P.T. and Lee Wood are creating new flavors in gin and whiskey in downtown Salida's creative district.
Before going into distilling, P.T. worked as a river guide and a homebuilder and Lee continues to organize tech events. "I've sold services all of my life and it was on my bucket list to actually make something," says Lee.
An old friend sold them an 1880s-era still and they started building a distillery in a former auto body repair shop in downtown Salida in March 2012. The distillery's popular tasting room is a must-visit in the vibrant Salida Creative District.
The Wood brothers opted to make whiskey and gin based on personal preference. "We decided to make what we like, just in case we made a lifetime supply of spirits we couldn't sell," Lee jokes.
Once permitted, P.T. started distilling the first batch of Treeline Gin by the end of the year. Batch one of Tenderfoot Whiskey was bottled in 2013.
The whiskey features three kinds of barley with malted wheat and rye. "We were looking to make a really big whiskey," says P.T., the new president of the Colorado Distillers Guild.
The Wood's lineup also includes Treeline Barrel Rested Gin (touted as a gin for whiskey lovers) and an elderflower liqueur. A rye whiskey and a hopped gin are due for release in 2015.
Of the latter, P.T. says, "The juniper comes through beautifully, plus there's citrus notes and a lot of floral qualities. It's a bigger, more aggressive gin."
While traditional dry gin showcases juniper above all, Lee says western gins are the perfect palette for distilling experimentation. "There's a lot of experimentation with non-traditional botanicals," he says. "The great thing about gin is it's just got to be 50 percent juniper. After that, the sky's the limit. It's really exploded."
Wood's found a foothold in Colorado right away and started exporting to Italy, a market that accounts for nearly a quarter of the sales. Revenue doubled in 2014, and production nearly tripled to 8,000 bottles.
At first, distilling 180-gallon batches required about 35 hours of distilling. "Usually, I'd just would push straight through," says P.T. "My girlfriend would wonder if I was still alive."
Now they've added distilling capacity, and he can distill at twice that rate ("I can go home on occasion," he cracks), and a coming steam generator will significantly speed the process. But first, the distillery needs to install a three-phase power system. "A couple of guys dreaming about making whiskey don't think about three-phase," he adds.
[read about more Colorado craft beverage makers here.]
But there's a lot more to more to distilling than electrical upgrades. There's science, art, and a bit of magic -- P.T.'s official title is "Alchemist."
"You could run the same mash through two different stills and get two different flavors," he explains.
That mindset starts in distilling and continues with aging. When a barrel is ready is not set in stone. "You don't know until you taste it," says Lee.
Challenges: Sourcing barrels and bottles. There are only four barrel cooperages in the U.S. and most of them aren't taking on new clients. High demand and low oak supplies make for a tight market, and barrels can be knotty and thus leaky. Wood's sources its barrels from Louisville, Kentucky-based Kelvin Cooperage. "We've been lucky," says P.T. "We have a great relationship with Kelvin."
Italy-based Bruni is Wood's bottle supplier. "Glass is really challenging," P.T. notes. "They want to sell you a container when you only need a pallet."
Opportunities: Markets beyond the current distribution footprint of Colorado and Italy. "There are 48 other states and 190 other countries," says Lee, noting that different regulations and tax structures make expansion tricky.
"We're really excited about exports," says P.T.
Needs: "Capital," says P.T. The Wood brothers financed the startup with their own savings and traditional bank loans.
There are two distilling-specific wrinkles: the requirement to build out the distillery before a permit is issued, and the need to age whiskey. "You have to be way ahead of your sales," says Lee of the latter.