I went to Golden Moon Distillery at 412 Violet Street in Golden for the award-winning absinthe and stayed for a gustatory tour of rare distilled spirits. Founded by Stephen Gould and Karen Knight in 2008, the distillery produces grappa (wine brandy), apple jack (apple brandy), crème de violette, Amer dit Picon (an herbal bitter), kümmel (made with caraway and cumin), absinthe, dry Curaçao, Ex Gratia (a genepi-style herbal liqueur), gin and several whiskeys in an industrial-park location on the edge of Golden. Golden Moon is poised to quadruple its capacity this year, selling unique liquors at its small on-site tasting room, its larger Golden Moon Speakeasy tasting room, at 1111 Miner's Alley in downtown Golden, and in other establishments and stores in thirteen states and three other countries.
I recommend making this distillery one of your first stops on the Colorado Spirits Trail. I also recommend having a long conversation with Kayla Veatch while you imbibe. In addition to managing the Golden Moon Speakeasy, the distillery office, the books and much else, Veatch is a delightful enthusiast of distilled spirits production and history.
Start with the Kümmel, a liquor relatively unknown outside Scotland’s golf courses, where it is known as “Putting Mixture.” The dominant herb is caraway, which evokes thoughts of rye bread and puts one in the mood for a good Bloody Mary enlivened with a splash of this spirit. You can experience such a handcrafted Golden Moon Kümmel cocktail at the speakeasy, where there are more than fifty mixed drinks available. “At a traditional speakeasy, proprietors would make everything in-house — spirits, syrups, and bitters. We’re in keeping with that tradition,” says Veatch.
Next try the dry Curaçao; the grandfather of triple sec, it’s made with Curaçao orange peel. If you like orange, Golden Moon also makes a bittersweet orange Amer dit Picon, named after the nineteenth-century famed distiller Gaetan Picon.
All of Golden Moon's spirits, with the exception of the whiskeys, grappa and apple jack, begin with a neutral grain alcohol, which is melded with herbs, spices and botanicals in a 1940s German Black Forest copper still. Once the alcohol has absorbed the flavors, the liquor is distilled, barrel-aged and bottled. Guided by an impressive collection of rare texts on distillation that date back to the 16th century, Gould and his distillers have as much a passion for history as for distilling.
Golden Moon also makes a spirit called Ex Gratia, a type of génépi made with Alpine wormwood and an Asian ingredient called black spice. According to Golden Moon's lore, the idea for Ex Gratia was found in a sixteenth-century executioner’s notebook; apparently the génépi was given to the condemned as an act of kindness though withheld from those guilty of truly heinous crimes.
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In a brandy still, Golden Moon makes a well-balanced grappa made from fermented white grape skins that have been extracted from the crushed grapes in white wine production. Golden Moon gets its pomace, as the mash is called, from Boulder-based Bookcliff Vineyards.
Golden Moon also procures apple cider made from Colorado-grown apples from Denver-based Stem Ciders. The cider is fermented at Golden Moon, distilled, aged in oak and bottled by hand. The resulting apple jack has a wonderful orchard scent and a crisp taste; it would be perfect in mulled wine or served neat as a fall tipple.
Save the absinthe for last. Golden Moon's version contains contains wormwood, fennel and star anise. While I sampled in the tasting room, the heady scent of these botanicals wafted throughout the distillery from a batch of the spirit being made. When absinthe is diluted with ice water, the essential oils from the herbs separate from the alcohol, causing the liquor to become opalescent. This clouding effect is called louche, and it releases aromatic compounds exquisite to the nose and tastebuds. Veatch says that poor-quality absinthe doesn’t louche, only the good stuff. And Golden Moon absinthe is really good stuff.
The Golden Moon Distillery tasting room is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., or by appointment. It’s second tasting room, Golden Moon Speakeasy, is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and 4 p.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday, with live music Thursday through Saturday. Call 303-993-7174 or visit the Golden Moon website for more information.