This Spring, I had the opportunity to take a road trip to Colorado. We went from Denver, Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, Breckenridge, Sand Dune National Park to Colorado Springs in 10 days.
In this post, I will share my experience at the various distilleries and bars I visite. Colorado is so amazing when it comes to craft distilling, what I covered here is just a small sample of the vast majority.
The Rise of Craft Distilling in Colorado
I should first talk about the rise of the craft distilling in Colorado and the reasons that may have helped its growth over the last 10-15 years. About 15 years ago, there were only a handful distiller licenses given out, but now it was reported over 100.
So why Colorado?
First, strong expertise in brewing really helped. Colorado is well known for beer and some of the knowledge can be transferred to distilling in addition to the unique innovation to be applied such as hops.
The state’s legislative changes are also very friendly to the distillers. Distillers are allowed to have an adjacent tasting room, and those cash dollars can be used to grow business more quickly. Almost every distillery I visited, they have a tasting room that also serves cocktails, often made with their spirits. Second, the friendly license also allows the distiller to serve other alcohol such as beer, wine, or spirits from other distillers in the same tasting room.
The cocktail scene helped in major cities such as Denver and Breckenridge. When I visited Denver 4 years ago, I remembered William & Graham and a few others. And imagine my surprise when I received more than 15 recommendations prior to this trip. The famous Death and Co from New York City chose Denver as their second opening, which is a huge nod to recognizing Denver as one of the fastest growing city for amazing cocktails.
Colorado is also an amazing place to travel to and to live in. Amazing weather, ski resort and weekend hikes, lots of national parks. That was the reason why our family visited Colorado, just wanted to be out there enjoying nature and sipping some great whiskey too!
Denver is the capital city of Colorado with great food and amazing cocktail scene. I stayed at the Ramble Hotel since I wanted to be close to the hotel bar opened by Death and Co. I am not entirely sure that is a good idea or a bad idea, because the bar offers so many choices from breakfast cocktails to nightcap, it made it very hard to leave the hotel!
Death and Co
Death and Co offers a very extensive menu. They have a separate brunch cocktail menu that covers from Negroni, French 75 to this amazing Corretto: Nardini Amaro, coconut milk, vanilla, espresso, and sea salt. The main lobby bar opens at 2 PM with a large selection. After the first day, I learned you need to be there by 2 PM if you want to get a bar seat! I tried many cocktails there and was excited to spot some Armagnac drinks as well.
If you feel posh and want a more speakeasy and secluded setting, head to Suite 6A but make sure to make a reservation first. Suite 6A is the upstairs bar at the Ramble Hotel with a weekly changing menu and a more intimate atmosphere.
Union Lodge No. 1
As I mentioned, Death and Co is amazing so I didn’t make it to Union Lodge No. 1 til the last day in Denver, another bar that is highly recommended by a few cocktail friends. I fell in love with the menu at first glance. Union Lodge No. 1 focuses more on the classic cocktails and riffs of classic, plus a few of their specialties, that really speaks to my ears!
I tried Blue Blazer which is a flaming cocktail invented by Jerry Thomas, who decided to entertain one of his clientele. It involves two metal mugs with handles. Warmed with water, high proof whiskey that was lit on fire, then the bartender would pour 3/4 of the flaming liquid from one mug to the other, back and forth and gradually increase the distance of the two mugs. Eventually, add the liquid to a snifter with sugar and add lemon peel. It is a drink meant for cold weather, such as Denver in early April.
This is a must visit for Denver.
The Cooper Lounge
The Cooper Lounge is situated at the upper level of Union Station, an over 100-year-old landmark in Denver. With a great view of the Station’s Great Hall and downtown, it makes The Cooper Lounge a great late afternoon place to hang out.
Stranahans’ Colorado Whisky
Stranahan’s Colorado Whisky is one of the early driving forces that contribute to the craft distilling movement in Colorado successfully. My first introduction to Stranahan’s whiskey is through a small sample of Snowflake given by a friend. Snowflake is a yearly limited release by the Master Distiller Rob Dietrich by hand selecting samples from different cask barrels to create a unique blend. Because of this, each year is different and unexpected. Fans of Stranahan’s will gather every December for many hours before it opens, in hope to get one of the Snowflake bottles.
The Distillery offers tours, a nice cocktail bar as well as whiskey tasting. I tried the tasting: Diamond Peak, Single Barrel and Snowflake in 2018. To my surprise, I enjoyed the easy going personality of Diamond Peak and loved Single Barrel, but Snowflake didn’t really stand out for me, at least the 2018 release.
Leopold Bros.! Do I need to say more?! They were kind enough to give me a private tour due to my schedule. I fell in love with Leopold Summer Gin a year ago. Fast forward to today, I am a proud owner of seven Leopold bottles.
Leopold Bros. Distillery is one of the most successful family-run businesses with ever-expanding product offerings, however, the founders Scott and Todd, brothers of Leopold family, are very humble and honest.
Head over to my article if you would like to learn more about Leopold Bros. Make sure to check their tour schedule if you plan to visit, as they are only open on selected days.
Breckenridge is a town at the base of the Rocky Mountains’ Tenmile Range. It’s known for its ski resort, year-round alpine activities, and Gold Rush history.
The downtown area is quaint. The bars and distillery tasting room I mentioned below, are within walking distance from each other.
Located right on Main Street, Après Handcrafted Librations is a purveyor of fine craft beer, whiskey, and cocktails. Après serves some classic cocktails that often use local spirits and produce, with an interpretation of the mountaineering life. Not to mention they also make their own bitters! Unfortunately, the one I wanted to try: Rhubarb Bitters is not available. So many things to love this little bar right in the middle of downtown with a very laid back atmosphere.
What could be better to sip a classic Manhattan while watching the snow falling outside the window?
Modis is a bi-level bar and dinner place just right down the corner from Modis. The menu is extensive with creative elements. I loved my Rye Not drink with Old Overholt Rye, Montenegro Amaro, ginger, walnut, and spiced bitters.
At 9600 feet, Breckenridge is the highest distillery in the world. Bryan Nolt, founder and CEO, is a radiologist. More than 10 years ago, he visited Scotland and fell in love with Siglet whisky from Glenmorangie. What makes Signet special compared to other scotch is that it uses a blend of single estate barley variety and malted chocolate barley, the basis for craft beers.
Taking the inspiration from the Scotland trip, Bryan started Breckenridge Distillery. Now it has expanded the product line from gin, vodka to quite a few different whiskeys. Whiskeys remain as their most well-known product, and the chocolate note is from the caramelized malt.
I did a tasting among the few different whiskey, from bourbon, Cask Strength, Port finish, PX finish to Powder Hound. Powder Hound is a special release since last year by selecting samples from their oldest barrels. Unfortunately, there is no sample for Powder Hound and you can only buy it here in Breckenridge. At 200 dollars a bottle, without tasting, I decided to pass.
Distillery 291 is a grain to glass whiskey product in Colorado Springs, founded by NYC based fashion photographer Michael Myers. Michael lived just a few blocks away from the World Trade Center and witnessed the 9/11. Couldn’t return home and he eventually moved to Colorado Springs with his family.
Having decided to make whisky, Michael studied everything he could get hold of; his artist instinct also allowed him to express creatively in the making. Two things that are very unique about 291 whiskey, it is aged with charred aspen staves – a tradition in Tennessee whiskey, but it takes the very Colorado form of aspen. And every Distillery 291 product has a small percentage of reduced IPA spillage, the only one who does this in the world. He named the distillery 291, which is the dorm room number while in college. For those in the photography business, it is also the name of the very first art gallery in the early 20th century, run by one of the most important photographers Alfred Stieglitz, who elevated the stature of photography to be the same as painting and sculpture. As a photographer, this speaks to me. One can always find a different path any time in life. Spirits are no different than art: the expression of feelings.
I had the opportunity to try the entire eight products, but the one I loved is the Barrel Proof Colorado Rye Whisky. At a whopping 127 proof, it shows refined characters under its rustic appearance. It is unique because it uses malted rye and the nose/ taste of aspen is distinct. It is wild but still feels smooth, great to consume neat with a few drops of water, classic cocktails such as OF. It is super decorated with many awards such as the 2018 World Whiskies Awards “World’s Best Rye”.
Axe and the Oak
Axe and the Oak is walking distance from Distillery 291 with great seating both indoor and outdoor. They serve up a full cocktail menu as well as tasting. I don’t really have a whole to say about this distillery other than it was founded by five friends. I was running out of time so it was a quick stop.
Places I Didn’t Visit
Below is the list of the places I received recommendations but I run out of time. Next time!
- Ste Ellie
- Argonaut wine
- Green Russell
- Hudson Hill
- The Tatarian
- Vapor Distillery
- Other areas
- Mile High
- State 38
That is the summary of my trip. I hope you find it useful to plan your next Colorado trip that is full of tipple moments.