Benjamin Dallas has been an artist for most of his life -- working in what he calls the "dirty modern impressionistic" vein, to be exact. He loves the gratification he gets from using heavy paint knifes to produce landscapes -- and from watching people take in his work. One Western-themed series of pieces he did was particularly popular.
Which is why distilling wasn't an art form that he ever expected to be involved in.
Dallas has roots that start in New York and snake towards the Western Slope of Colorado -- but the story of how he gravitated toward distilling started in Kentucky.
"It was funny. I was in Kentucky, and had some businesses there," he recalls. "I had friends coming over for poker night, and they would bring homemade stuff. Some was awful, some was fantastic -- everything from really amazing bourbon to intolerable moonshine. I was impressed with the diversity, and back then, I was too busy to get enough time to paint. It spurred my interest in trying it myself."
And when he did, it became another form of artistic expression for him. In fact, the new hobby gave him the same sense of gratification that paintings and gallery shows did. "But instead of people looking at my work," Dallas explains, "people were tasting it and having the same kind of reactionary emotions that they would to a painting."
In 2008, Dallas began having financial problems and decided to make a change by moving to Leadville, where his best friend lived. "We had to start over, and I love art, I love stilling, and this was a second chance, it was really neat. We weren't doing what we loved, and my wife and I decided to start doing that."
Fast forward through the relocation, and Dallas and his family have since opened Two Guns Distillery, which pays homage to Leadville and it's long heritage of whiskey-making, from the 1880s to the dark days of prohibition. Dallas' appreciation for this history is apparent in everything at the distillery, both in aesthetic terms and the development of the stilling process.
Currently, they're producing a Wild West Whiskey, a Single Six Rocky Mountain Moonshine, and a B. A. Dallas Black label, a recipe that is seven years in the making, which Dallas expects to compete with some of the finest whiskey's in the world when it's ready. The Wild West Whiskey has notes of vanilla and black powder, and Dallas swears that "everyone stands a little taller and speaks a bit softer" when imbibing it.
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Single Six Rocky Mountain Moonshine got its name from a friend, who while watching the progress of a batch, took a shot and declared "I was planning on six, but it only takes one." Two Guns spirits are 100 percent Colorado made, too -- Rocky Mountain snowmelt and ingredients sourced from Alamosa and Fort Collins have helped shape the product that Dallas envisioned.
"I poured my heart and soul into this place and into the spirits -- you need to come experience us," he says.
When in Leadville, the Two Guns cocktail lounge is a relaxing (yet sophisticated) place to kick back; it's open Monday through Thursday from 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday from noon to 11 p.m.; and Sunday from noon until 6 p.m.