Feisty Spirits is the first distillery in Fort Collins, operating a still (named Aphrodite) that produces an interesting, often experimental lineup of whiskeys (and more) on "fermentation row," as Feisty team member Alex Mackewich affectionately calls it. After all, Funkwerks and Fort Collins Brewery are only a stone's throw away -- crawling distance, even.
The spirits at Feisty reflect an inclination towards experimentation as well as a reverence for history; co-owner and distiller David Monahan, an engineer by trade, is continuing a family legacy of distilling that began in Appalachia; distiller John Dahlgren is a seasoned homebrewer.
Feisty functions under the direction of one strong belief: since there are so many different grains and each grain has its own unique flavor, that allows for a wide variety of flavor profiles and a taste diversity that can all contribute to a great whiskey. "That's where we started," explains Mackewich. "Pushing the boundaries on the original grain. The grains are really where it starts, and where we wanted to expand -- we're all so limited by just looking at yellow corn. There's blue corn and red corn, and so much more. All that can offer a very different flavor profile. We actually have a red, white and blue corn bourbon -- we're starting to produce more for this coming July."
At Feisty, the stills are monitored closely, with staffers tasting the distillate constantly to ensure that it's creating whiskey the way they want. They work with a sixty-gallon kettle, producing about four or five gallons per batch. The Feisty Spirits single-barrel whiskeys are made with organic grains and aged in charred American oak barrels -- but not for long, to ensure the authenticity of the grain flavors. The results include a blue corn-rye variety with a gentle, spicy nose and elements of nuts, butter and earth, and a soft-bodied oat-rye variety with mellow scents of oatmeal and spice.
Feisty's elementals are where the experimentation really shines, with a cast of single-grain whiskeys that highlight the unique personality and flavors of a diverse set of grains. Each single-grain whiskey is made from simply water, organic grain, yeast and enzymes, left un-aged in order to leave the grains' character unchanged. The kamut whiskey, for example, has aromatics of cinnamon, nuts and bubblegum, with a subtle hint of roasted coffee beans and a slightly nutty, spicy finish.
The millet variety has a strong aroma of nutmeg and allspice, with delicate wildflower notes and a transition to saffron-like spice and an earthy finish towards the end. Feisty's triticale whiskey has a floral yet nutty nose, with scents of green apple and plum and a mellow mouth feel. The American Root is an herbal-style millet whiskey that tastes more like an earthy liqueur.
Lately, the Feisty team has been pushing the boundaries with a hoppier venture. "We partnered with Fort Collins Brewery and found a way to up-cycle an IPA that was about to be tossed," explains Mackewich. "Since IPAs will expire due to their high hop content, FCB had to pull a ton of their Incredible Hop Imperial Rye IPA bombers off liquor store shelves. It was a perfectly fine beer that just didn't sell well. The fellows at FCB opened each bomber and dumped them one by one into a big ol' tank, they brought it here, and we pumped the beer into our still. We ran it through Aphrodite, and the result is our Hops Schnapps."
They're also working on a collaboration whiskey with Black Bottle Brewery -- something they call a "Collab-skey," or Collaboration Whiskey. "We've worked together to modify variations of two of their beers so far, " says Mackewich. "We basically just leave the hops out of the recipe entirely and then brew the beer, all of us together, at their brewery. Once it's ready we haul the tank of the beer wash to our distillery and then we all distill it together here."
Feisty is working with a farm down the road to start a centralized mill operation that will help other distillers gain more accessibility to fresh grains. And as the house jack-of-all trades, Mackewich is experimenting with housemade bitters for use in Feisty's tasting room cocktails.
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Feisty's spirits (and other boozy ventures) are available in the tasting room at 1708 East Lincoln Avenue in Fort Collins. For more on Feisty, go to the distillery's website. You can follow Feisty's distilling adventures on Facebook or Twitter.