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Ask the bartender: Meet Kristian Naslund of Dancing Pines Distillery

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The Colorado Cocktail Project, with its mission to create the official Colorado Cocktail, will celebrate this state's most liquid assets at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sunday and Monday, June 26-27. We've already profiled many of the bartenders who've submitted recipes for the contest; the ten finalists will pour out their hearts -- and drinks -- in a head-to-head competition on June 27. The day before, Colorado distillers will be at the MCA to pour the products that inspired many of the drinks, while learned lecturers talk about cocktail culture.

You can buy tickets, which are $40 per day, or $70 for the two-day package, here: Colorado Cocktail Project tickets. (Tickets are also available at select Whole Foods outlets.)

But right now, meet Kristian Naslund, distiller with Dancing Pines Distillery:

Kristian Naslund Dancing Pines Distillery

How and when did you start distilling?

Like a lot of craft distillers, I got started as a home brewer. Distilling always seemed more intriguing to me. And whenever we traveled, enjoying the local spirits was always one of our favorite pursuits.

What products do you currently offer?

We currently have eight products (three of them released in the last two weeks). Three rums: White Rum, Cask Barrel Aged Rum, Spice Rum. Four liqueurs: Chai Liqueur, Espresso Liqueur, Brulee Liqueur and Cherry Tart Liqueur. And last but definitely not least, Bourbon.

What is your favorite spirit to make and why?

Without question, the bourbon is the most challenging product we make -- from the fermentation all the way through barreling. But it's definitely the most rewarding, too. It's really neat to be able to enjoy it as it matures, from "white dog" right off the still until it's completely aged and ready to bottle. That is not something I would ever have thought I would get to experience ten years ago.

Any exciting things you're working on for the future?

We like to play and we're always trying new things out. We just did a small batch of Black Walnut Bourbon. It has been a big hit in the tasting room, so it may be our next release. But it will be a while before we have that ready to sell.

What is your outlook on the Colorado distilling scene? Where is it heading and why?

I think Colorado distilling is going to grow. I think that Stranahan's, Peach Street and Leopold Bros. have done so much for craft distilling in Colorado, by producing high-quality craft spirits and being recognized for it. So as craft distilling grows in Colorado, I think that maintaining high quality products will be key. It also seems that the public is keenly interested in locally made products, and this will help craft distilling grow as well. Distilling in Colorado is also proving to be another great source for tourism.

What makes your product distinctly Colorado?

I think Colorado is unique not only for its geography and climate, but also for its people. Like many Coloradans, we have made the focus of our business enjoying what we are doing and taking pride in what we make.

You seemed to have focused on some interesting liqueurs. How has the reaction been?

Liqueurs have never really been our focus, but they have taken off really well. The Chai Liqueur has really helped to establish our brand, and we have every indication that the Brulee Liqueur will do really well also. It's really neat to see how excited people get about a product we make when it's like nothing they have ever tasted before.

You have been around for less than a year. How have things gone?

It's been less than a year since we sold our first bottle, and it has been a pretty crazy year. Things have gone really well. Our sales are more than we had projected and we have already had to double the square footage of our production facility. We are still experiencing some growing pains and learning what to do and what not to do. Some days are stickier than others, but overall we are having a lot of fun. We step back every once in a while and go, "Wow this is really cool. I can't believe we're actually doing this."

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