During the family vacation this April, I had the pleasure to visit Leopold Bros Distillery in Denver. My first introduction to Leopold was through Leopold’s Summer Gin two years ago, a gin that is almost as dry as London Dry Gin but also full of citrus and freshness like Blue Coat.
Since then, I have slowly added more bottles to my Leopold collection: Maryland-Style Rye Whisky, Rocky Mountain Peach Liqueur, Maraschino Liqueur, Aperitivo, and Absinthe.
I even got a handwritten note from Todd Leopold that is so heartfelt. So it is quite a treat to get to visit the distillery itself.
The History of Leopold Bros
Leopold Bros Distillery was founded by brothers Todd Leopold and Scott Leopold and it remains as a family run and owned distillery. Together with St. George, they are both considered as the successful pioneers in the craft distillery movement in the United States. Although the distillery is based in Denver, Todd and Scott’s first experience was a microbrewery in Ann Arbor which expanded to micro-distillery.
Todd majored in malting and brewing and has learned lots of his skills from Europe by apprenticing at a few different breweries and distilleries, while Scott has a background in environmental engineering and he also does all the things to keep the company running.
Sometime in the mid of 2000s, they moved back to their home state Colorado and continued with only the micro-distillery. In the late 2000s, they purchased the land of over 4 acres to build out their ideal distillery.
There are quite a few articles out there about Leopold Bros Distillery in details. The goal of this section is to highlight a few things that are very unique to them and the founders’ philosophy.
Todd and Leopold want to build a long lasting distillery with some of the most unique spirits in America, so while they grow year by year, you are not going to see explosive growth. It is 100% family owned and run.
Todd has a background in brewing and distilling, and he loves to dig in, learn from the old tradition and adopt as he fits. There are a few distilling techniques are unique. For example, in their flagship product Summer Gin, each botanical is distilled individually into its own spirits and married afterward, such blending process ensures the freshness of the spice of a class gin when used in the cocktails, the flavor is not buried by other ingredients.
Leopold Bros is a true grain to glass distillery because they floor malt the locally sourced grains on site at the distillery. There are very few places that do that in North America.
Leopold Bros also adopts a very traditional fermentation process which dates back to the pre-prohibition period, where the grains and the yeast will be fermented at the lower temperature for a few days.
They are also the only distillery in the world who runs a three chamber still, a design that is pretty much extinct today. Each wash will pass through three pots and be exposed to the steam three times. The wash is cooking for much longer hence so produces a flavorful distillate, although I would assume the process will take longer.
Again, I feel Leopold Bros really focuses on the fine craftsmanship to deliver the unique spirits that they love, it is an approach that is close to my heart.
This is my little Leopold family including some of my favorites such as Summer Gin, Aperitivo, Three Pins, and Maraschino Liqueur. The Maryland-Style Rye Whisky is what got me into exploring the history behind Maryland vs Wisconsin styles.
Summer Gin is a 47% ABV limited release and is also one of their flagship products. It is bright and citrus forward. Each botanic is individually distilled, such as juniper berries, coriander, blood orange, and lemon myrtle leaf. They are individually distilled based on the philosophy to highlight the true expression of each.
The Aperitivo is one of the first American take on the classic Italian aperitivo. Similar to Campari it is centered around bitterness from gentian root and sweetness from cane sugar. The grapefruit peels give it its bright and citrus aroma. It is bitter and bolder if that is how you like your Negroni. I absolutely love this bottle and always keep one in the refrigerator.
Maryland style rye whiskey is making its way back, Leopold is the pioneer here in addition to Pikeville. What is Maryland style anyway? In the whiskey world, there are two classifications of pre-prohibition rye. One is Pennslyvania style which is also known as Monongahela, is generally spicy, dry, and heavily oaked. Rittenhouse Rye 100 Proof is probably the most well known from Bardstown, KY. On the contrary, Maryland style is fruity, floral, and less aggressive. Very few are making Maryland style besides Pikeville, Lyon Distilling in Maryland, and Leopold Bros. Leopold Bros achieves this Maryland style by selecting a variety of yeast strains to use in the fermentation process. In keeping the tradition, it is barreled at 98 proof and aged for just over 4 years. On the nose, it is woody and a bit grassy, the palate is young with peach, pine, and hints of vanilla and citrus. Warm finish with rye spices and some cocoa nib notes.
The peach liqueur is distilled with a variety of peaches from the Western Slope of Colorado and blend with eau-de-vie. It is light and less sweet compared to other peach liqueur brands.
The Maraschino Liqueur is another one of my favorites. According to their website, in the tradition of fruit brandies, Leopold starts by macerating and fermenting small Marasca cherries from Croatia and distill the resulting cherry mash. They then add coriander and Montmorency cherry distillate and sweeten the blend with honey to create a soft and subtle liqueur with mild almond-like notes that are derived from the cherry pits. I compared this to some other Maraschino brands, it is smoother, rounder and the almond-like notes are truly delightful.
Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur is so unique sometimes I found it difficult for a home bartender like me to think about how to make a cocktail with it. In this liqueur, Leopold Bros uses a blend of botanicals found in Colorado then marries with ginger root, clove, and honey. The name is derived from old fashioned telemark ski bindings that were secured by three pins.
Absinthe Verte is the recent addition to my little Leopold family, can’t wait to try!