How Tuaca became "a Colorado thing"

Colorado is one of the country's top two markets for Tuaca, a liqueur as ubiquitous as snow (and sometimes more so) in the high country. But how did that happen? Blame it on two Summit County bartenders who came across the brand on their travels, then made it at home in Colorado.

"Bartenders are always looking for a shift shot, something they can call their own," explains Chris Renehan, territory manager for Brown-Forman, the company that picked up the Tuaca brand over a decade ago. And after those two bartenders started pouring Tuaca in Summit County, it became the go-to shift shot at ski-town bars, which also used the liqueur for the perfect cold-weather drink: the Hot Apple Pie, with hot apple cider, a cinnamon stick...and Tuaca.

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From that start a dozen years ago, Tuaca's popularity spread down to the Front Range -- Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo (where a shot of chilled Tuaca became known as "Pueblo water.") As bartenders continued to push the brand, Brown-Forman pushed the bartenders with profiles and even bartender Olympics. "Bartenders built that Colorado thing," Renehan says. "Regional pride in the state also embraced the brand."

And how: His parents, who are in their seventies and live in Evergreen, still shoot Tuaca at the Little Bear.

And Brown-Forman worked with that regional pride, encouraging tourists to try Tuaca when they visited Colorado -- and even advertising the brand at the airport with signs that pronounced "It's a Colorado thing" areas where visitors coming into the state would see it.

"It always goes back to the bartender and regional pride," Renehan says. "This brand, there's something about it that's Colorado. We call it the home place of the may not be made here, but it was definitely built by Coloradans."

In fact, according to the Tuaca website, the liqueur got its start in Italy 500 years ago (when it was created for Lorenzo de Medici) and the recipe -- which is still top-secret -- was rediscovered in 1938, when brothers-in-law Gaetano Tuoni and Giorgio Canepa recreated the spirit and gave it a new name, Tuaca. American servicemen who drank Tuaca in Italy during WWII brought a taste of it home to the United States.

But it didn't take off in Colorado until a decade ago, when bartenders and Brown-Forman joined forces to push the brand. And even though the original Tuaca-loving bartenders have left the business, others have taken up the case...and the chilled glass. "We promote every single week, always at a bar and nightclub near you," Renehan says. The promotions can get elaborate: There's the Tuaca Chill Zone at the Pepsi Center, and Snow Days up in Vail, and the Tuaca Body Art Ball that's morphing into a new concept next year. Tuaca also plans to start TV advertising soon, too, concentrating on its two hottest markets: Colorado and Texas.

The Tuaca Lemon Drop is the secret to the brand's success there, Renehan says. And the competition hardly seems fair, given Texas's much larger population.

But Tuaca just added its first extension to the brand, Cinnaster, which was launched in this state at a Cinnfull & Sweet party at the Dive Inn last week. And the cinnamon-flavored version could be Colorado's secret weapon to keep this state on top of Texas. "It may make an even better Hot Apple Pie," Renehan muses.