Golden is defining its place in the spirits market this year -- first with the debut of Golden Moon Distillery, and now with the opening of State 38, a distillery that is focusing on agave-based spirits, with a name inspired by Colorado's status as the 38th state to be admitted to the Union. "Almost 150 years later," explains owner Sean Smiley, "we established State 38 Distilling to celebrate the Western beauty that is Colorado by hand-crafting small-batch spirits using only organic ingredients and crisp Rocky Mountain water, and forging quality spirits by getting back to basics."
A couple of years ago, Smiley decided to take the plunge and invest his life savings in building State 38 -- not just because he had a passion for the distilling process, but also wanted a lifestyle that would give him more time with his young daughter, Genevieve. About a year ago, Smiley started fermenting and distilling when he received his federal, state and county permits; State 38 celebrated its grand opening six weeks ago. Smiley built the 3000 square-foot distillery and tasting room by hand -- creating a space that channels Colorado history and aesthetic around the time of 1876, when it became part of the Union.
Smiley's spirits are tequilas by every definition but one: Because his product isn't made in Mexico, it can't hold that title.
Even so, in this state's burgeoning craft-spirit scene, State 38 and its all agave-based spirits stand out from the rest of the crowd, with offerings like the world's only agave-based vodka. A self-proclaimed purist, Smiley does all of his own fermentation, distilling, aging and bottling (he hand-bottles and labels every single bottle, complete with batch and bottle number) at State 38.
"I start with fair-trade certified, organic, raw, blue agave from Jalisco, Mexico," says Smiley. "Fair-trade certified means that all the workers who produced my agave were paid a fair wage -- you would never taste the difference between non-fair trade certified, but it's important to me, and hopefully my customer. Organic is self-explanatory, and my agave is certified organic by the Colorado Department of Agriculture. Raw means that my agave was extracted from the pina at a temperature no hotter than 120 degrees, helping to maintain the agave's original flavor."
At any given moment, Smiley has about 1000 gallons of this agave at State 38. "I take nine gallons of agave and mix it with forty gallons of filtered water, stir, then add a special yeast that I have found to ferment the agave best with highest quality flavor," explains Smiley. "I have twelve fermentation vessels that do this--and after about nine days, the fermentation is complete. I then transfer this 9 percent alcohol mash into one of my two, seventy-70 gallons stills that I custom-designed and built myself. I take great care to remove all sulfides, acetone and methanol from the spirit during the distillation process. This is why you can taste a huge difference with my spirit as opposed to other 'tequilas' -- the result is a smoother spirit."
Smiley ages his blanco variety in brand-new North American white oak barrels for seven days, the same kind of barrels legally required to make bourbon. The reposado is aged in the same barrels for two to three months, while the anejo is aged for twelve months. Spirit 38's first batch of anejo will be available to the public in August.
The agave-based vodka is triple-distilled and filtered through two large activated carbon filters. For the barrel-aged spirits seeker, State 38 gin is made through another distillation process using a tea bag of hand-picked Colorado juniper berries and a special mix of organic spices, which is then barrel-aged in charred North American white oak barrels. The product is intensely crisp, spicy and full-flavored.
While State 38 spirits aren't yet available in bars or liquor stores, you can try -- and buy -- them in the tasting room at 400 Corporate Circle in Golden. For more information, visit the State 38 website or State 38's Facebook page.