When Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw makes his Denver debut November 1 (against the Portland Trail Blazers), his won’t be the only new face in the Pepsi Center. The arena’s bars shelves will display CoVodkaCo, a six-month-old local spirit company that uses glass stills to make its vodka (one of only six distilleries in the nation to do so).
CoVodkaCo secured the Pepsi Center contract just four months after bar industry veterans—and Colorado natives—Jason Klein and Aaron Steinke launched the business. By then they’d already established a client list of more than 100.
The pair’s background help explain their phenomenal initial growth: Klein spent 18 years as a GM and manager at popular Denver sipping spots like Lodo’s Bar and Grill and the Handlebar Tavern, where he initiated a "Stateriotic" theme, carrying only local spirits where possible. Along the way, he met Steinke, who, together with his father, has been in the liquor distribution industry for more than 30 years.
“A year ago, we were writing stuff up on cocktail napkins,” Klein says. “Then we found a distillery that does private labels downtown. We brought in three master sommeliers and six other people in classic cocktails to create our blend.”
Klein tapped his friend and graphic designer Tommy Cook of Buckley Omega clothing to design the bottle, and the business was born. Colorado currently boasts nearly 20 other vodka distilleries, but that hasn’t seemed to slow down CoVodkaCo, whose client lists now ticks past 350—all of them in Colorado. Atomic Cowboy, Bittersweet, Colt & Gray, Euclid Hall, and Root Down all number among CoVodkaCo's clients.
“Jake Norris, [formerly of] Stranahan’s told us, ‘Take care of your backyard before we move on,’” Klein says. “So right now our focus is Colorado.”
—Image courtesy of CoVodkaCo.
Follow senior editor Kasey Cordell on Twitter @KaseyCordell.