Going beyond white lightning at Boulder Distillery

The second annual DSTILL conference is bringing distillers, bartenders and garden-variety boozehounds to Denver to celebrate the burgeoning art of Colorado craft distilling.

Before the big players of alcohol start pourin' at tonight's big Showcase event at the McNichols Building, DSTILL invited participants to tour a handful of Boulder distilleries, including the aptly named Boulder Distillery, home of 303 Vodka. Thirsty for knowledge, I jumped at the chance to get a quick education on the revolution in local alcohol -- but I couldn't resist downing a drink, as well.

See also: Laissez le bon temps rouler with Dazzle's Sazerac

The Boulder Distillery looks like the shambling still shack of a mountain recluse, with memorabilia covering the walls of the bar and distillery equipment in back. The model planes overhead were all built by owner Steve Viezbicke and his late father, as were the stills and the rest of the equipment. Among the artifacts scattered about is the steamer trunk that Viezbicke's grandfather brought with him when he came the the United States a century ago -- a trunk that contained the secret family recipe for potato vodka.

This little operation is Colorado-proud all the way, using russet potatoes from the San Luis Valley for its spirits. Showing a handful of distillers and consumers around the place, Viezbicke bid us try some of the pure spirit coming drip by drip out of the still. "Potato Everclear," Viezbicke called it -- 100 percent alcohol. On the tip of my finger it was fierce and warm, yet sweet. Now I know why moonshiners get hooked on the strong stuff.

Kindly take note, peddlers of $3,000 vodka: According to Viezbicke, the secret to making high-quality spirits isn't fancy packaging or gimmicks, it's small-batch practices and a killer family recipe. "We're trying to educate the vodka people that it does have an aroma, it has a taste, it has a smell. You can sip on it like a fine whiskey or Scotch," Viezbicke said.

I stopped by the bar on the way out for a taste of the family's legacy. Served in a Ball jar half-filled with vodka, a Salty Dog ($6) showed off the surprisingly bold flavor of 303 Vodka, a hint of spice without much too much burn. Also on hand were a bevy of infused vodkas and whiskeys, including pickle and candy cane vodkas and a banana whiskey that was total musk overload, like a banana peel left to ferment in the sun. Bet it would make for a great Irish coffee, though.

To step away from the whiskey and back to vodka, how about a nice Harvey Wallbanger as spring begins to show itself? Instead of buying a bottle of Galliano that's sure to sit in your pantry for decades, grab a liter of the vanilla vodka infusion sold at Boulder Distillery and pour a very Boulder version of this classic:

Harvey Wall-Boulder Ingredients:

2 oz. 303 Vodka 1 oz. vanilla-infused 303 Vodka 4 oz. orange juice

Combine ice, vodka and orange juice in a Collins glass, and stir well. Pour vanilla vodka over the top, and garnish with wheel of orange.

This drink might inspire you to start a distillation operation of your own. Careful, though: Those welding fumes are worse than anything that's going to come out of your still.

With every installment of Coming of Age with 21 Drinks, I'll be featuring a cocktail recipe cooked up by me or the bar itself. Have a suggestion for a place I should visit? Post it below.

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Chris Utterback
Contact: Chris Utterback