Colorado Springs, Colorado
Axe and the Oak co-founder Jason Jackson got into the distilling business by way of coffee. "I started roasting coffee as a hobby and fell in love with the art, the diversity of it," he says. "That led to chickens, hunting my own meat if I could do it, catching my own fish, making my own laundry soap. Just sort of a self sustaining ideal." Jackson also loves whiskey. While drinking a glass one night, he had an idea. "I said damn, that's so good, I wonder if I can make this stuff?"
Turns out he could. Jackson partnered with some friends and created Axe and the Oak. "Our biggest philosophy is a sense of community. That permeates through our whiskey house, too," he says.
Co-founder Casey Ross adds, "We're just trying to make a great product and have fun."
They're succeeding. Despite having no prior experience in distilling, Axe and the Oak has won several awards including a gold medal at the 2016 Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival for their Pikes Peak Hill Shine. The distillery's spirits have also garnered medals at the Denver International Spirits Competition and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. "I had a great uncle that did some moonshining in Tennessee but I never met the guy," Jackson says. "It's just trial and error."
The hard work is paying off. "We've grown like crazy," Ross says. "We're tripling production right now."
Currently, their whiskey is aged for about a year. "We're going for a straight, a two-year," Ross says. "It's hard to set barrels aside because we're just going through so much of it trying to keep everyone stocked."
Along with increasing production from 1,200 bottles a month to 3,600, Axe and the Oak have new products on the way. "Our moonshine just got approved so it will be going on the shelves soon," Ross says. "We're gonna release a small batch rye mid year and we're working on a whole line of liqueurs."
They will be keeping their suppliers busy. "The corn and the rye come from Ravenkamp Farms in Hugo, Colorado," Jackson says. The malted grains come from Brewers Supply Group.
After some initial challenges with outside distribution, Axe and the Oak now self distributes. "We moved more liquor than they did in a seven month time frame in four days," Ross says. "We have a sales team internally of two people and they just kill it."
Challenges: Red tape. "Waiting on licensing, label approval, everything," Ross says. "Somethings go really fast with the TTB [Tax and Trade Bureau] and some things are snail-paced."
Adds Jackson: "I think simplifying the tax code for small producers. It shouldn't be as involved as it is."
The tasting room hosts live music and Axe and the Oak would like to see change with music licensing. "There are four or five music licensing agencies, they're all coming after us right now because we're playing live music," Ross says. "A gal went out of business a couple of years ago here in the Springs for playing live music on Pandora. They fined her 30 grand. They're putting all these little mom-and-pop shops out of business. If we were to pay all of them it would be way more than we're paying in rent or payroll. it's crazy."
Jackson agrees. "They don't go after the guy playing the cover song, they come after us as an establishment," he says. "It's just one more thing that the small business guy has to deal with."
Opportunities: Expansion. "With the growth that's happening in this community, it's so exciting to be ahead of the curve with the distilling crowd here," Jackson says.
While Axe and the Oak is in over 200 locations in Colorado, the founders are eyeing out-of-state markets as well.
Needs: Axe and the Oak is looking for more space. "We have one tasting room at Ivywild and we're currently looking for a new building to have production and open another tasting room," Ross says.