Bitters, tonics, syrups, teas, cocktails — and now, a rustic lodge. These are the awesome artisan things that Shae Whitney and Brady Becker of DRAM Apothecary are overseeing in Silver Plume, about 47 miles west of Denver. The couple is currently raising funds to help finance the renovation of the historic Knights of Pythias secret society building there. The plan is to build out a space to expand their business as well as to offer an option for people to stay the night after indulging in one-of-a-kind cocktails featuring their handcrafted syrups and bitters.
The flavors of these drink accoutrements have included wild mountain sage, juniper-rose, honey-chamomile and pine — all inspired by nature and traditional medicine. "I wanted to make bitters and syrups the way they were originally made, when they were used as a way to preserve medicinal plants," says Whitney, who studied food science, ecological agriculture and botany at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington. "There are so many wild flavors out there that we’ve lost touch with and replaced with manufactured versions."
Whitney and Becker moved from Denver to Silver Plume in 2012, right after opening their operation in an old bakery, where they now also reside. Whitney loves all things classic, and it was the Old West charm of the area that drew them there — and the secluded lifestyle that kept them.
"We had both spent a lot of time living in Denver, and while we’re happy to see it 'growing up,' the traffic and congestion just wasn’t for us, and we were ready to experience a different kind of living," says Whitney. "Silver Plume is a really quiet place. You can go days without seeing another soul, and it’s been an interesting change. We both wanted to be closer to nature, as well."
Nature is also the driving force behind their flavors, and the couple turns to the surrounding forests to forage for ingredients, something they do every week. That means the uplifting, lemony pine you are tasting actually came from a pine tree nearby. A far cry, says Whitney, from many bar products being used commercially.
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"Most of the products I was working with behind bars were synthetically flavored or dyed, and I thought they could be made better," says Whitney, who worked at various bars in Olympia and locally at Beatrice & Woodsley, City, O' City and Sam’s No 3. In fact, Whitney learned her craft from Kurt Cobain’s sister, Kim, in Washington, at a bar called the Mark. For her, tending bar was never about the scene, but more about what was going into the glass.
"I stayed at City, O' City for years because their attitude surrounding drinking is one of enjoyment, not alienation," she says. "The bartenders didn’t call themselves mixologists while making their customers feel stupid; we were there to assist you in one of life’s more simple enjoyments: eating and drinking."
For the new venue, to be named DRAM Lodge, the goal is to have a space for destination drinking and sleeping, with more room for production, hands-on classes, a coffee roaster and private events. To help get the backing to make the Lodge a reality, Whitney and Becker started a Kickstarter campaign, with tons of their products as incentives for donating, including a night at the future hotel, a special line of bitters, and dinner for twenty people featuring chef Daniel Asher of Root Down.
"Brady and I have always been passionate about Colorado history and the restoration of old buildings," says Whitney. "There is nothing worse than watching a beautiful historic space just sit and rot because no one has the energy for the upkeep."
Even if you're not on the list of investors in the new space, it's still worth a drive to this sleepy town for some pure Colorado elixirs to complement the fresh mountain air. And even after the Lodge opens, guests will still be able to wander over to the original tasting room to try the different concoctions. Given that DRAM Lodge has already reached its funding goals, that should be a reality soon.