The contenders for Outstanding Craft Distiller at the 2021 Colorado Manufacturing Awards share a desire to make the best artisan spirits possible for the people of Colorado -- and beyond. And all of them use a family recipe of some sort -- whether it's from the distant past or newly forged.
Not only is Victor Matthews the owner and master distiller over at Black Bear Distillery, his email signature identifies him as a World Master Chef Emeritus and PhD. As the founder and dean of Paragon Culinary School in Colorado Springs, Matthews notes, "It's the only culinary school in the world with an attached craft distillery."
Over at that craft distillery in Green Mountain Falls at the foot of Pikes Peak, Matthews makes an array of intriguing spirits, from Irish-inspired Colorado whiskey to a Brazilian-influenced, Cachaça-style gold rum. "We do some unusual stuff like [using] malted rye for the vodka," he says.
Originally from North Carolina, Matthews also makes traditional, mountain moonshines -- one using his grandfather's recipe, and the other a recipe that originated with his grandfather's grandfather.
With five employees -- many of them veterans -- the distillery produces about 1,500 cases per year that are distributed throughout Colorado. Charities for veterans, rescue animals, and children's health are close to Matthews' heart. Besides just restaurants and bars, Matthews notes how charities have been hurting as a result of COVID-19: "They've really been behind the eight ball," he says. That means success in 2021 will include being able to help "really good causes" with their fundraising efforts.
And then there's his personal quest to educate consumers about what Matthews believes true moonshine is. "There's a wonderful artisan history and flavor and smoothness to moonshine that people don't know much about," he says, reflecting upon his own Southern heritage. "We're talking about 130 years of history and culture intertwined with so many other parts of culture -- whether it's music or food."
When Bobby Martin and his partners acquired the third licensed distillery within the state of Colorado six years ago from its original owner, Mystic Mountain Distillery's total revenue was $58,000. Thanks in no small part to Martin's sales efforts, revenue increased last year to $2.3 million. The brand is presently self-distributed to 1,300 liquor stores in Colorado and Wyoming. It also has distribution in South Carolina, Illinois, and California.
In 2018, the company opened its tasting room in Thornton, where customers can try Mystic Mountain's offerings, ranging from a vodka which sells for $13 for a 750-milliliter bottle -- which Martin calls a "reasonably priced, still high-quality" spirit -- to its premium Outlaw Legend Straight Bourbon Whiskey, which retails for $95 per bottle. There's also a "prohibition-style moonshine," based on original owner Fred Linneman's longtime family recipe. Describing it as a "smooth, low-odor moonshine," Martin says, "It was made to sneak past the revenuer's nose."
Mystic Mountain's new distillery in Castle Rock, which will have seating capacity for 100 within its tasting room, is slated to open later this year. Martin hopes Mystic Mountain -- which shut down its previous location in Larkspur last year -- will be ramping up production of its bourbon by the end of 2021, allowing the spirit to age in barrels for up to five years.
Both the distillery and the bourbon will need to be ready for the long haul. "We're getting approached by a lot of the larger distributors," says Martin.
For a distillery founded in 2017, Storm King Distilling Co. has been taking the Colorado distilling scene by storm. Last year, the business won a gold medal at the Rocky Mountain Craft Spirits Competition for the second batch of its affordable Side Gig Whiskey. Earlier this month, the distillery won gold again for Side Gig at the Denver International Spirits Competition, as well as for its more upscale, soon-to-be-released bourbon.
"We're the only distillery within roughly 60 miles around us," says distiller David Fishering, who co-founded the Montrose distillery with his father, Greg. About 80 percent of the company's revenue is generated by its tasting room -- on-premise drinks, bottles-to-go, merchandise. "People feel welcome here," says Fishering. "It doesn't look like a pub, but it feels like one." Friends can enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, sampling rye and wheat whiskeys, barrel-rested gin, agave spirits, and 100 percent corn vodka.
In 2021, the business hopes to expand distribution. Right now, there's a store in Colorado Springs that carries Storm King, and the distillery has about 10 restaurant and bar accounts. Getting the product into Telluride would be a coup for the brand, enhancing its visibility. "We'd like to grow our Front Range presence as well," adds Fishering.
Fishering moved back to Montrose, his hometown, about six years ago. Before that, he worked for the U.S. Department of Defense as an analyst, "assess[ing] insurgent and terrorist networks," according to his LinkedIn page. "I'd had a distillery in the back of my mind as something that, maybe, I would end up doing in retirement," he says. Living in Montrose, rather than prohibitively expensive Washington, D.C., has allowed that dream to manifest much more quickly for Fishering.
CompanyWeek profile (January 2019): https://companyweek.com/article/storm-king-distilling