Pour me: The Colorado Spirits Trail carves out a new frontier

RMFR joins the Colorado Distillers Guild and Two Parts to launch the Colorado Spirits Trail, a collective map of more than 50 of the top craft distilleries in the Centennial State. To consecrate the spiritual scavenger hunt, the inaugural Hearts & Trails Spirits Festival, held on February 24, at Mile High Station in Denver, highlights Colorado’s finest alcohol artisans. 

“While craft distilling is a relatively young industry, Colorado has been a leader with a national spotlight for many years,” says Ryan Negley, Deerhammer Distillery sales director and guild member. “We have the most distilleries per capita in the country, the oldest craft distillers and some of the most innovative spirits, all of which are held to the highest of self-imposed standards.” 

Welcome to the West. Photo credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

We arrive and stand in a restless line of eager guests shortly before the doors open and once inside, the spacious venue fills up quickly. The floodgates burst with thirsty Coloradans, all of whom are more than ready to entertain both their nose and their palate. 

All queued up. Photo credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

Our first stop, with tasting glasses in hand, is Peach Street Distillers from Palisade. True to the pride of their town, the fuzzy fruit capital of Colorado, we sample their peach brandy. We raise our tasters, take a sniff, imbibe the sweet nectar and warmly christen our tour of Colorado’s best spirits and liqueurs. 

Peach Street Distillers “are fearless craftsmen from a place damn-near heaven.” Photo credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

The atmosphere inside the former Midwest Steel & Ironworks building is electric, bustling with people, both elevated on the mezzanine and downstairs on the ground floor, sampling a wide variety and taking in the first-ever occasion. 

“Great location, great distilleries, great atmosphere, and an excited crowd,” says John Young, co-founder of Longtucky Spirits in Longmont, Colorado. “Folks were enjoying our products and the event as a whole.”

An energetic crowd enjoys the first Hearts & Trails Festival. Photo credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

From Axe & the Oak in Colorado Springs, to CopperMuse Distillery from Fort Collins, Summit County’s Breckenridge Distillery and on into Sand Creek Distillery from Hugo, Colorado, the liquid lines move us along the Front Range. We discern from establishments nestled deep within small pockets of the mountains, across the open plains and back into the swelling cities and it spurs us to explore further in months to come. 

Casey Ross, co-owner of Axe & the Oak shares his whiskey and moonshine. Photo credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

“We try to provide something unique and delicious, and the response for our whiskies, gins, and elderflower liqueur were great,” says Wesley Charles, “spirits sherpa” and sales manager at Wood’s High Mountain Distillery. “It sounds like we will have some enthusiasts visiting us in Salida this summer to come see the distillery and the enjoy the town.”

Follow the map to picturesque Salida, Colorado. Photo credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

Connie Baker, co-founder of Marble Distilling Company in the hidden gem of Carbondale, gives us generous pours of their liqueurs, Gingercello and Moonlight EXpresso, which turn out to be two of the most memorable tastings. The first is a bright tribute to springtime, using fresh-cut ginger and the sweetest part of the lemon zest for a refreshing citrus taste. The latter is a complex, dark roasted coffee liqueur that blends the sweetness of vanilla bean and natural cane sugar. 

A treat for all the senses. Photo credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

Colorado Springs has a strong showing with gin from Lee Spirits Co., Colorado High hemp-derived vodka, ample whiskey selections from Distillery 291 and porch-sippin’ goodness from 3 Hundred Days of Shine in Monument. Dense walls of patrons anxiously surround the booths smiling and clearly enjoying themselves as they appraise and learn more about their offerings. 

Stone cold spirits: Colorado High hemp vodka. Photo credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

“People really seemed to be having a good time,” says Jeff Ruhle, Idlewild Spirits proprietor from Winter Park, Colorado. “I think the size, for the number of distillers there, was a big benefit. People didn’t have to wait in line to get samples and were able to interact with staff from a lot of the distilleries one-on-one.”

CopperMuse provides a lid for every Russian pot with an impressive lineup. Photo credit: Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios

We leave the event feeling a little wiser, and a little happier, with a deeper understanding of the vast craft spirits culture in our state. Ruhle says his hope for the festival is that “the brands that people really enjoyed stick with them.”

The Hearts & Trails Spirits Festival personifies the fortitude of the American frontier, a trailblazing effort that spearheads the new path that awaits. As the industry continues to flourish it’s also accompanied by a greater sense of awareness and recognition of the contributions that distillers make, and how now that takes the shape of a map well worth following. 

*Header image courtesy of Devin Richter, Sun Chaser Studios.