By Aron Johnson | Aug 16, 2015
When Engelhorn brewed Old Chub Scotch Ale for Oskar Blues Brewery in the late 1990s, he wondered what it would taste like if he distilled it into a spirit. He went to the state liquor board to see what it would take to make it happen. "The state was like, 'You want to do what!?'" he says.
At that time, the fees were prohibitive and Engelhorn's dream of making spirits was put on the back burner. After leaving Oskar Blues in 2002, Engelhorn's friends encouraged him to start his own brewery, but he was still thinking about whisky. "I said we should start a distillery instead," he recalls.
Teaming with co-founders Matthew Rooney, Neil Sullivan, and Wayne Anderson, Engelhorn began looking at stills and searching for a manufacturer. It wasn't so simple. "The wait was so long to get a still, I told my partners to get me some copper, get me some tools," Engelhorn says. Despite having never made a still before, he got to work.
In his research, the Scottish design caught his eye. "I was looking at Scottish stills and decided to just copy their shapes," he says. He made a still and Spirit Hound Distillers was in business. "We started production in October of 2012 and had our grand opening on December 8, 2012."
It wasn't all smooth sailing. In September of 2013, devastating floods wracked Boulder County. "We hadn't been in business for a year when that bit us in the behind," Engelhorn recalls.
The distillery was inundated with contaminated floodwater. Supplies and product were destroyed. The facility was heavily damaged. "We basically took the whole place apart and put it back together. It was just over two months before we were back in production."
That tenacity has been there from the start. Not only did Engelhorn build his own stills, he taught himself the process of distillation as well. "I didn't have time to go watch others and learn. I decided I was going to figure it out myself," he says. "It really exceeds my expectations. Research and luck along the way paid off."
He's not the only one who thinks so. Spirit Hound has won a couple of national medals, including a gold for its Richardo's Decaf Coffee Liqueur at the 2013 Denver International Spirits Competition.
While Engelhorn has put his heart and soul into Spirit Hound Distillers, he's quick to note he's not the only one. "It's not just me," he says. "I have four business partners. Those guys are great and very, very passionate. There's no corner cutting and we do whatever it takes to make quality product and it's showing."
In addition to Richardo's Decaf Coffee liqueur, Spirit Hound produces gin, rum, sambuca, and white whisky. All have won awards. But it's the soon-to-be-released barrel-aged straight whisky that has built the most anticipation. "I have people asking all the time, 'Is your whisky ready yet?'" Engelhorn says. "It's very exciting, the culmination of years of work and the help of a lot of people."
Spirit Hound's Straight Malt Whisky is made with Colorado-grown malted barley, some of which was smoked with Colorado peat, making it a true Colorado whisky. It will be released on Sat. Aug. 22 and available at the distillery's tasting room starting at 11 a.m.
Challenges: Storage space. With a capacity of six barrels of whisky a month in addition to its other spirits, Spirit Hound is going to be searching for more storage soon.
Opportunities: Spirit Hound is looking to expand distribution within Colorado. Although they're already in Georgia, a push into other states is also planned in the future. Beyond that, Engelhorn is considering the international market as well. "Gin is big in Europe," he says, "and there's an emerging market in Asia for whisky."
Needs: Engelhorn is considering hiring a distiller's assistant. "I've run out of hours," he says. He'd also like to see some relief from the federal excise tax. "Small vintners see an excise tax break. Small distillers don't get that," he says. While he's happy with the state of Colorado, he notes, "The small distiller's paperwork is a burden beyond compare."