Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Founder K John Wood moved southwest to plant the flag for his eponymous distillery.
Most companies move closer to the city to grow. That wasn't the case with Ouray's lone craft spirit maker, which moved from Berthoud on Colorado's Front Range to the "Switzerland of America" to grow into its own.
The same year the company launched, its Jinn Gin won a gold medal at the New York World Wine and Spirits Competition and quickly found a distributor in Republic National. "Within a year of that, we were in about 300 outlets statewide," Wood explains. "Our facility at the time was an oversized RV garage off a tight alleyway in Berthoud. My wife and I realized that to make and barrel whiskey we were going to need to expand our physical footprint."
In 2014, the couple resolved to move the business to their dream town: Ouray. "We decided to build a purpose-built facility," Wood says. The result is a timber-framed cabin with a distillery and tasting room on the north end of town.
Wood knew he couldn't keep distilling while making the move and building the new distillery, so he distilled spirits ahead of time and planned to have them ready to meet distribution needs and tasting room needs once the new location was open. That led to some hiccups.
"I expected to get it all done in a year," Wood explains. However, working in a small, remote town meant it took a bit longer. During that period, Republic National changed leadership and its focus, he says, and he couldn't keep with new requirements.
Doors ultimately opened in 2016. "I'm seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for this project," Wood says. "The distillery has been really well received. We're already getting return visits from out-of-town folks . . . and word-of-mouth marketing for the tasting room."
That in turn is driving sales. "About 40 percent of our gross revenue through the tasting room is in bottle sales, "Wood says. "There's plenty of room for growth in both that and the cocktail side of things."
Liquor stores and bars are calling Wood, and it's already led him to expand into Durango and Alamosa.
The company now makes two whiskeys, Dead Drift and Ourye; the aforementioned Jinn Gin; and its Berthoud Blue Vodka. The whiskeys are made entirely in-house with local ingredients, according to Wood. Aged two years in sherry caske, Dead Drift features blue corn from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe near Cortez, and the malted wheat and rye for the whiskey comes from the Colorado Malting Company in Alamosa.
Ourye uses unmalted rye from a farm just east of Berthoud. "Our next batches will use rye from San Luis Valley and Alamosa, and it will be straight unmalted rye," Wood says.
The vodka and gin use a corn-based neutral spirit. "We knock it down to a distilling proof, then we macerate in a host of ingredients," Wood says. Jinn features 13 different botanicals, including lavender, local hops, lemon zest, and orange zest. The vodka is macerated with the same blue corn used in Dead Drift.
Now that the new distillery is fully up and running, Wood can start storing and aging his whiskey. He plans on storing about 100 barrels of bourbon and 100 barrels of single-malt whiskey to start. "We'll harvest 20 of each, each year for the next 10 to 15 years, and replenish and then we'll start to stretch out the single-malt," he says. "When we hit that five- to eight-year mark, then I'll need to add some more storage."
Wood is looking at some novel types of barrel storage to age his spirits further. "I've toyed with idea of using some of the mining properties or shafts with caves and using those to areas to store barrels," he says. "They're very stable, climate-wise, they're very easy to secure and keep people out of and there are many around. Most of the ones I'd be looking at failed early on, where there was a shaft or cave and they got about 1,000 feet in, and they realized it wasn't a strike and abandoned it."
Challenges: "I think the biggest challenge is achieving consistent revenue flow. Another would be staffing in relation to the seasonality of our location. Getting sustained pull-through in the marketplace," Wood says.
Opportunities: "One of the opportunities is obviously expanding our whiskey portfolio," Wood says. "In the next few years with more time in the barrel I think there's going to be more excitement about our whiskey. Then there are some other packaging and niche brands or products I'm working on that I think will be well received in the tourist environment."
Adds Wood: "My master plan is building a relationship with a demographic of people transitioning out of their cheap beer and wine days and recognizing there is value in craft spirits."
Needs: "I need my new town of Ouray to be a lot more year-round than it is," says Wood. "I need to get back with a statewide distributor that is more craft-friendly. As an industry as a whole, we still suffer quite a bit from the entrenched relationships that the big six have with the big six distributors."