Beer is big business in Colorado — a business that can be a gateway to greater involvement in the community that's supporting you by purchasing your beer. John Hickenlooper was one of the first to see the potential in the small-scale brewpub model when he opened Wynkoop Brewing Company in 1988 in what had just been dubbed LoDo. Going from brewing beer to running a city, and now an entire state, might seem like quite a leap, but in the mountain town of Salida, known mostly for river rafting and winter sports, something similar could soon happen.
Distilling is a much younger business in Colorado than brewing, but even towns like Salida now have their own distilleries turning out good products, thanks to people like PT and Lee Wood, two brothers who founded Wood's High Mountain Distillery in 2012. Only four years later, Wood's captured our attention with its Tenderfoot Whiskey, earning Best Single Malt in our 2016 Best of Denver edition.
Like Hickenlooper, PT Wood is interested in more than making great booze; he recently announced his intentions to run for mayor of Salida in a race that will be decided in this November's elections.This past weekend, we were in Salida for the 21st annual Craft Brewers Guild's Brewers Rendezvous, so beer was more on our minds, but we stopped in Wood's Distillery on Salida's vibrant Main Street to sample the wares — and ran into PT, who was chatting with customers beneath a hand-lettered campaign banner made by some local kids. On a busy Friday night, he took a few minutes to talk to us about his connection with the town he's called home for three decades.
Westword: What made you decide to run for mayor?
PT Wood: I've been in Salida for almost thirty years now, and I've been on the planning and zoning commission for ten years — and chairman of that for six. I felt we needed a more forward-looking government in Salida, and a bunch of my friends and neighbors had asked me to run for mayor and I really felt like maybe it was time that I could have a positive impact on the community.
Before you opened the distillery, what did you do here?
Oh, that's a long résumé of random jobs.
In Denver, we have John Hickenlooper, who started with a brewery and then ran for mayor. Do you like that comparison?
I'm mostly a fan of Hickenlooper. I think he's a reasonable, thoughtful, centrist guy who listens to all sides — so I'm okay with that comparison.
As a businessman and entrepreneur, how do you see small-town, mountain-town government?
Obviously, I'm vested in the community, and my future and fortunes are tied deeply to the community. I have an incredible vested interest in the success of our community. But beyond that, my children were born here, they were raised here; I've been here for thirty years and I expect to die here, so my life is vested here and in seeing this community grow in a positive and forward-looking way.
What was your biggest inspiration for opening a distillery?
I'm an old river guy, so I moved here to be a riverman back in the late ’80s. And as part of that, at the end of the day as a river guide, you sit around the fire and drink whiskey and tell tall tales. At some point along the way, I started to tell the tale that I was going to make whiskey. [I would say] "That's good whiskey, but I'm going to make some real river whiskey!" And over fifteen or twenty years of telling that story, I realized that I needed to quit telling that story or do it.