
By Katie Coakley
Colorado’s craft distilling wave is building, with no signs of cresting.
It’s hard to believe the state had only five licensed distilleries in 2007.
The Colorado Distillers Guild now has more than 60 members. Although the total number of craft distilleries is a moving target, at least 80 have opened statewide. Suffice to say, an ever-growing variety of spirits is available, and liquor stores have allotted more local craft spirit space in case you can’t make it to the source.
To aid your quest to find the latest, we’re profiling a few of the state’s newer distilleries.
Tower 56 Distilling
Opened: June 2018
Available: Bourbon, gin, vodka, coffee spirit (coffee liqueur) and almondretto (almond liqueur)
Former pastor-turned-distiller Matt Estrin and his wife Trista opened Tower 56 after a small inheritance let the couple pursue the dream of owning a business. Two years in the making, Tower 56 opened with five spirits on the menu: two liqueurs (which had been tested on friends with high reviews), gin, vodka and a year-aged bourbon.
“It was very, very important to me to have a bourbon product on our shelves right away,” said Matt. “Before we had a bank loan, before we even had a building, we contracted a distillery to fill about 60 barrels for us. It was our recipe, but they were willing to run it to spec for our recipe, which allowed us to have a year-old product in the barrel when we opened.”
Tower 56 has continued aging its bourbon, releasing it at different stages. Its two-year old bourbon will be released July 1.
Though Estrin is a self-proclaimed bourbon lover, he’s also proud of his gin.
“We haven’t seen the momentum get behind that yet, but everybody that tries it really likes it,” Estrin said. “The most common comment we get about our gin is from people that don’t like gin who say, ‘I hate gin, but I would drink this.’”
Head to the tasting room, located in the heart of downtown Greeley, and enjoy the mix of industrial edge and warm natural wood in the décor. Estrin said he’s balancing the line between being a bar and a tasting room; stop in a for a Black Knight (Tower 56 Bourbon, muddled blackberries, brown sugar, angostura and orange bitters) and experience it for yourself.
If you go: Tower 56 is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday; 4 p.m. to midnight Friday; 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday and from 2 to 8 p.m. Sunday.
Opened: December 2018
Available: Blended Cackler Whiskey, Blended Hearthstone Whiskey, Palisade Peach Vodka, Winter Wheat Vodka
For the three owners of 52Eighty Distilling in Littleton, the decision to open came along with a career change. Brothers Erick and Drew Demgen and their best friend Anthony “Lou” Pacenta grew up in Littleton, went to school together, played sports together, and even ended up in the same corporate world as financial analysts and planners for major Colorado firms. So when the daily grind got to be, well, a grind, the trio turned their love of home brewing, distilling and experimentation into 52Eighty Distilling.
Using creative techniques, ingredients from small family-owned Colorado farms and Rocky Mountain water, 52Eighty “aims to bring variations to our spirits that aren’t traditional, and use recent innovations in distilling (such as our still, how we ferment and extract and accelerate aging) to produce consistent, high quality products,” said Erick Demgen.
Whiskey and gin are the distillers’ passions, Demgen said. After all, Colorado is a whiskey-loving state. Currently, two whiskeys are offered: Cackler’s Whiskey, a bourbon with a crisp oak aroma and smooth finish, with hints of caramel; and Hearthstone Whiskey, a spice-forward Irish whiskey blended with American Rye. For vodka drinkers, 52Eighty offers a Palisade Peach Vodka and gluten-free winter wheat vodka. Keep an eye out for a gin (set to be released in March) and a single-malt, single-barrel whiskey, which is scheduled for October.
Located behind the Reel Factory, 52Eightly Distilling will be taking a frame from the historic business, which made movie film reels starting in the 1890s. The crew is offering tours, and tasting flights will be served on old film reels.
If you go: 52Eighty Distilling is open from 2 to 8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Fraser Valley Distilling
Opened: December 2018
Available: Vodka, gin, rye whiskey
Coming soon: Citrus gin and Indecision Whiskey
Fraser Valley Distilling is a family business comprised of main distillers Barry and Debbie Young, their three children and one
son-in-law. Wander into the brand-new building and you’ll feel as if you’re one of the family, with daughter Jenna mixing drinks and her mother Debbie offering tours. Families often fill the tables, too, enjoying lunch or a snack after skiing or warming up by the fire.
“As residents of Fraser, we were excited to add a business to downtown, and create a space for locals and tourists alike to enjoy good food and spirits,” Jenna said.
Belly up to the granite bar and you’ll get a chance to enjoy the fruits of the Youngs’ labor. Fraser Valley Distilling opened with a vodka, gin and rye whiskey. A citrus-forward gin is waiting to be bottled, and two different whiskeys are aging in barrels.
Sipping on an incredibly smooth vodka, then tasting the gin and rye whiskey, Barry explained that much of the credit for the quality is due to the aquifer-fed waters used in the distilling and proofing processes. The gin recipe is theirs, too — hand-picked local juniper and other botanicals are added to a basket at the top of the still for a vapor-infused product, which is softer and less aggressive than other gins. And though these spirits are popular, Barry admits that he’s a whiskey lover. He’s experimenting with different aging techniques in the hopes of introducing a new whiskey in a few months.
Cocktails are created from homemade liqueurs, syrups and fresh juices, resulting in clean, simple concoctions that are deceptively drinkable. Be sure to ask about the slushie of the day. Even when it’s cold outside, these fun options in flavors like whiskey sour, cosmopolitan and gin gimlet are a tasty variation on their liquid counterparts.
If you go: Fraser Valley Distilling is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and from 12:30 to 5 p.m. Sunday.