There's something about Colorado that gives distillers in this state an advantage. The Rocky Mountain snowmelt, the locally grown grains and the arid climate are all factors that lead to distinctive spirits, especially whiskey. There are great whiskey makers all over the state, so finding a bottle at your local liquor store or tasting room is easy.
These eleven producers are making one or many whiskeys worth a pour next time you're craving a taste of the Centennial State. Be sure to call ahead before you visit, as distilleries are slowly reopening their tasting rooms after the pandemic shutdown.
The Block Distilling2990 Larimer Street
The Block's distiller and co-owner Kraig Weaver rolled out his first bourbon at the end of 2019, something so filled with anticipation that the tasting room had a countdown clock marking the time until the spirit would be mature enough to bottle and drink. Four Grain took four years to produce, Weaver explains, so plans for the bourbon began before he opened the RiNo distillery with his brother, Kameron, and his wife, Michelle. To make Four Grain, he spent years researching whiskey by reading old mash bills, blind tasting, sampling single-grain spirits all over the country and taking notes along the way. The final product combines oats, rye, malted barley and red and white wheat, all open-fermented, distilled and aged to varying degrees. Supply of the first batch is limited, but you can now expect to score bottles each year, since the bourbon is an ongoing project. Imagine in a few years being able to sip a flight of reserved bottles in the tasting room.
Boulder Spirits5311 Western Avenue, Boulder
Boulder Spirits was originally named Vapor Distillery, but despite the name change, the company still makes the same great brown spirits. In fact, the distillery has widened its range to single-malt whiskeys in various styles, including an original, a peated single malt and a single malt aged in port casks. There's also a straight bourbon. They're all aged in American oak barrels and cut with Eldorado Springs water before bottling. Overseeing the operation is owner/distiller Alastair Brogan, a native of Scotland who brought his family and a 1,000-gallon copper Forsyths still along for the ride. Pick up a bottle for around $55 and enjoy.
Breckenridge Distillery1925 Airport Road, Breckenridge
Head to the mountains for fresh air and a large selection of incredible spirits at the Breckenridge Distillery. In fact, the distillery currently offers nine different whiskeys for sale. Start with the signature high-rye bourbon, then move on to port cask-finished whiskey, high-proof bourbon and Dark Arts, an American single-malt whiskey. The first, which runs $45 a bottle, has won numerous awards and is one any bourbon lover should seek out. Along with quality, well-balanced spirits, Breckenridge Distillery has been known as the world's highest distillery since it opened in 2008.
Deerhammer Distillery321 East Main Street, Buena Vista
Since launching in 2010, Deerhammer has been dedicated to making whiskey. Owners Amy and Lenny Eckstein built their first still out of used, repurposed machinery, much of which came from an old dairy. Today Deerhammer makes three main whiskeys, including single malt, bourbon and hickory-smoked corn whiskey. The bourbon gets its flavor from Colorado-grown corn, San Luis Valley red spring wheat, cold-smoked oats and roasted barley. If you're looking to try these spirits but don't want to drive more than 100 miles to find them, try Molly's Spirits, the Proper Pour or Mondo Vino, among other metro Denver specialty shops.
Distillery 2911647 South Tejon Street, Colorado Springs
Leaving his career as a New York fashion photographer behind, Michael Myers built his first still in Colorado Springs out of copper photogravure plates. Distillery 291 has added more stills since then and won multiple awards, including one for White Dog Colorado Rye Whiskey, which is only available in Colorado. The distillery isn't new to white whiskey, and since opening in 2011, Myers has also made a version with bourbon mash. "That's my 291 fresh Colorado whiskey, and it's what I set out to take the place of vodka, rum and tequila," he explains, adding that white whiskey isn’t the easiest spirit to sell. "But when bartenders tasted it, they said, 'Wow, this is really good.'"
Beyond those, Distillery 291 is known for its superior rye, which has a round spiciness and cinnamon and toasty bread notes. Myers currently offers more than ten whiskeys (starting at $70); he says he loves experimenting with barrels, mash bills, ingredients and time, so you can expect more small-batch brown spirits at any given time.
Golden Moon Distillery412 Violet Street, Golden
Golden Moon Distillery co-owner Stephen Gould began with the idea that one day he would make whiskey, and a good amount of it. The first bottles he produced were Gun Fighter American Bourbon and Double-Cask Rye, which are still made today. But after a significant expansion of the distillery last year, Gould is turning out more.
One of the new products is Principium, distilled from malted barley grown in Colorado and nearby states. The grain is malted in Golden, and the spirit is aged in new American oak casks. There's also Golden Moon Triple, made with the same ingredients as Principium, but triple-distilled in the manner of Irish whiskey. This one is aged for about a year in new oak barrels before finishing in used oak casks. Taste them side by side to see how the differing techniques and processes result in unique spirits. The two run $69, and the Gun Fighter line is $34.
Laws Whiskey House1420 South Acoma Street
Whether you're in the market for bourbon or a truly Colorado rye, the six-year-old Laws Whiskey House does nothing but whiskey — and does it well. The bourbon starts with locally-grown corn, heirloom wheat, rye and malted barley. Find bottles of the award-winning bourbon in straight, bonded and cask styles (see the distillery's website for the many details that make each style different). The rye whiskey is made with 100 percent San Luis Valley heirloom rye and is as spicy as it is smooth, no matter which version you're drinking.
While these six bottles make up the bulk of what Laws Whiskey House creates, there are specialty bottles of whiskey available from time to time as well. Another unique aspect of this whiskey is who makes it. Instead of a master distiller, there's a whole team of distillers working, tasting and making all decisions about what ends up in the bottle.
Leopold Bros.5285 Joliet Street
Leopold Bros. does so many spirits well that it's no surprise its three whiskeys are also winners. Leopold Bros. Straight Bourbon is smooth and full of toasty chocolate notes and a bit of a fruity undertone. It has a touch of spice thanks to the two-row barley, malted right there, and the Abruzzi heritage rye that's combined with corn in the mash. Another favorite, the American Small Batch Whiskey, was first made in 2010 and is distilled and cut to the pre-Prohibition standard of 98 proof. Finally, there's the Maryland-Style Rye Whiskey, which the distillery consistently sells out of. In fact, it's sold out right now, and a new batch won't be ready until 2022 — so if you already have a bottle, make it last. Most of the grains used to make these brown spirits come from Colorado farms. Bottles start at around $35.
Mythology Distillery3622 Tejon Street
The bottles from two-year-old Mythology Distillery sport some of the prettiest labels in the business, especially the Hell Bear American Whiskey, a blend of straight rye and four- and five-year aged bourbon. After distillation, the product is diluted and finished with Colorado snowmelt. It's spicy and fruity with a smooth vanilla overtone. There's also a rarer version aged in Dominio IV syrah wine barrels, which brings out a rich spice reminiscent of fall baking. This one is harder to find and not always available, but the standard version is available online for $60.
State 38 Distilling400 Corporate Circle, Golden
Tiny State 38 Distilling is making bold bottles of straight Colorado wheat and straight Colorado rye whiskey, as well as a bourbon and Scottish-style peat-smoked whiskey. The first two are more expensive, around $100 each, and there's a limited supply. But for those looking to spend a little less, the bourbon, with notes of chocolate and coffee, runs $45 a bottle and has the added bonus of using ingredients sourced from local farmers. Don't overlook the peated option, either, especially if you like smoke in the glass. At $55 a bottle, this one tastes like it comes direct from Scotland, thanks to the coffee-smoked barley that makes up the mash and the notes of peat and cherry wood.
Stranahan's American Whiskey200 South Kalamath Street
Stranahan's started the local whiskey craze in Denver, and it's grown immensely since opening in 2002. Started by Jess Graber and George Stranahan, the distillery is now owned by Proximo Spirits. Stranahan's really only makes one whiskey, an American single malt. However, iterations are regularly released, such as the yearly Snowflake, which blends whiskeys aged in various barrels, methods and durations. There are also a single-barrel, a sherry cask and Diamond Peak, a small-batch whiskey blended from various barrels. Stranahan's is easy to find at liquor stores, but you'll have to stand in line (some do it for days) at the distillery for the annual release of Snowflake each winter.