Local distiller Todd Leopold makes spirits "one bottle at a time"
The tasting table: a few spirits from Leopold Bros. distillery, ready for tasting.
"For the most part, Colorado knows an awful lot about beer," said Todd Leopold, head distiller at Leopold Bros. distillery. "They can tell you about different styles, and what breweries they like and why, but when it comes to spirits, people are just starting to dip their toe in the water." It's not common for Leopold to leave the distillery to illustrate his products or the distilling process, so last night's Leopold Bros. and Cigars event at the Hyatt Regency was a rare opportunity to talk about hand-crafted Colorado spirits with the man who makes them. "We're very much a believer in one bottle at a time," he told the group.
Todd Leopold (right), talking about his spirits.
"For us, we just like to keep things really simple," Leopold said, standing behind a table crowded with eager liquor-sippers. "We don't advertise. We don't do billboards. We have a Facebook page, I guess." Essentially, Leopold distills his products one bottle at a time and markets them the same way: one person at a time. "For these events, this is really just our chance to engage one-on-one," he explained. "This is something that we do very frequently."
But while Leopold shares his spirits at tasting events once or twice per week, he's usually too busy making whiskey to talk about it. "I'll do a few a year," he said. With three full-time employees making twenty spirits, he prefers to oversee operations at the distillery rather than making public appearances. "If we're not behind the stills," he adds, "stuff isn't getting made."
But at least he can make appearances in Colorado. In other states, it's illegal to hold tasting events like Leopold Bros. and Cigars anywhere except a liquor store. "People who have lived in Colorado their whole lives don't know this," Leopold said, "but in about half the states, you can't taste like this. If we do an event in California, you can't taste there, unless it's a liquor store. There's no tasting. So how do you sell my spirits with no television, no marketing -- no nothing -- and I'm showing you a bottle of my blackberry liqueur? You haven't the slightest idea of what it tastes like." Since liquor laws in many states prohibit opening a bottle of liquor, it would be impossible to even smell one of Leopold's products.
Leopold's marketing philosophy touches all aspects of his business, including plans for a new distillery set to open in September. "We spent an awful lot of time making it so that it was tour-friendly," he said. "So yes, it's designed for making spirits as efficiently as we possibly can, but every room, every fermenter -- everything -- was designed to educate, also.
"For instance, the fermenters are not so tall that you can't look into them," he continued. "The steep tanks for the malt are about chest-high, with the idea that we're going to walk people through and get them to understand how spirits are made. You can come in and be able to see all the steps: the corn, the rye, the barley, where they go together, what it tastes like in a fermenter, what it tastes like when it comes out..."
With construction of the new distillery just four blocks from the current distillery in Northfield almost complete, Leopold is now planning for the future. "We're finally getting ourselves organized after all these years," he said. That organization includes a new website, which will offer information about tasting events at the distillery.
But in the meantime, Leopold plans to keep pouring for the people. "We certainly don't turn our noses up at anyone, or any kind of event," he said. "We'll go anywhere."
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