Feature

Reasons to Love Denver

December 2012

40 Because our craft distilleries are nearly as good as our craft breweries.

The white buildings of a northeast Denver warehouse district are starved for signs of life. Although the address suggests this is the right place, the languid atmosphere implies otherwise. But then, through a half-lifted garage door, rows of oak barrels filled with whiskey come into view. Each wooden container has a stamp on its end. In black lettering, the mark reads “Leopold Bros.”

America’s whiskey tradition reaches back hundreds of years—and has historically been geographically centered in Eastern states such as Kentucky, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania. However, in 2006, Denver, Colorado, found its way onto the whiskey map when Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey released its first bottle. The amber-hued spirit gained approval not only from local connoisseurs, but also from the American Distilling Institute and Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible, which named Stranahan’s the best small-batch distillery of the year in 2009.

 Although Stranahan’s was sold to an out-of-state company in 2010 (its operations remain in Denver), its fast-paced success story paired with Colorado’s supportive distilling laws opened the door for 35 other locally based distilleries—distilleries like northeast Denver’s Leopold Bros. 

A family-run operation, Leopold Bros. came online in Denver in 2008 with a mission to make booze the old-fashioned way. For brothers Scott and Todd Leopold, that means naturally fermenting more than 250 daily gallons in wooden tanks without using dyes, preservatives, or a filtering process. It also means using locally sourced ingredients. It’s not the simplest way to make firewater, but for the Leopold brothers it’s not about ease; it’s about the craft. Which is one reason why the brothers think their hometown of Denver is a stellar place for their boozy business. “There is more careful attention paid to what people put into their bodies—using real fruit, real grain, it’s resonating with people here,” Scott explains.

Leopold Bros.’ hand-wrought approach does appear to be making inroads with craft-alcohol-savvy Denverites, who are snatching up bottles with the signature batch number handwritten on the bottom of the label. Soon those batch numbers will grow twice as fast; the brothers are planning a 2013 move to a new space, which will double their production capacity.

Try: Leopold Bros. Rocky Mountain Peach or Rocky Mountain Blackberry whiskeys.

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41 Because we still look good in our swimsuits.

Not sure if any of you have taken a good look around, but it’s a serious talent show in the Mile High City. Toned arms, rock-solid calves, abdomens chiseled out of granite, glutes you could bounce a quarter off of. It’s hard not to notice that most of us—almost 80 percent, in fact—living here at 5,280 feet have somehow avoided the epidemic of obesity that’s been expanding the waistlines of most Americans for decades. Whether that’s due to the altitude (hypoxia is an appetite suppressant), our fondness for a good triathlon every now and again (our mountains and open spaces make physical activity easier), or our comparatively low rate of poverty (12.2 percent), in March 2012 the Colorado Health Foundation’s 2011 Colorado Health Report Card reported that once again Colorado is the leanest state in the nation. Here’s the thing, though; our obesity rates are on the rise. If we want to continue to enjoy the, uh, scenery here in Denver, we need to keep up that swim-bike-run philosophy.

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42 Because Joyce Meskis owns a lovely bookstore called the Tattered Cover.

There’s nothing like walking into the Tattered Cover: historic red-brick walls, creaky hardwood floors, antique desks, racks of postcards, magazine stands, the smell of brewed coffee, the sound of turning pages, and a maze of dark wooden shelves packed with the printed word. And people. There are always plenty of people—at tables, in leather armchairs, sometimes on the floor—reading…wait for it…real books. For 38 years, Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis has been bringing Denver an intellectually stimulating and wonderfully comfortable place (in three locations, actually) to enjoy literature. We’ve got nothing against the Kindle, but there’s no replacing this Denver institution. Here, we talk to Meskis about her beloved bookstore.

5280: What is your favorite thing about the Tattered Cover?

JM: Seeing the magic of the reader and the writer coming together.

Do you have a favorite author?

So often, it’s the last book I’ve read.
Certainly, I love the classics. I’m very eclectic. I just finished Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars. It was fantastic. The way that he handled the language and vocabulary is extremely interesting.

How do you reconcile running a business and being a part of the Tattered Cover’s legendary experience?

They are so intertwined, because without paying attention to the business part, you will not be able to have the other. So it has to be a combination. But the reason most of us come into this business—whether it’s agenting, publishing, or bookselling—is because we love to read, we love books. I’m not out on the sales floor as much as I used to be because I’m so busy with things in the office, but when I see a child go up to a bookcase and see a particular book and his eyes go wide…that’s special.

During this digital age, anyone can download a book at any time. With that kind of accessibility available, why are bookstores still so important?

Because they are so much a part of the community, and they are meeting places in so many ways. The reader can meet the author. He can pull a book from the shelf; the feel of the book itself is part of the experience. Reading is not only a cerebral experience, it’s a physical experience, too. We are brick-and-mortar stores; we are the showroom. I believe that information will move in the most user-friendly way. And that’s fine, things change. I’m the eternal optimist. People are reading in all formats. We sell ebooks and so do our colleagues, other independent stores, so does Barnes & Noble.

Has the Tattered Cover been affected by digital reading devices?

The increased interest in reading devices came along about the same time the economy fell off. We certainly felt the effects of those occurrences. But it’s hard to say how much was attributable to digital publishing and how much to the economy. It’s still challenging, and a bit unpredictable as to the outcome of this dramatic change in our industry. But my firm belief is that we will continue to see information flow in the form of print books for a long time to come.

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43 Because we’re resilient.

The written word can’t accurately put into context the horrifying fact that, in July, the Denver metro area sustained its second mass shooting in the last 13 years. Combined, the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton in 1999 and the Century 16 theater in Aurora in 2012 took 25 innocent lives and left dozens more wounded. Now, look, everyone has a sad tale to tell. Pick any city in the United States and there’s an awful story of pain and loss available. (See Hurricane Sandy.) But this massacre was one of the deadliest in U.S. history and squarely places the Denver metro area in a very small group of cities that have endured multiple tragic killings of this magnitude.

We’re not going to lie; we rarely enjoy being on the national news. And in this particular category, we would like nothing better than to be left entirely out of the conversation. Regrettably, that’s not possible. We can’t ignore the fact that our home has been the unfortunate setting for two very public tragedies—and that our friends, families, neighbors, colleagues, and children have suffered.

But we also can’t—and we’d venture to say haven’t—let these heartbreaks cast a permanent pall over life here in Denver. We grieve. We struggle to understand. We wonder how we could have prevented such an evil—and then realize that we probably couldn’t have. And then we do what we can to cope, to help—more than $5 million in both public and private funds was raised to support the Aurora theater victims and their families, and some local hospitals limited or completely forgave any medical bills incurred by the victims—and to move on.

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