Palisade-based Peach Street Distillers has rocked the marketplace in the Centennial state with clear spirits, but whiskey -- and, more specifically, bourbon -- has been part of the plans since the get-go. "My two partners, Bill Graham and David Thibodeau, are two of the founding fathers of Ska in Durango," says Rory Donovan, the third co-founder. "We got together many moons ago and started working on this distillery concept. We were operational in 2005, and we aspired to make whiskey. But we did this with very little money to start; it was all sweat equity. So we made vodka and Jackalope gin, and we started sticking all the money in barrels."
After all, making bourbon is a major commitment -- both from a time and money perspective -- since, by law, the spirit must be aged for at least two years in barrels before it can be sold.
The partners were actually the first distillers in the state to start making the stuff, putting together their first batch in 2006. That gave way to a couple of limited releases starting in 2008. "We thought, 'We'll release 200 cases. That should last for a bit,'" says Donovan. "Our first release sold out in eleven days. Our second, which was 150 cases, lasted four days. At that point, we were like, well, that's not going to work."
In fact, the partners couldn't even keep it on the shelf in the tasting room. So the guys upped the quantity of their production, with a goal of putting up about 100 barrels per year -- a major undertaking, since it takes them three passes through the still, or about eighteen hours, to fill just one barrel. Compare that with a producer like Jim Beam, which has the capacity to fill 2000 barrels per day. "Labeling those bottles 'small batch,' frankly, is bullshit," Donovan says.
After watching their own small batches grow, slowly but surely, the partners are finally beginning to dig into the stock they made two or three years ago, and it will allow them to send 150 cases per month to their distributor -- still just a drop in the bucket, but enough to keep restaurants and liquor stores in Colorado close to permanently stocked.
The increased production has already forced Peach Street to make changes to their operations. "We had to acquire another building for barrel storage and modify it a little bit with a humidifier," Donovan explains. "What you lose during maturation is known has angel's share -- and the angels in the desert are greedy."
No further environmental factors were altered, though, because, Donovan says, it's the temperature influxes that cause the alcohol to expand and contract and interact with the wood. For that reason, there's no precise timeline for when a barrel will be ready. "It's ready when it's ready," he says.
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Knowing they're still not meeting demand, the partners are trying to scale up their bourbon operation further. "We commissioned building a second still," says Donovan. "it's nine times bigger than what we've got. So instead of running the still three times to fill one barrel, we'll be able to run the still once to fill three barrels. But everything has to grow at once from an equipment standpoint, so it's a big investment."
He projects, though, that by 2014 or 2015, the partners will go from putting up 150 barrels of bourbon a year to 500 barrels, which will also allow them to expand their distribution network.
But, Donovan says, he doesn't expect to reach even the Stranahan's level of output within his lifetime. "This is a sweat equity business. We're building other brands at the same time, we're expanding our tasting room and we're looking at picking up other buildings." So there's a lot for them to focus on beyond the bourbon.