Colorado is known for its high Rocky Mountain peaks, world-class ski resorts, old west towns, and craft breweries. But, recently, the Centennial state has also made a name for itself in the spirits industry. In the past 15 years, more than 100 distilleries have opened their doors, pioneering new flavors, creating spirit-oriented experiences, and proudly calling out the reasons Colorado is such an ideal spot for making hooch.
From the fresh Rocky Mountain water to the high elevation grains, it’s difficult to deny that spirits have a nice flavor profile when grown, distilled, aged, and bottled at more than 5,000 feet elevation.
“When it comes down to it, everybody who is in the distilling space in this state is pushing the envelope to be innovative,” says Connie Baker, co-founder and head distiller of Marble Distillery in Carbondale.
Although the spirits industry in Colorado is still young, it’s a strong community that supports one another.
“We don’t see each other as competitors; we’re all fighting to get more of the smaller brands into customer’s liquor cabinets and into their cocktails,” says David Matthews, the Master Distiller and VP of Operations at Woody Creek Distillery in Basalt. “The more awareness there is of alternatives to big brands, the better.”
This is not a definitive ranking of the best Colorado distilleries. It’s simply an alphabetically ordered list of some of our favorites in the state.
10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits Company (Vail)
A modern distillery steeped in Colorado history, 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits Company opened its doors in 2014. Today, the spirits list includes the popular bourbon and rye, as well as potato vodka, an Alpenglow Cordial, and their 100% corn Colorado Clear Mountain Moonshine. Two more creations will be released this year. The distillery’s name pays homage to the 10th Mountain Division, a U.S. Army mountain warfare unit that trained in the mountains around Vail and was extremely influential in building the ski industry post-World War II. Founder Ryan Thompson and his passionate team like to share the story of the 10th Mountain Division with customers, and the distillery continues to show its support by fundraising for veteran programs and military units. 10th Mountain’s main tasting room is located in Vail Village at the base of the ski mountain and has a loyal following among locals and visitors throughout the year.
Where to Buy: Currently available in 13 states and hoping to expand to 20 states by mid-2021. Spirits can also be purchased directly online.
291 Colorado Whiskey (Colorado Springs)
Michael Myers, the owner of 291 Colorado Whiskey, pulled his first whiskey off its still on Sept. 11, 2011. This date was important to him because it was the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, a tragedy that convinced him and his family to relocate from New York City to Colorado Springs in the early 2000s. A former New York City fashion photographer, Myers designed and built his first still from his own copper photogravure plates. Today, after receiving numerous awards, Distillery 291 features more than 10 rye and bourbon variations, most of which are toasted on aspen staves and aged in virgin white oak barrels. As for the distillery’s name, it’s dubbed after pioneering photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s New York photography gallery 291.
Where to Buy: Currently available in 12 states and available online.
Boulder Spirits by Vapor Distillery
Alastair Brogan moved to Colorado eight years ago with a Forsyths 1,000-gallon copper pot still, his family, and a mission to make great whiskey. He’s now the owner and operator of Boulder Spirits. Originally established in 2007 as Vapor Distillery, the labels on all of the bottles changed to Boulder Spirits three years ago to unify all of the products, but the quality taste has remained steady. The distillery started by specializing in gin. Since Brogan has come around, they’ve been pumping out whiskeys and bourbons, including a single malt whiskey finished in a port cask and a bourbon finished in a sherry cask. Each of their whiskeys are bottled in bond, a rarity in Colorado. Other products include their award-winning Ginsky, a gin aged in virgin American oak barrels (the same as their whiskey) for at least two years, and a 100% non-GMO corn-based vodka. Samples of the spirits, as well as cocktails, are available in their on-site tasting room in Boulder.
Where to Buy: Currently available in 15 states, as well as Canada, the U.K., Italy, and Denmark.
In 2008, physician turned distiller Bryan Nolt set out to make quality whiskey. Three years later, Breckenridge Distillery released its first bourbon and vodka. The distillery is considered the highest in the world at 9,600 feet. The distillery is known—and often awarded—for its blended bourbon whiskeys, which feature a high-rye mashbill. They also make spiced rum, gin, a bitter, aquavit, as well as flavored and unflavored vodkas. Breckenridge Distillery has grown so much since its start that they expanded the production facility in 2017 to include a 42-foot continuous column still with a doubler, which increased their capacity 10-fold. The distillery includes a bar and a restaurant with a modern American cuisine menu by chef David Burke. A range of the spirits are also available at the distillery’s tasting room in downtown Breckenridge.
Where to Buy: Currently available in 49 states and online through Reserve Bar.
Laws Whiskey House (Denver)
Just as the name would surmise, Laws Whiskey doesn’t mess around with their hooch. Founded in 2011, and selling whiskey since 2014, all of the distillery’s bourbons and ryes start with an open-air fermentation process before being distilled in a custom four-plate pot and aged in American white oak barrels for at least two years. Working with small, Colorado farms to grow heirloom grains, Laws was the first Colorado distillery to release a bonded bourbon and rye. Both come in three expressions of varying proof: Straight, Straight Bonded, and Straight Cask. The tasting room is located at the distillery and is stocked with some rare Laws spirits not available anywhere else. They are about to break ground on a new tasting room at the same address, which will feature a full line-up of whiskeys and a robust cocktail menu. The space is slated to open sometime in 2022.
Where to Buy: Currently available in 18 states and available online.
Leopold Bros. (Denver)
Leopold Bros. started as a microbrewery in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1999. Founded by brothers Todd and Scott Leopold, the operation quickly expanded to include spirits when they got their distilling license and started serving their creations at the brewery in 2001. About seven years later, the brothers decided to move back to their home state of Colorado and focus their energy on the distillery portion of the business. Today, their zero-waste distillery sits on four acres of land and is home to Colorado’s first and only malting floor, allowing them to floor malt their Colorado grains on-site. They have plans to expand the malting facility to a multi-story building in the coming years, making their distillery one of the largest floor malting operations in the world. Leopold Bros.’ eclectic spirit list includes about two dozen creations, from gin and vodka to rye and bourbon, as well as several deliciously flavored whiskeys and liqueurs, an Aperitivo, a fernet, and an absinthe.
Where to Buy: Currently available in 23 states and available in certain other states via online retailers.
Marble Distillery (Carbondale)
Considered a leader in sustainability, Marble Distillery recently announced a goal for its production facilities to be net-zero by 2022. Founders and married couple Connie Baker and Carey Shanks have made sustainability a priority since opening in 2015, initially investing in a Water Energy Thermal System to capture and reuse water and heat generated during the distilling process, saving more than four million gallons annually. All of the grains used in their spirits are pesticide-free, non-GMO, and grown by local ranchers.
“Sustainability isn’t just about the environment, it’s about economic and social connections,” says Shanks. “We’re supporting ranchers who want to stay in the tradition of ranching, sustaining a way of life that’s been around for a long time in Colorado.”
Marble Distillery has won more than 40 awards for their products, which include the Marble Vodka that is filtered through crushed Yule Marble to add minerality, a Gingercello liqueur, a dark roasted coffee liqueur named Moonlight EXpresso, and Hoover’s Revenge Rye. The distillery is located in the heart of Carbondale—roughly 40-minutes from Aspen—and includes a tasting bar and a luxury five-bedroom hotel, so guests can “sleep with the stills.”
Where to Buy: Spirits can be shipped to most states in the U.S. via online retailers.
Montanya Rum (Crested Butte)
In 2008, Karen Hoskin decided to take her nearly two-decade love affair with rum to the next level by learning to distill and opening Montanya Rum in Silverton. Hoskin knew she wanted to build an international rum brand and felt like the town of Crested Butte provided the ideal community to do it, so three years after opening Montanya, she and her husband Brice decided to move the company, and their family, to the mountain town. While distilling rum at 8,885 feet may seem a bit far from the beach, Hoskin discovered the longstanding tradition of mountain rum in countries like Guatemala, Colombia, and Panama. Rum makers would carry their hooch into the mountains to age because the drastic changes in temperature and shifts in barometric pressure allowed the rum to age more effectively and absorb more flavor from the barrels.
Each of Montanya’s rums—there are four total—are made with Louisiana sugar cane, water from a snowmelt-fed aquifer, and a small touch of local honey. The distillery is located in downtown Crested Butte with a tasting room for rum samples and artisanal cocktails, as well as a restaurant with seasonally inspired cuisine.
Where to Buy: Currently available in more than 44 states and seven countries.
Peach Street Distillers (Palisade)
When it comes to making spirits, Peach Street Distillers isn’t afraid to experiment and even fail, if necessary. Head distiller Davy Lindig aims to get the best tastes possible from the raw fruits and grains grown in and around Palisade, a western Colorado town close to the Utah border. His approach has paid off over the years with their notable and award-winning peach and pear brandies, as well as a delicious grappa and their popular gins, whiskeys, and vodkas. The distillery opened its doors in 2005 as one of the first in the state after prohibition. A couple of the founders also started Colorado-based Ska Brewing and brought a lot of the influences that come from brewing beer into Peach Street. The on-site tasting room was the old co-op shed in the early 1900s where local farmers came to collaborate with each other. Customers can enjoy the original charm of the building while trying Peach Street’s eclectic spirits and cocktail list, as well as approachable pub fare. Peach Street’s spirits can also be sampled in Boulder at the new Ska Street Brewstillery, which includes a distillery and a brewery under one roof, the first of its kind in Colorado.
Where to Buy: Currently available in Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, and New York.
Spirit Hound Distillers (Lyons)
At Spirit Hound Distillers, whisky (they spell it with no “e” as a nod to Scottish whisky) is rarely blended, and literally every batch is a single-barrel release. This allows the team and the customers to taste the distinct nuances in each barrel. The method also makes each taste a bit fleeting, because once the barrel is consumed, that whisky is gone.
Spirit Hound started in 2012 with a group of friends who wanted to make an all-malt 100% Colorado whisky from scratch. That creation was released in 2015, and Spirit Hound took off from there. Today, the distillery has expanded its portfolio, while remaining consistent in its quality. Popular spirits include a Colorado Honey Whisky, three different kinds of gin (one is barrel finished), a rum, and a vodka. They also have a selection of sweeter spirits like their Crème de Cacao, Richardo’s Decaf Coffee Liqueur, and a Colorado Sambuca infused with wild-grown elderberries. Visit Spirit Hound’s distillery and on-site tasting room in Lyons to sample their eclectic range of sprits, as well as their inventive cocktail menu.
Where to Buy: Currently available in Colorado, Texas, and Nebraska, and via some online retailers.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey (Denver)
A brand synonymous with Colorado whiskey, Stranahan’s opened in 2004, making it the first legal distillery in the state since prohibition. Two years later, they released their first whiskey, which was made of 100% barley, a rarity in the world of American whiskey. Today, the nationally known distillery sticks with barley in all of its expressions, which include Original, Diamond Peak, Sherry Cask, and Snowflake, a special blend released only once per year at the distillery. Stranahan’s also released two new expressions in 2020, a four-year Solera-aged American single malt named Blue Peak, and the limited-release Mountain Angel, the brand’s first 10-year old single malt. Get a taste for the Stranahan’s experience at the distillery cocktail lounge in Denver, where whiskey cocktails and flights of limited release expressions are readily available.
Where to Buy: Available in all 50 states and online through Reserve Bar.
Woody Creek Distillers (Basalt)
From September through November, Woody Creek Distillers uses fresh, Rio Grande potatoes from their own harvest to make vodka, as well as a London Dry/New World gin. The remainder of the year, they focus on their rye and bourbon, using only grains from Colorado farms.
“We work with the seasons,” says David Matthews, the Master Distiller and VP of Operations. “This ensures that we get the same varieties each year. I’d argue that having control over our source makes for a consistent product.”
A pioneer of the farm-to-bottle movement, Woody Creek was founded in 2012 with the mission of making quality vodka. Once they figured that out, the rest of the creations followed. All of their spirits are distilled in custom CARL stills at their distillery in Basalt. For those who visit the on-site tasting room, there’s also some rum, brandy, and unusual single barrel whiskey releases on the menu. Keep an eye out for a rye-based saffron gin and a high-rye bourbon coming out this summer.
Where to Buy: Currently available in 22 states and available in most states through the website.