It's not every day you can find American spirits created in a traditional Scottish Forsyths still, but at Vapor Distillery in Boulder, the whiskey passes through a copper pot from the respected manufacturer before being aged and bottled. The man behind the machine is Alastair Brogan, also a Scottish import, who made his way to Boulder in 2012 with the goal of getting into the booze business. After surveying the American whiskey scene, he decided to partner with master distiller Ted Palmer to create some pretty tasty tipples.
"I was literally going to find a place in Boulder with my still and make single-malt. So I went around and met everyone," says Brogan. "Ted was fantastic, an old school brewer turned distiller."
At the time, Palmer was running Roundhouse Spirits, a craft distillery that debuted in 2008. But once he met Brogan, he decided to join forces — thus Roundhouse became Vapor in 2015. Despite a life spent surrounded by Scotch whisky, Brogan had never tried his hand at distilling until he moved to Boulder. However, he came to town with a fantastic still, fresh energy and a deep passion for the business.
"American stills are not made for flavor; that comes from the yeast and the grain," says Brogan while touring around his distillery. "Our bourbon uses heavily malted barley and almost starts out like a single-malt whiskey. This addition gives it more depth and allows the barrel to shine more."
A jack-of-all-trades, Brogan was in the military in Scotland and later ran a fuel distribution company. Five years ago he moved to Colorado with his American wife, Megan, almost on a whim. They knew they wanted to leave Scotland after Brogan's business was bought out. After Googling numerous cities and towns in the U.S., Brogan fell for Boulder before he even obtained a visa, immediately buying a place in 2011. Now the former military man and fuel entrepreneur lives in town and spends his time tasting spirits, thinking about new ways to distill and coming up with different recipes to try.
"The military was fantastic, but the time had come to get out. Once you leave an industry, you have to wonder if it was really fun and what you wanted to do," says Brogan, who decided that no, it was not. "With a distillery, you can do that into your seventies and eighties."
While Brogan's roots are in Scotland, Vapor's flagship whiskey is an American bourbon rather than a Scotch-style whisky. The distillers are also experimenting with using mash from local breweries such as 4 Noses Brewing Company, Fate Brewing Company and Tommyknocker Brewery. But one thing remains constant: All of the spirits are created in that superb still, which gives whatever liquor coming out of it something special.
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On the menu is a barrel-aged gin, regular gin and vodka, as well as the Boulder Bourbon, which actually has a trademark on the name, so it's safe to say there's nowhere else in the world officially labeled Boulder Bourbon. Visitors to the distillery's tasting room can also try unique spirits that utilize Boulder County produce and products, such as the Pumpkin King — a whiskey made with fresh Baby Bear pumpkins from Munson Farms — and Arrosta, a coffee liqueur that's made with coffee roasted at the Unseen Bean.
Vapor Distillery is located at 5311 Western Avenue, Unit 180, in Boulder. For information on tours, tastings and Denver bars and liquor stores that carry the brand, see the Vapor Distillery website or call 303-997-6134.