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There are more than a million people serving in the U.S. Armed Forces at any given moment (approximately 2 million if you count reserves), but there are more than 18 million veterans who have returned to civilian life. These individuals own and manage all sorts of businesses, but here in Colorado, some have naturally turned their hand to crafting spirits and beer. These five veteran-owned watering holes not only offer a glimpse into the owners’ personalities and histories, but many are using their businesses to give back, too.
Editor’s note, 11/10/20: This article has been updated with the latest information.
3 Hundred Days of Shine, Monument
Opened in: 2014
Branch served: Army
Mike Girard, owner and distiller of 3 Hundred Days of Shine, actually distilled his first batch of moonshine in Afghanistan, in a former IED (improvised explosive device) turned pressure cooker. As a veteran Army EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) specialist, Girard was trained to safely disarm and dispose of these types of weapons. Now, he distills his moonshine—in flavors ranging from Apple Pie to Firebomb, a fiery cinnamon version—in traditional stills, and the result is even more delicious. The Monument tasting room welcomes a large number of active and former military, and even includes a Veterans Wall that displays memorabilia including coins, badges, patches, EOD badges, and airborne wings pinned by visiting service men and women. Additionally, Girard sells t-shirts and special labeled bottles and donates the proceeds to the EOD Warrior Foundation, which provides support and financial services to EOD soldiers and their families.
What to drink: Girard suggests trying a sampler of any four of the 12 flavors of ‘shine offered. If you’re still standing after the sample, try a cocktail with your favorite.
Launch Pad Brewing, Aurora
Opened in: 2015
Branch served: Air Force
At Launch Pad Brewing, the motto is “craft beer is our rocket fuel.” This space-inspired nano brewery—whose beer lineup runs the gamut from a Saison to an Imperial Stout and all flavors in-between—started in owner and brewmaster Dave Levesque’s garage. He and business partner Henry Rusch are both Air Force veterans who worked together at Buckley Air Force Base before retiring. Tucked into a strip mall in Aurora, Launch Pad attracts its fair share of active duty or military-tied guests due to its proximity to Buckley. Plus, the brewery is 100 percent veteran-owned and operated—the staff consists of active duty soldiers, veterans, or military family members.
What to drink: Levesque recommends the Trinity, a Belgian Trippel that he’s been brewing since the beginning.
Steamboat Whiskey Company, Steamboat
Opened in: 2017
Branch served: Navy
The year-old Steamboat Whiskey Company is still new to the Colorado craft liquor scene, but it’s already building a fanbase. Helmed by Navy veterans Albert Rayle and Nathan Newhall, along with Nathan’s wife Jessica, the crew’s first spirit, Warrior Whiskey, is a tribute to those who have served. A blend of a Tennessee rye whiskey and Colorado bourbon, aged in a Caribbean rum cask, a portion of the profits from this liquor is donated to various nonprofits, including STARS, which works with disabled vets to provide outdoor experiences and adventures; Navy SEAL Foundation; Navy SEAL Fund; Routt County Public Schools; and Special Operations Warrior Foundation. Steamboat Whiskey Company recently released its Sleeping Giant Gin to round out the offerings, along with Ski Town Vodka and Steamboat Moonshine.
What to drink: Jessica suggested the Mountain Smoke Manhattan cocktail, made with Warrior Whiskey and finished with a hickory wood smoke infusion. It smells almost as good as it tastes.
Cockpit Craft Distillery, Colorado Springs
Opened in: 2016
Branch Served: Air Force
With a bar made from the tail of a C-45, a WWII era cargo airplane, and spirits named after other WWII aircrafts, Cockpit Craft Distillery has an affinity for the air. Owner and distiller Calder Curtis was an aircraft metals technologist for the Air Force for more than 10 years (he’s now in the Reserves), but after working closely with engineers in Afghanistan, he realized he didn’t want to sit behind a desk. He created Cockpit Craft, with a lineup that includes P-51 Bourbon whiskey, two types of rum, two types of moonshine, and a banana booze, with about 12 bananas in every bottle.
What to drink: Try the P-51 Mustang Bourbon Whiskey on the rocks.
Red Leg Brewing Company, Colorado Springs
Opened on: July 4, 2013
Branch Served: Army
Red Leg Brewing Company gets its name from the red stripe that runs down the pant leg of Civil War artillery soldiers so that they could be seen through the smoke of cannon fire. Todd Baldwin, president and founder, was a fire support specialist and served as a Field Artillery Officer in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He opened Red Leg Brewing on July 4, 2013, and is one of the founders of the Veterans Beer Alliance (VBA), a national organization of veteran-owned breweries across the country. Red Leg brews a variety of styles, but the majority of the beers are low in IBUs (International Bitterness Units), like the Prospector’s Pick Kolsch or the Blue Nose Brown. Visit the brewery to try special options like a Belgian Pale Ale or Bock, a dark German-style beer.
What to drink: Try the Howitzer Amber Ale, which just won gold in the German Altbier category at the Great American Beer Festival in October.
Bonus: 10th Mountain Ties
The U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division holds a special place in Colorado’s heart. If whiskey is your thing, you can raise a glass to these brave men and women by sipping Stranahan’s, whose head distiller Rob Dietrich served with the unit in the early 1990s, or by sampling a spirit from 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Company, which was created as a tribute to those soldiers who trained near Vail in the 1940s.