Every third Saturday in May on National Whiskey Day, The Whiskey Throwdown & Doughnut Showdown unconventionally, but imaginatively, pairs fried confections with craft spirits in Denver. The sixth meeting of doughnuts and drams on Saturday, May 18, coordinated by Eleven Creative Services, takes place in the spacious Denver Rock Drill, which encompasses over two city blocks in the historic Cole Neighborhood, on the edge of the RiNo Art District.
“A challenge is always to get a proper venue,” says Patrick Culligan, co-founder of Eleven Creative. “I just really like the vibe of the space with it’s industrial feel. We were able to add a lot more vendors this year because we had room to expand.”
RMFR recaps the unique event and discovers how the unlikely, yet provocatively sweet and smoky pairing, attracts attention from Coloradans on the hunt for some sugar bliss and a peaty buzz.
“The whiskey and doughnuts idea began as a joke with my friends, but then we thought to do an event, expecting to sell, maybe 50 tickets,” says Culligan. “Unexpectedly, it got a lot of PR and we ended up selling 300 tickets our first year and it has been growing ever since.”
We arrive to find ourselves amongst a rapidly growing line that leads to dozens of tables and booths teeming with the hot commodities, bright balloons and very eager patrons. As we walk around the massive manufacturing site, people are in continuous, elated conversation about what they are tasting and experiencing, whether it’s the dulcet pastries or the Western libations.
“I am very impressed with the event,” says Philip Rawleigh, brand ambassador for Distillery 291. “We were able to tell our story. The people who attended were really interested in our process and I really look forward to participating again next year. The educational aspect is what really draws me back, talking with people who genuinely appreciate whiskey.”
The liqueur-licensed premium doughnut shop, Habit Doughnut Dispensary, is a veteran vendor with a reputation for giving sweet-tooth addicts exactly what they want. Habit invites an interactive process by actually injecting a pipette of whiskey from Bear Creek Distillery, directly into their rich, delightful rings.
“In addition to offering our staples, we try to do a special orchestrated element,” says Lisa Ruskap, founder of Habit Doughnut Dispensary. “This year, it’s a French toast doughnut made on site. Doing something a little theatrical helps slow down the pace and allows time to tell our story.”
Across the mass of vibrant energy, The Dapper Doughnut actively fries up countless minis in a small conveyer, and makes an honorable attempt to keep up with the deluge of demand and inquiries.
“I think we gave our patrons a unique experience being able to see doughnuts made with our portable machine and being able to enjoy them freshly made,” says Guy Adams, owner of The Dapper Doughnut in Broomfield, Colorado. “They’ve really enjoyed pairing our doughnuts with our event partner, Wood’s High Mountain Distillery. I appreciate that it’s a great crowd size, allowing us to display our doughnuts to over 1,000 people, but still have the ability to interact with all of them.”
We continue to explore and discover Rustic Donut, the only baked, gluten-free and vegan doughnut vendor at the event. As we sample their niche style we realize that we truly can’t discern the slightest difference in flavor, consistency or quality.
“When we tell patrons that our donuts are vegan, they’re surprised,” says Jenni Reher, owner of Rustic Donut. “Many say our donuts don’t ‘taste vegan,’ which is what we love to hear. Several have kept coming back for more, bringing their friends over with them.”
Rocker Spirits, posts up on the periphery and stands out with their antique, yellow trash truck which functions as a booth. Duston Evans, owner of Rocker Spirits, tells us that they derive inspiration from vintage American industrial manufacturing, while he serves up samples through the open space where the windshield should be. Even their packaging, a uniquely shaped bottle, is based upon the look of a 1930’s oil can. In addition to their generous, neat pours, the distillery also presents a sweet chai spiced cocktail that rivals the lift-off effects of the doughnuts nearby.
As we exit the Whiskey Throwdown & Doughnut Showdown we feel like formidable weekend warriors with both our blood sugar and alcohol levels substantially higher than before entering the venue. We notice that the overall feeling of the day captures more than just the physical euphoria though, it speaks to the creativity and intentionally light-hearted approach of the entire sugar-encrusted affair.
“When people ask what I do for a living, I say I basically create FoMO (Fear of Missing Out),” says Culligan. “I want people to leave an event thinking the experience was better than they imagined or expected, and I want them to tell others about it. “We want to be community-oriented and community-invested.”
Next up for Eleven Creative Services is the America’s Beer Festival on Saturday, June 30, from 1:30 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. at the Jeffco Fairgrounds in Golden, Colorado. The event is complete with unlimited beer samples, live music from Matt Rouch & the Noise Upstairs (winner of 303 Magazine’s Best Country Band), EXCALIBURGER to provide the eats and the world’s largest flip cup game, where Culligan says, “we’ll do whatever it takes to break the record!”
General admission is $35.00/two tickets for $60.00, or all active-duty military, veterans, first responders and teachers receive free entrance.
“It’s a big celebration of all things America,” says Lacey Spruce, co-founder of Eleven Creative. “We really want to celebrate our American heroes. A big America themed party, all-American beers and a great way to kick off your 4th of July celebration.”