Old Elk Distillery in Fort Collins recently rolled out a bourbon that's packed with malted-barley flavor, giving Colorado whiskey lovers something new and different to seek out in bars, restaurants and liquor stores.
The idea for Old Elk started in 2013 with owners Curt and Nancy Richardson and master distiller Greg Metze, who left his decades-long job at MGP (a large Kansas distillery that opened in 1941) to join the team. Together
they developed recipes and built their distillery, launching Dry Town Gin and Nooku Bourbon Cream in November 2016. But bourbon was always part of the business plan, so the flagship Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey was distilled and put in barrels to age, debuting on shelves at the end of 2017.
"The plan for Old Elk Distillery was always to feature bourbon as our flagship spirit," says Curt Richardson (who, along with Nancy, also founded OtterBox high-impact phone cases and a venture-capital firm called Blue Ocean Enterprises). "I enjoy bourbon and appreciate the respect for tradition that goes into every glass."
The Richardsons combined their passion for innovation and paired it with Metze’s skills at creating award-winning spirits to make their whiskey, a tipple that features four times the amount of barley as traditional bourbons (which are required by law to be made with at least 51 percent corn).
"We wanted to develop a recipe that honors those traditions while innovating the process to create a distinct bourbon," says Curt. "I've long been fascinated by the distilling process and saw opportunity to bring innovative approaches to this industry in both our recipe development and business strategies."
The whiskey tastes smooth, with just enough of that pleasing burn expected from most brown spirits. It's rounded and complex, lacking the sweetness that some bourbons get from higher percentages of corn. Another reason Old Elk proves so easy-drinking, says Metze, is the high percentage of malted barley and a "slow-cut proofing process" (gradually cutting the whiskey from full barrel proof to final bottling proof) that takes significantly longer than more conventional methods.
"We were very intentional to use the minimal amount of corn to allow for larger quantities of malted barley," says Metze. "The high malted barley content adds almond notes and a sweet, smooth character, the rye adds a bit of spice, and the corn provides a robust bourbon foundation."
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Metze got his whiskey education over 38 years of employment at MGP, starting out as a shift supervisor before moving to maintenance and engineering, and then onto making spirits. It was in the production room where he learned the art of running a distillery and eventually became the company's master distiller, a title he held from 2002 until 2016.
"When the opportunity presented itself to work with Curt to not only distill a bourbon but to innovate the elements of traditional recipes, I jumped on it," says Metze, who had been working with the Richardsons on some consulting projects. "Everything the Richardsons do is done with integrity and a deep commitment to craftsmanship, and this dedication, along with the passion and creativity of the distilling team, led to my decision to join Old Elk."
Now that the bourbon has launched, the team at Old Elk is planning to expand the distilling operations and build a tasting room that they expect to open in August 2018. Until then, you can purchase the spirits at local bars and shops such as My Brother's Bar, Coohills, the Hotel Indigo Denver Downtown, Argonaut Wine & Liquor, Grape Expectations Wine & Spirits and more.