As part of the ever-growing trend to use as many local products as possible, the upcoming Dry Land Distillers is planning a whiskey made with Colorado heirloom wheat and a spirit made from prickly-pear cactus. Those will be the first to roll out of the Longmont distillery when the venue launches this coming spring.
"We feel that it’s important to showcase the land that our spirits represent, and using indigenous botanicals is being authentic to that goal," says Nels Wroe, co-founder of Dry Land Distillers. "We’re creating spirits that have never been created before."
Wroe explains that raw materials from the American West that Dry Land is already using or might incorporate include spruce, heirloom sugar beets, dryland barley, millet, quinoa and heirloom maize, for example. "I’m probably most excited about the millet and the maize," he says, adding that he is running fermentation tests and making sample batches right now.
"The complexity of flavors from these grains holds huge promise," even if they tend to be finicky, he notes.
To create the distillery's two prickly-pear-based spirits, Wroe tapped into the expertise of one of his friends in Mexico who showed him how to make bacanora, a local agave-based spirit. "We’ve adapted much of this technique and are applying it to our prickly-pear spirit," he says. "As far as we know, no one has a prickly-pear spirit that is processed in the same way."
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Of the two prickly-pear drinks, one is a mezcal-style liquor made from the entire cactus, and the other is an eau de vie that uses just the fruit of the plant. The heirloom-wheat whiskey is made from a grain that has never been distilled before and, says Wroe, has only rarely been used to make beer. Once these products launch, the team has plans to add even more styles, including gins that will utilize spruce and native botanicals. The goal, says Wroe, is to have those ingredients come exclusively from plants in two of the state's distinct ecosystems, so there will be a shortgrass prairie gin and an alpine-forest version.
Accomplishing this is proving much more difficult than he and his partner, master distiller Aaron Main, originally anticipated. "There are limits to the land we inhabit, so we’ve had to be really creative," says Wroe. "We’re at the point of asking friends to help us grow native plants that most people view as weeds, just so we have a source."
While you can't buy Dry Land spirits yet, you can put in your two cents to help launch the project. The distillery is looking for monetary support on Indiegogo to help pay for structural improvements, raw ingredients and equipment. Two cents won't get you much, but donations of $10 or more come with incentives: a whole day's lesson in distilling for you and a friend for $400; a set of reclaimed Colorado aspen-wood coasters for $14; or two bottles of booze, one heirloom-wheat whiskey and one prickly-pear spirit, for $66. There's still a month left on the fundraiser campaign, so you have plenty of time to invest in a taste of the Mountain West.