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Denver drinkers, you may already be aware that blue corn, so delicious in chips and tortillas, isn’t nearly as familiar or widespread in the spirits world as its yellow counterpart. After all, it’s not a traditional distilling grain, and it is also not as widely available. But blue corn’s unique color and distinct flavor—and distillers’ hunt for regional, esoteric ingredients to experiment with—is beginning to change all that.
Even though its vibrant color is stripped away during the distilling process, blue corn’s lower starch and higher sugar contents result in a flavor boon for hooch makers willing to experiment. Here are three locally made blue corn spirits that will give you a taste of the trend.
Snitching Lady’s Button’s Blue 100 percent blue corn whiskey is made with Ute Mountain Farm and Ranch grain, coming from the Ute Reservation in Towaoc, Colorado. Co-founder Thomas Williams—who utilizes other Centennial State ingredients including Gewürztraminer grapes and Palisade peaches at his not-yet-year-old Fairplay distillery—loves the grain’s subtle yet distinct flavor.
“If you made cream[ed] corn out of blue corn, you wouldn’t need to add sugar because it naturally has it,” he says. “[The whiskey] has very rich notes of caramelized butter and pecan even before it’s put in the barrel.” As such, it’s best sipped straight to fully appreciate those toasty notes.
Snitching Lady also uses Ute blue corn in its “Burrobon,” which includes red wheat and white rye in the mash blend. Williams suggests a classic smash made with fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, and a healthy dose of the blue corn-based bourbon. Garnish with a lightly slapped mint sprig.
Button’s Blue ($45 per bottle) and Burrobon ($65 per bottle) can be found at the Snitching Lady Distillery (526A Front St., Fairplay), Hugo’s Beer and Spirits in Capitol Hill, and other liquor stores around the state.
Feisty Spirits’ nonconformist, well, spirit, has resulted in some creative libations—consider its quinoa whiskey. The Fort Collins distillery sources blue corn from a farm just over the state line in Nebraska. “There are over 800 varieties of corn, so why just use the basic varieties everyone else uses?” says co-founder Jamie Gulden.
Rhapsody Blue Corn Bourbon, Feisty’s first release in 2012 and a big seller, offers a buttery mouthfeel and slightly sweet notes of caramel, brown sugar, and almond. Comprised of 30 percent rye, this spirit has a nice spiciness too. Over a dozen Denver bars and restaurants (such as the Curtis Club and Amendment XXI) serve Rhapsody, so it’s one of the easier-to-find blue corn boozes on the market. At Fiesty, they mix Rhapsody with ginger beer and lime juice into a version of a mule called the Spicy Donkey.
Rhapsody Blue (around $48 per bottle) can be found at Feisty Spirits distillery (1708 E Lincoln Ave. #1, Fort Collins) and various other liquor stores, bars, and restaurants.
Broomfield’s Whistling Hare Distillery uses blue corn in its bourbon and vodka. The vodka has an Old World flavor capable of hypnotizing even Rasputin: “If you taste more old school-style Russian vodkas, there are more flavors of the grain,” says head distiller Sandy Harrison. “It still has the unique burn that makes vodkas vodkas, but it has this subtle sweetness. You get these almond, walnut notes that [are] 100 percent from the blue corn.” Whistling Hare uses the blue corn vodka in its American Pika cocktail with lime, orange, jalapeño, honey, and ginger beer.
Whistling Hare’s Blue Corn Bourbon also offers “nice nutty notes that I absolutely adore,” Harrison says. For best results, sip straight—but it would also be right at home in a simple cocktail. “It might sound a little basic,” Harrison says, “but my favorite thing for the Blue Corn Bourbon is an old fashioned. A proper one with Amarena or Luxardo cherries, fresh orange, [and] turbinado sugar. It works very well in a Manhattan as well due to the extra nuttiness of the blue corn.”
Whistling Hare’s Blue Corn Vodka ($25 per bottle) is only available at the distillery (7655 W 108th Ave., Westminster). Find the Blue Corn Bourbon ($45) at the distillery and area liquor stores.