Each and every bottle of Rocker Spirits is emblazoned with the words, “Forged with passion, infused with American spirit.” And nothing embodies that spirit more than the bottle itself.
“I said, If the bottle doesn’t rock, I’m not doing this,” says Rocker co-founder Duston Evans. He meant it quite literally. A collector of vintage Americana items and a self-proclaimed junkyard aficionado, Evans drew inspiration for his unique bottle from one of his finds: a rusted 1930s oil can whose circular shape gives it a rocking motion after the liquid is poured out. Evans not only wanted his booze bottles to resemble the iconic can, but also to perform its signature function. Five different glass manufactures told him it wasn’t possible, but Evans persisted. Eventually, he got his rocking bottle, and his brand was born.
The nearly two-year-old craft distillery—Littleton’s only—has built its identity around that bottle. If not for the polished wood bar and the shining copper and steel stills visible through huge glass doors, visitors might think they’d accidentally wandered into an antique shop. The building used to be Evans’ warehouse, a “toy chest” where he stored his most precious discoveries. Together with head distiller Nick Hutchinson, Evans painstakingly rebuilt the place, sourcing materials that pay homage to America’s industrial past: the walls for the production area were scavenged from Fort Leavenworth penitentiary; the fans come from a greenhouse in Wheat Ridge built in the 1960s; a vintage Indian bicycle is perched above the bar, while a rusted gas pump sits near the door.
But Evans knew he would need more than a unique setting and a cool bottle to make it—he knew his product had to be good. “We had our brand identity,” he says, “but we needed two legs to stand on.” By all accounts, Rocker has succeeded. Its rum was named one of Food & Wine’s spirits of the year in 2017. The signature whiskey shines with notes of butterscotch and a pleasantly warm finish. The bourbon-style whiskey—my personal favorite—rolls all too easily over the tongue with a subtle sweetness imparted by the port barrels its aged in. A smooth, versatile vodka rounds out the collection; a rye whiskey is currently in the works.
In the tasting room, bartenders John Stefanski and T.J. Vytlacil blend those spirits into exquisite cocktails. The flagship old fashioned, made with Rocker’s signature whiskey and a twist of orange, strikes the perfect balance of smokey and sweet. (It’s also a crowd favorite—on one moderately busy Friday night, Stefanski and Vytlacil churned out 23 old fashioneds in just 45 minutes.) A rotating menu of seasonal drinks utilizes the produce of the season, such as the Palisade peach- and Anaheim chile-infused Crazy Ivan cocktail. But it’s the classic whiskey sour, made frothy and creamy with a perfectly shaken egg white, that stole my taste buds—it’s one of the best cocktails I’ve had anywhere, ever.
What impresses most about Rocker, however, is the sense of community. “You’ll have a pipefitter and a high net-worth attorney sitting next to each other at the bar,” Evans says. “Two guys who may never have a conversation together finding common ground over something they both enjoy.” The Rocker team has revived a dying part of American culture: the friendly neighborhood bar. It exudes an authenticity that other places can’t quite match. Maybe it’s because Rocker is a real community operation—the five-man team produces, barrels, bottles, packages, and distributes everything themselves, recruiting local volunteers with promises of a free bottle to take home. In this way, Evans is slowly building his “Rocker Republic,” comprised of people who, “are out there chasing life and drink a whiskey that speaks to their spirit.” It’s a group he hopes to expand until Rocker Spirits is remembered in the same breath as classics like Jack Daniels and Johnnie Walker.
If you go: Rocker Spirits tasting room is located 5587 S. Hill St., Littleton, 303-795-7928; bottles are available at various Denver-area liquor stores.