My impression of the Rocker Spirits taproom, distilled into a few words: rugged yet classy, manly yet inviting to all. The distillery, located a few blocks off Littleton’s Main Street at 5587 South Hill Street, feels like an elegant makerspace for spirits and cocktails. Distinctive architectural salvage elements — dimpled steel from a defunct Brighton Boulevard factory, Victorian-era tin ceiling tiles, rusted steel girders, and old car grills buffed to a shine — give the converted 1950s warehouse a craftsman character.
Of Colorado’s fifty (or so) distilleries, Rocker Spirits is Littleton’s first and only. Although it’s been open a little over a year and is off the beaten path, the taproom is doing a brisk business and its spirits are on local liquor-store shelves. You can’t miss the unique rocking bottles. Inspired by a 1930s old can, the bottle design won a 2017 PAC Packaging Consortium Global Leadership Award this year. Like the taproom and the spirits, the bottle reflects designer (and Rocker Spirits co-owner) Duston Evans’s love of invention and the art of creating.
On a moderately busy Thursday night, I tried the Cider Town Get Down, a warm whiskey-and-cider concoction cooked with fennel, huckleberry and autumn spices. It tasted like apple pie. The taproom offers twelve unique cocktails made with Rocker rum, whiskey and vodka. Half of the offerings are seasonal, which gives bar manager John Stefanski the opportunity to come up with new recipes. Delight in craftsmanship seems to be fused into every part of the company, whether it's the bottles, what inside them or what Stefanski puts in the glass.
Gourmet food truck Sprezzatura Pizza, owned by chefs David Rosenfeld and Kelsey Baker, provides snacks, cheese and charcuterie boards, cookies and their signature pizzas for the taproom. I ordered the Salsiccia, asked for a to-go box on the side, then ate the entire eleven-inch pizza at once. For Sunday brunch, both Rocker Spirits and Sprezzatura offer special breakfast fare. The breakfast pizza with runny yolks, sausage, onions and cheese “is everything a breakfast should be” according to Rocker Spirits head distiller Nick Hutch.
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Hutch radiates enthusiasm when he explains the distillation process. Whiskey starts out as a mash of grain, water and yeast. At this stage, it tastes like sour beer oatmeal (yes, I had to taste it). The fermentation process produces a beer-like liquid, which is then distilled in a large copper and steel still that resembles an enormous upright clarinet with a fat base. Hutch says the most frequent comparison is to a giant bong. Distilling separates the alcohol from the slurry using evaporation. The result is a clear, harsh-tasting moonshine which is then aged in virgin, charred white oak barrels for three years. Through aging, the whiskey gains its color and flavors.
Rocker’s signature whiskey is made with corn and wheat; Hutch and his team are also working on a new whiskey made with Colorado rye and a whiskey aged in port wine barrels that will bear a tinge of purple and a dried-fruit flavor.
Vodka can be made from any starchy vegetable or grain; Rocker's is made from corn. It is not aged, but rather filtered. Rocker Rum is made from sugarcane products and is aged six years in used whiskey barrels.
You can get all of these at the Littleton distillery and tasting room Thursday through Saturday from 5 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information on where to purchase bottles, call 303-795-7928 or take a peek at the Rocker Spirits website.