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Golden Moon Distillery

by Gregory Daurer on December 5, 2016, 02:54 pm MST

www.goldenmoondistillery.com

Golden, Colorado

Privately owned

Employees: 12

Industry: Brewing & Beverage

Products: Spirits

Proprietor Stephen A. Gould is an award-winning distiller, a spirits historian, a liqueur revivalist, and an educator.

It doesn't stop there.
 
Gould, 52, is also a former brewer, having co-founded a small brewpub in the early 1990s in Reno, Nevada (where he grew up). He's worked as a sommelier and as a saucier, and he says the latter skill has come in handy later as he became a botanical distiller working with herbs, as well.
 
And he's also served as a bartender. One storied example of Gould's time tending bar: While employed as the Director of Asia Pacific Supply & Materials for the Ford Motor Company in the late '90s, he also used to pour drinks at a friend's now-defunct Detroit club, the Gold Dollar, where Gould witnessed the White Stripes play its very first gig.
 
For each of the jobs he takes on, Gould says that the old adage, "the devil is in the details," applies.
 
 
And Gould's present task is turning his innovative pilot distillery -- which makes, among other products, award-winning whiskey, absinthe, and gin -- into a full-fledged production facility. Taking over additional space within the Golden industrial park where the company presently resides, Golden Moon will soon be expanding from its current output of 4,500 nine-liter cases per year to, Gould hopes, 50,000 cases per year by mid-2018 -- with a capacity for five times that amount, at the ready.
 
Currently, Golden Moon products are available in 14 states and Italy (with a "small toehold in the U.K."). But Gould says, "We have a strategic plan, which will have us in the bulk of the United States in the next 36 months, and we believe we will be in Japan, China, most of Northern Europe, and several other European countries, within the next 24 months."
 
Gould's enthusiasm for his products leads the charge: "The part that I really love about this business is the creativity. I've been able to create some amazing spirits that I'm really proud of, that people seem to really enjoy."
 
There's Golden Moon Gin, which draws its inspiration from the past. "This is a very atypical gin," Gould says. "It was inspired by a sample of medicinal gin from the 1860s that I acquired several years ago." Lemon balm gives the spirit its citrusy and minty notes; its juniper berries come from Bulgaria, as well as the Front Range. It's the company's biggest seller: "We can't keep it in stock." Gould accurately describes the gin as, "Very floral, herbaceous, warm, round, friendly, creamy."
 
 
Golden Moon's Apple Jack uses the unfermented cider of apples from Palisade and Pueblo. It then ferments and distills the juice, in house. Unlike some European apple brandies distilled two or three times and then aged for lengthy periods in barrels, Gould says, "We are working very hard to retain the freshness of a young apple spirit, but give it a little bit of oak to soften it -- which is historically accurate for a colonial apple jack. . . . On the front end, I think you're going to get really fresh crisp apples. And on the back end, you're going to get a slight bit of a bourbony-oaky note, but without detracting from the apple character. We want people to know, when they drink this, they're drinking apples."
 
Amer dit Picon is a form of bitters that was developed as an anti-malarial drug by a French soldier, Gaetan Picon, in Algeria in the 1830s. Gould spent two years reverse-engineering the sub-components from two 19th-century samples of Amer Picon. In his own version, Gould employs three types of citrus, as well as a host of additional ingredients -- including cinchona bark (the same, original source for quinine in tonic water). On the tongue, the flavor of oranges dominates, at first, before finishing on a lingering, bitter note. Amer is a classic component of a Brooklyn Cocktail -- and Golden Moon is helping bartenders to craft historically accurate, modern versions of the drink. A recent victory: Gould says, "The Barclays Center, the largest sports arena in Brooklyn, has adopted this," and they're making Brooklyns in all four of their venues employing Golden Moon's product.
 
 
Speaking of devilish details, Golden Moon produces it own version of the fabled, once-demonized drink, absinthe. Fruition Farms in Larkspur grows some of the drink's grande wormwood (as well as other herbs for Golden Moon). There's a slight, but not overwhelming tingle on the tip of the tongue from the star anise, which is one of his absinthe's 14 ingredients.  Gould says, "I wanted an absinthe that would appeal to the absinthe aficionado -- or absintheur -- but, yet, that would be approachable enough that the non-absintheur would be able to enjoy...What I went for was something that was complex, that was herbal, but it was sweet and creamy, at the same time -- without having to add sugar." Apparently, it's a hit among those in the know: Absinthe makers in Switzerland (where the drink originated) sometimes offer to trade Gould bottles of their absinthe for his.
 
Golden Moon's absinthe and other spirits are sometimes utilized within mixed drinks. Gould says, "One of the things that sets us apart from every other distillery pretty much on the planet is we make a very wide range of spirits that are really designed, in many ways, to be [part of] an integrated craft cocktail program." The distillery's off-site tasting room, Golden Moon Speakeasy, has won accolades for its rotating menu of 60-plus cocktails. The Speakeasy sometimes hosts guest bartenders; this spring, two will arrive from Jerry Thomas Project in Rome -- where Gould once taught a six-hour class on absinthe to 50 enthralled Roman bartenders, he says.

Historian Gould's vast library of books and papers about distilling and spirits has led to unique recipes. For example, "Ex Gratia was based upon a description of an elixir in an executioner's handbook from the 1580s," Gould says. "Several pages are in my collection." Gould says of his collection (containing around around 600 titles of books, folios, and papers), "It's a research library that is significant enough that, in the last year, I've had over a dozen distillers from five different countries come here specifically to peruse the library and do research."

Sometimes, Gould receives emails asking him for recipes to be found in his library. He just shakes his head at requests like that, and not just because he's flabbergasted that people expect him to take time out of his busy schedule to do research for them.

Gould says, "Absinthe, and most liqueurs, the recipe's only part of the puzzle: If you don't know how to run your still, if you don't know how to process your herbs -- if you don't know what you're doing -- having a recipe means nothing. . . . It's really about how well you run your stills. Even something as simple as making a fruit brandy. . . . Anybody can put a wine or a fermented fruit juice into a still, turn the still on, and make alcohol. But making good alcohol is another story."

After all, as Gould recognizes, the devil is in the historically accurate details.

Favorite spirits: "I have a soft spot in my heart  for Bunnahabhain 12, which was the first malt whiskey I discovered as a young bartender, where I really started to appreciate what a malt whiskey was. I have a soft spot in my heart for Glenfarclas which is in Speyside, where I trained. It's one of the last two family-owned distilleries in Scotland. They do everything in sherry casks. They make wonderful spirits and they are incredibly nice people.

"In the absinthe world, if I had to pick any one spirit that I enjoy it would be Nouvelle-Orléans Absinthe Supérieure. My friend Ted makes it -- and it was one of the first absinthes he created. Brilliant, beautiful product. Incredibly well-made. It's a style of absinthe that was made in New Orleans in the height of the absinthe era, which is basically a traditional French verte with one unique ingredient in it -- and that's clover, which was an herb that the American distillers had access to that the French didn't use."

Challenges: "Part of it is that there's so many small new distilleries popping up that it's hard to differentiate yourself from the noise, if you will. I mean, one of our flagship products is our gin -- and everybody makes a gin. And though we have great critical acclaim for our gin -- there are bars that swear by our gin, our gin is very different than everybody else's gin -- the challenge is A.) getting people to actually taste it, because, I mean, just here in Colorado, there's 75 people making gin. And then B.) getting people to find space for it on their back bar, on their retail shelf."

Opportunities: "As I said, we're selling everything we make now. We can't make it fast enough – without any sales force, without any PR firm, without any marketing. Once we bring in this additional capacity, and then add the necessary tools to raise consumer awareness, to raise retailer awareness, that's the opportunity: I have no doubt that we will go from where we are today with a few thousand cases to tens of thousands of cases in the next 18 months -- and more in the next five, ten years."

Needs: "As with everybody, we are looking for capital, at this point...We have no debt, no investors today; the biggest debt we have is a corporate credit card we pay off at the end of every month and a capital lease on a forklift which is a couple hundred bucks a month. But we also don't have enough capital of our own: We're profitable, but we can't grow the way we need to grow, at this point, to keep the business healthy. There's so many new small distilleries popping up. If we want to stay a small distillery, then we'll just eke by -- and that's not what we want to do. We make things that nobody else makes, we do things that nobody else does. And the plan at this point is to take it national and international. And, without trying, we're already in 14 states and Europe; so, once we start trying, it's going to be huge."

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