There’s more to Brooklyn’s On Boulder Street in Colorado Springs than meets the eye. The establishment, owned by cousins Ian and Nick Lee, is both a clandestine bar disguised as a swanky hat shop and the home of the duo’s small-batch distillery, Lee Spirits. “We realized we could make Brooklyn’s be what our guests wanted, while using it as a recipe and development lab to perfect the products,” says Ian.
The pair started Lee Spirits in 2014 as a way to showcase their floral, pre-Prohibition-style gin and original recipes for gin-based cocktails. The Brooklyn’s bar and tasting room opened in 2015, giving the founders a way to serve classic quaffs such as the Bee’s Knees and gin fizzes directly to consumers. But there was one major caveat: State laws regarding tasting room cocktails deem it illegal to use any outside spirits, limiting the types of recipes they can execute. Solution: The Lees added more liquors to their company’s production list, making their own staples to take the place of branded Campari, vermouth, and absinthe. “The law actually helped us improve our products and branch out,” says Nick.
The cousins are currently working on even more tipples, including one that mimics Bénédictine, an herbal liqueur from France, as well as house-made triple sec. Other adjuncts they have perfected through trial and error, like the Forbidden Fruit, a spirit made with white grapefruit, Colorado honey, and spices; the Lees acquired a bottle of the original liqueur, developed by restaurateur Louis Bustanoby in the 1890s and produced by distiller Charles Jacquin et Cie until the 1970s, then reverse engineered their own version.
“Our goal is to maintain one foot in the past and one foot in the future,” says Nick. “For example, the dry gin is a recipe from the past and the lavender gin is a modern style. This gives us a real diversity at the bar.”
While dozens of bottles, including crème de rose, alpine liquor, and lavender gin, are made entirely in-house, the base corn spirit for some of their other creations comes from an unnamed outside distillery in Missouri. The Lees decided this would be the best way to focus on distilling the botanicals for their gin and give them more room to experiment. Plus, they love the quality of the base spirit, so they currently have no plans to produce their own.
Lee Spirits does have plans for expansion in other ways. The company will release more spirited varieties this winter and move its operations to a much larger space, with an additional tasting room, in Monument this coming summer. Lee Spirits already ships to Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Kansas, but once there is capacity to make more small batches of sweet-and-floral crème de rose and spicy Ginfuego, other states will also get a taste of the Colorado brand.
If you go: Brooklyn’s On Boulder Street is open Monday–Saturday, 5 p.m.–12 a.m. and Sunday 4–9 p.m.; 110 E. Boulder St., Colorado Springs.