You can teach old dogs new tricks, as evidenced by the success of Spirit Hound, a distillery in Lyons. One of Spirit Hound's partners, Craig Engelhorn, honed his craft as the original brewer for Oskar Blues, creating some of its first beers and helping the brewpub evolve into what it is today. The other founding fathers of the distillery include Mathew Rooney, a Lyons veterinarian by day; Neil Sullivan, founder of the St. Vrain Market in Lyons; and Wayne Anderson, who helped launch the Oskar Blues micro-canning effort, directing sales from its start in 2002 through 2009.
The inaugural spirit was gin, made from locally grown botanicals, including juniper berries that the staff and volunteers continue to pick themselves from nearby trees; the small still distills around thirteen gallons of grain-neutral spirit, making about a gallon of gin per hour. "The berries often go from tree to gin in just a couple of hours," explains Spirit Hound president Rooney, "and that gives our gin an incredibly fresh and 'wild-crafted' character. It's a spirit loaded with terroir that literally captures the flavor of Lyons."
The method strays from the conventional in other ways: Engelhorn, who makes all the stills by hand, uses a "gin basket," suspending the mix of botanicals in a wire mesh basket at the top of the still. "With this method," he notes, "the gin picks up far more aromatics and bright flavors from our blend of botanicals."
The group now makes other spirits in those stills: vodka, a potent coffee liqueur and the limited edition White Dog Moonshine, which can only be bought at the distillery -- while bottles last. The Spirit Hound whiskey stills are in production now, part of a project that got under way soon after the place "We've produced six barrels of whiskey to date and we're ramping up to basically produce about a barrel a week on average," explains Engelhorn. "We're looking to do it a little faster up front to get some stockpile -- we're making straight whiskey, which by law has to be in the barrel for a minimum of two years, so it will be the spring of 2015 before our whiskey comes out."
The tasting room gives guests a chance not just to taste the spirits, but to learn about Spirit Hound's unique distillation process. And on the patio, where there's often live music, patrons can kick back and enjoy handcrafted cocktails. The tasting room is open from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays, and 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays through Mondays.
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Spirit Hound's founders feel like they're barking up the right tree in Lyons. "Distillation has a long history in the U.S. and Colorado," says Rooney. "We're going to connect locals and visitors to that rich past, while we write a new chapter or two in that history."