Colorado’s mountains get lots of love: The state logo and license plate celebrate the summits, and company and town names from Aspen to Boulder champion all-things-peak. The eastern half of the state? Forgive outsiders if they think that’s all Kansas.
But Nels Wroe, co-found of Dry Land Distillers in Longmont, hasn’t forgotten about the high plains. In fact, he appreciates the prairie so much he’s distilled a patch of it and captured it in bottles: Dry Land is the first distiller in the world to craft whiskey from Antero wheat, a staff-of-life heirloom variety introduced by Colorado State University (CSU) researchers in 2011 for its ability to thrive in Colorado’s rugged climate and on its challenging terrain.
“Our goal is to appreciate all of Colorado,” says Wroe. “Lots of what’s gorgeous here has nothing to do with the high country.” (Although CSU did name the wheat variety after Mount Antero, which, standing at 14,276 feet, is the highest summit of the southern Sawatch Range of the Rocky Mountains.)
Wroe gets his Antero wheat from Troubadour Maltings in Fort Collins, which works with local growers to malt barley and wheat appropriate for brewing and distilling. Troubadour collaborated with CSU to identify locally grown wheats that might work well for adult beverage production, but most of their experiments fell flat. Antero, however, with its low-protein profile, was a winner.
“When we malted it, as an experiment, it had this intense refined sugar sweetness to it,” says Troubadour co-founder, Chris Schooley. “It was like Frosted Flakes out of the malt house. It was simply perfect.”
Thanks to Troubadour and keen interest among brewers—and now Dry Land, too—Colorado’s plains farmers are once again planting Antero. And Schooley reports that they love the variety. It’s low-water, low-input, high-yield, and offers great returns for growers. “It would be a shame to let a variety like that slip through your fingers,” says Schooley. “I’d like to see it spread and cover more acreage.”
So what does Dry Land’s Colorado Antero Wheat Whiskey taste like? It’s elegant. It beguiles with whispers of black cherry and baking spices. It’s wonderful for sipping and not heavily influenced by the New American oak barrels used to age it. Pro tip: Savor the spirit at Dry Land’s tasting room in downtown Longmont while nibbling on Wroe’s rosemary-perfumed, chile-punched mixed nut blend. Enjoy the jazz there, too, played from a vintage turntable.
Bonus: Last month, Wroe released Dry Land Gin, the first gin made entirely with botanicals native to Colorado. The distillery team spent nearly two years tinkering with different native botanicals, and finally came up with something that works—smashingly so. The gin, made with an unaged base of Antero wheat spirit, contains nine Centennial State botanicals.
“We made so many bottles that failed,” says Wroe. “Finally, we had to step back and say it’s time to let the botanicals drive the flavor, rather than trying to create something that tasted like a more standard gin. This is Colorado gin.”
If you go: You can taste Dry Land’s Antero wheat whiskey and gin at the distillery’s Longmont tasting room at 471 Main St., Unit B, Longmont, 720-600-4945