Proud Colorado LocaPOUR and a Gingered Pear cocktail

At the start of the summer I received a gift of Altitude Spirits Vodka 14.  At the time it seemed a thoughtful nod to my locavorism; little did I know it would become the first footing on a path of local discovery about Colorado’s beverage industry.  
When I look back now I see the prompts; the guy at the liquor store helping me with a vodka to infuse pointing out a locally made vodka, Mark from Medovina (bee keeper and mead maker) imparting a final message to my readers of ‘drink local’, Rob Masters (President of the Colorado Distillers Guild and Distiller for Rob’s Mountain Gin) revealing event after local distiller educational/tasting event in our attempts to meet live.  It has been a complete lifting of veils for a slack-jawed me as I continue to utter ‘WHO KNEW?!’
I’ve continued to uncover drinkable resources from our fair state that has begun to build the same passion fueling the start of my food related locavorism; could an adult beverage consuming person support their interests on products from Colorado alone?  The answer is most certainly ‘yes’, and with vast selection, variety and undeniable quality.
When I was asked to participate in a small ‘think tank’ experience to coalesce ideas and strategies regarding Colorado based distilling and winemaking I was thrilled.  The reason I started my blog initially was in response to many requests to share the local food resources I’d uncovered when eating only Colorado produce and meat for an entire year, including over a winter.  I had so many discoveries in my questing to ‘eat local’ I was amazed and anxious to share them.  The opportunity to learn more and help gain more awareness for Colorado’s liquid resources was an obvious alignment with my views and passion.
As I drove up to Breckenridge Colorado this past week to join notable comrades in arms I found myself thinking about adult beverages produced in Colorado.  Unedited thought would say were you to go to a bar and order a Fat Tire in most major cities around the U.S., they’d not blink an eye, offer it up and probably think you were pretty with it.  Were you to ask someone about their experience with Colorado distilled spirits, I’d guess they might be aware of the groundswell about them, maybe have sampled one or two, and would find an intuitively natural alignment of Colorado’s perceived ‘spirit’  and distilled spirits.  Sadly to say for all but the intimately informed, ‘Colorado’ and ‘wine’ in the same sentence present as an oxymoron; absolutely incorrectly so.
Christy Rost (PBS Chef, cookbook author, gathering co-host; left) and Ellen Marchman (GetInk PR Principal, meeting co-host; right)

I would be remiss to not begin with our meeting host, cookbook author, PBS TV chef and Colorado-lover Christy Rost.   She and co-host the lovely Ellen Marchman (Colorado-devoted Principal of Get Ink Public Relations) conceived of this gathering over a quick but inspired interview at the Snowmass Culinary Festival in the summer.  Seeing a gap they rounded up select individuals to begin talking about how to appropriately bring Colorado’s spirits and wines more to the forefront.

In her beautifully restored 1898 home, Swan’s Nest, Christy greeted us all with open arms and a harvest lunch featuring the best of local Colorado.  Local lamb and quail, the first of local apples and pears, salad greens and herbs.  All tailored to the weather’s quick change to fall, Christy unfolded her farm-to-table passion setting the perfect stage for the earnest dialogs that would ensue.
 
‘Moose’ Koons from Peach Street Distillers mixing the ‘kick off’ cocktail, the Gingered Pear,  with Colorado’s finest ingredients
 
 
As people were arriving ‘Moose’ Koons from Peach Street Distillers (located ’37 ¾ miles from Utah’ per Moose’s business card) whisked into Christy’s bright, sprawling kitchen (I should say ‘one of her two’ kitchens), happily bringing with him an aura like the sun.  Instantly likeable, he made quick work of preparing a beautiful nod-to-fall cocktail the Gingered Pear.  ‘I just thought of this last night’, he said while slicing the first of the season’s local pears and opening a bottle of his distillery’s Pear Brandy for us to smell.  The aroma was heavenly.  I had a momentary flash that I COULD discretely dab a bit behind each ear unnoticed; I resisted.  The brandy bears a beautifully organic eau de pear, which was completely seducing.  Moose’s cocktail was a celebration of the brandy also using Golden Ginger Beer, one of the soft drinks they prepare under the label Rocky Mountain Soda Company (a handcrafted, non-alcoholic beverage endeavor).  The cocktail set the perfect tone to kick off our meeting.
Peach Street Distillery’s:  GINGERED PEAR COCKTAIL
·         1 ¼ ounce Peach Street Pear Brandy
·         Rocky Mountain  Soda’s  Golden Ginger Beer

In a highball glass filled with ice, pour in pear brandy, fill with Golden Ginger Beer and top with a fresh pear slice.

I had the chance to meet Jordan Via from Breckenridge Distillery, who is one cool cat.  Over lunch he unfolded his history: 3 vineyards opened in California’s wine country, Master’s degree in viticulture from UC Davis and now having segued into the distilling business as the ‘Still Monkey’ (his business card title) at Breckenridge Distillery.  A heavy hitter but with no pretense.
 
 
From my own backyard was Terri Viezbicke, co-owner of Boulder Distillery, and maker of 303 Vodka and 303 Whiskey.  Coming from a California winemaking family, Terri, like Jordan, brought incredible expertise to the gathering along with the ability to speak from two beverage worlds.
 
Taking in the dialog and my experiences with the Colorado distillers I’ve now met, they all have verve.  They are beyond excited about their craft, ingrained in that a commitment to quality, sustainability, and community.  They are a fun-loving, well connected group that with open arms is anxious to share their story and spirits with anyone who is interested though serious about their work. 

During lunch Moose, while sharing his distilling pedigree, issued a most heartfelt description of why distilling in Colorado has meant so much to him (greatly crediting Jordan Via for guiding Peach Tree’s endeavors).  I can’t even recreate the words he shared but it was the spirit of it that was so impactful.  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to cry or adopt him but I was sure he spoke to what makes this region what it is: strong, hard working, spirited people committed to a quality of their end product, all the while having fun and building relationships and a sense of community.  You can taste it in their beverages as strongly as we all felt it from Moose.

Adam Larkey, newer Colorado resident and ex-entertainment industry turned food and wine photographer, and Terri Viezbicke (Boulder Distillery)

 

When listening to Doug Caskey (Executive Director of the Colorado Wine Industry Development Board), Julie Balistreri from Balistreri Vineyards and Kat Scropos from Bonacquisti Wine Company I was instantly transported back to my days in Northern California when wine and wine culture was completely interwoven with my existence and that of my friends.  From San Francisco, we’d hop up to the Russian River Valley for an afternoon of tasting, were informed on the latest in wine developments, could discern between two harvests by date to declare which one would yield the best Pinot Noir before tasting.  I don’t know what I expected in Colorado wines but in tasting Balistreri and Bonacquisti wines I was excited.  Their wine is good.  Like serious ‘in a blind taste testing I bet you’d never guess it is from Colorado good’.  I say that I’m sure to some shudders from locals but the reality is we are sorely under educated about the wine making in our state and most importantly the quality of wine coming from our state.
Doug Caskey, Executive Director of the Colorado Wine Industry Wine Development Board

 

 
Did you know?
·         There are over 100 wineries in Colorado?
·         That our state’s winemaking stretches  through the last century?  Our production of grapes by 1899 was reported by the U.S. Commerce department to be 586,000 pounds of grapes?  1,700 gallons of wine?
·         That there is legislation, the Colorado Wine Industry Development Act, which fosters and supports our state farmers and winemakers (did you even know we had a ‘wine industry’)?
·         That Colorado has two federally designated ‘AVA’s’ (throw this one around at your next wine dinner: an AVA is an ‘American Viticulture Area’ so the areas that produce the grapes for wine)?
·         Essentially every major varietal can be found in Colorado?
·         Our dry climate allows most known issues requiring pesticides when growing wine grapes are not required (and for those requiring treatment they are environmentally friendly)?
·         That Colorado wines are award winning in International wine competitions?
This Viognier ‘orange wine’ was processed ‘on the skins’ leaving it this gorgeous color.  It was sophisticated in taste and impressive.
Following our session I called Rob Masters to get more insight on the Colorado distilling big picture.  After tasting, I understand ‘why Colorado spirits?’ but wanted more specific insights from him.
·         At last count there are 22 distillers in Colorado.  21 are independently owned by Coloradoans.
·         Every major spirit is produced here with the exception of tequila.  There are also a number of quality liqueurs.
·         The distilling scene in Colorado has been compared to the brewing situation of the 1980’s.  Colorado has been referred to as a current ‘hotbed of distilling’. 
·         There are many reasons for locals to ‘drink local’ including: supporting the local economy, reduced negative environmental impact and the opportunity to meet your distiller (it’s cool and chock full of information if you are interested).
·         This is where my ears pricked up:
o   The quality of our Colorado water:  a bottle of spirits is 40% alcohol and 60% water therefore the quality of the water has strong bearing on the end spirit quality.  Coors made an entire campaign out of ‘Rocky Mountain Spring water’, and justly so.
o   Handcrafted vs. mass produced spirits:  There is an artisan distilling the handcrafted spirit, constantly evaluating, tasting for quality and adjusting.  Would you rather have that or a computer or quality control representative guiding the end result?
o   Know what is in your spirits:  Local distillers can tell you exactly what is in their spirits, where it came from, (frankly right down to the farmer in many cases).
 
 
 
Most distillers and many winemakers have tasting rooms and are thrilled to introduce you to their products and process.  Here are some resources and upcoming events that would be a great way for you to learn more:
·         Colorado Distillers Fest (Sunday September 18) at the Rackhouse Pub in Denver.  14 Colorado distillers will be participating with lectures, tastings and more.
·         Colorado Mountain Wine Fest (September 15-18):  A large percentage of Colorado wineries will headline this great festival in Palisade Colorado.  There will be great food, chef demonstrations (this year’s headliner will be Kevin Kidd from Boulder’s SALT restaurant), art, tours, lectures and more.  Click here for more details.
·         Breckenridge Still on the Hill (October 7 and 8):  This two day extravaganza promises  loads of western fun including a saloon tour, poker run, Breckenridge Distillery open house, and Grand Tasting.  On Sunday they are featuring a ‘Hangover Brunch and Bloody Mary Specials’ as well as an historic walking tour of Breckenridge. 
·         Colorado Distiller’s Guild
·         Interactive map of Colorado wineries attending Colorado Mountain Wine Fest (even if you will not attend the fest, you can get a view of the number and locations of Colorado winemakers)
·         Colorado Wine information from the Colorado Wine IndustryDevelopment Board’s website
What I know now is far more than all the facts and figures I’ve researched about wine and spirits from Colorado.  What I know now is what I’ve known all along; Colorado is special due to the people.  We are fortunate to have an incredible geography, with natural resources and varied microclimates making brewing, distilling and wine making not only possible but incredibly successful.  But it is the focused, dedicated spirit of these artisans striving to produce the best possible beverages with humble Colorado pride that is the magic ingredient.  I invite you to try some.  You won’t be disappointed.

Comments

  1. says

    Wow! You just blew me away with this post, not only did I have no idea that there were so many distilleries and wineries in Colorado, I had no idea there was such an incredible variety of unique beverages to be found in what is slowly becoming my favorite state! You outdid yourself with the coverage and of course your images. I can see why your the one they call when someone wants local coverage, Great job Toni! I look forward to reading more of your locavore adventures in Colorado!
    Cheers
    Dennis

  2. says

    You've written an informative, all-encompassing, visually-enticing overview of last week's gathering of wine & spirits experts at Swan's Nest. I learned so much from your article, and I was there! Love your photos of Moose, Doug, the beverages we sampled, and the menu. I look forward to our next gathering, especially with you there to capture the spirit and facts of the meeting. Thank you, Toni!

  3. Steve says

    I'm an amateur mixologist and am blown away by all the great resources in our own backyard. Who knew?! This post has so much great information and I appreciate the events you listed too. Will have to check them out.

  4. Geniveive says

    I found you on Liquirious. I love this cocktail! Perfect for fall. The pear brandy sounds great too. I've seen their products in my state (I'm not in Colorado) and will definitely give it a try. Thanks for all the great info!

  5. Jeff says

    I have read your blog for some time but have not ever commented. After reading this article I wanted to thank you for all this great information. I had no idea we had all these great resources here in Colorado. I have started to notice Colorado signs in local liquor stores identifying wines from our state but I'm late to the party to begin trying them. After this I'm definitely going to scope out the tasting rooms and get caught up! Excellent article.

  6. says

    I have an idea. You come to Oregon and I'll take you wine tasting, and then I'll come to Colorado and you can take me wine tasting? Deal? :) I must admit, I was thrown for a loop with your pictured Viognier. I used to dislike white wine, but Oregon has taught me to love a few varietals, and Viognier is my favorite. But I've never seen one that color! Then I saw that you said it was made with the skins and it makes a bit more sense. :) Is it sweeter, like a dessert wine? Or more crisp like a typical viognier? It looks fabulous!

  7. Mary Ann says

    I learned so much from this article! I had no idea there were so many artisan beverage makers in Colorado. I must admit not thinking of Colorado as a wine making state and am so glad you set me straight. Thanks for all the links to learn more!

  8. Dave says

    Fascinating! I had no idea there were so many distilleries in Colorado. I need to hit the pavement and start tying more of them! Thanks for all the excellent information. Great article.

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