Industry: Brewing & Distilling
Co-founder Dustin Evans is distilling award-winning spirits and crafting a brand around an independent-minded lifestyle.
Evans has been self-employed since he was 27 years old and, he says, drinking whiskey for more than a decade longer than that. When construction -- in which he owns three companies -- started to become less enjoyable, friends suggested that he start a distillery.
"I took at look at the industry and loved it," he recalls. "The people are maverick and entrepreneurial-spirited. It looked like a lot of fun and that's what I wanted: to invest my time and energy into something that would fill me back up. I think when you can find a job that does that, it's not as daunting as when you don't enjoy your work."
Evans began the process of launching Rocker Spirits in 2015 with co-founders Patrick Johnson and Nick Hutch, who was formerly of Breckenridge Distillery. The trio spent 18 months renovating a 1950s warehouse to create exactly the right ambiance for their brand.
"I'm a huge fan of the industrial era of our country, the 1950s, when we made things with our own two hands," Evans explains. "When we designed the distillery, I wanted it to look like an old manufacturing plant. We took the warehouse and added a lot of industrial elements like steel columns and girder beams. And we used a lot of old, reclaimed materials. The bar top is made of the floors out of old semi tractor-trailers."
Evans says he loves the gritty, industrial look of the space. He's also proud of Rocker Spirits' signature bottle, the design of which won a 2017 PAC Packaging Consortium Global Leadership Award. "I designed it after a five-gallon oil can from the 1930s," he says. "It rocks. If you roll it over like you're pouring it out on the lead edge, then let go, it will rock right back up to its base."
Within these ultra-cool bottles, consumers will find Rocker Rye Whiskey or Rocker Straight Whiskey (both aged a minimum of three years), Rocker Rum (aged six years), or Rocker Vodka. Rocker Rum was named one of Food & Wine's Spirits of the Year in 2017.
"We're not only making good product, we're also selling a lifestyle," Evans says. "I always say that I don't care whether you're 25 or 85, if you're drinking Rocker, then you rock. You're someone who is out there living life and chasing after it. You're a maverick. You're an entrepreneur. And that's what we're trying to embody. We want our product profile, the taste, everything to have that personality."
In 2018, Evans says Rocker Spirits produced 88 53-gallon barrels of whiskey along with 400 gallons of vodka and 160 gallons of rum. The team is in the process of installing some new equipment -- two additional fermenters, specifically -- to enable them to increase their whiskey production this year to the 150- to 180-barrel range.
"All of our corn, wheat, and rye come from a family farm in Burlington, Colorado," Evans adds. "It's called Whiskey Sisters and working with them has been so great for us. We get to help out a 112-year-old family farm, buy local, and we're getting higher yields and fermentable sugars from our mashes. In fact, we're getting anywhere between five to eight gallons more product using the same amount of corn from Whiskey Sisters than we were getting when we used out-of-state corn."
Challenges: "Our challenges are twofold, like the head and tail of a coin," Evans says. "Can our production keep up with our sales as we begin a stronger, more assertive marketing campaign this year? The temperament of growth is very important. You don't want to outsell your backlog, but continue to build it so you can grow into it rather than outgrow it."
Opportunities: "We're known in southwest Denver, but now we're starting to get bigger audiences throughout the state," Evans says. "People are even starting to call to inquire about getting our product in other states. I'd say our biggest opportunity is calculated growth. Expanding our brand awareness in Colorado as long as we can continue to manage that growth to meet our production capacities."
Needs: As the old saying goes, hindsight is always 20/20. "If I had the knowledge that I've amassed over the last three years when we started out, I would have started with larger equipment," Evans muses. "Our current still is 300 gallons of working capacity. That enables us to make five 53-gallon barrels a week. But if we had a 1,500-gallon still, we'd be able to make 25 barrels a week with only a small increase in effort."