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Easy access to coveted ingredients such as Rocky Mountain spring water and heirloom grain—and a thirsty populace—make Colorado a haven for spirit makers. Here, in no particular order, 15 of the best tasting rooms in and around Denver, plus four inventive, destination-worthy sipping spots.
Dry Land Distillers
Everything about four-year-old Dry Land Distillers feels like a love letter to the rugged landscape from which it derives many of its ingredients, starting with its downtown Longmont tasting room, where honey-colored wood slats, iron accents, and concrete countertops exude high-desert vibes. In fact, co-founder and distiller Nels Wroe is so dedicated to honoring the local turf that he sources native Colorado botanicals, including elderberry and juniper, for his gin and smokes prickly pear cacti (which grow wild in the West) over a wood fire to make an earthy spirit akin to mezcal. Try the latter in the Adobo Cactus, a well-balanced drink enlivened with house-made adobo-infused tonic, bitters, and lime. —Karyna Balch
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Take It Home
Starting this month, score a bottle of Barrel Zero heirloom wheat whiskey, a malted ancient grain liquor and the first barrel distilled in Dry Land’s expanded digs, which opened in July 2021. The namesake (think: patient zero) celebrates both the new space and the end of COVID-19 restrictions. $77
Inspired by the tradition of sharing stories over a belly-warming tipple, Scott Yeates opened Mythology Distillery in 2018 to create spirits worthy of the finest campfire lore. In just a few years—first with head distiller Scott Coburn, now with Chris Ritenour helming the custom copper still—the Highland-based operation has developed a well-decorated lineup of whiskey blends and signature distillations, including the dry Needle Pig gin and silver Feather Jester rum. True to its explorer ethos, Mythology has a staff of talented bartenders who are happy to improvise with concoctions catered to your curiosity at its mountain-chic tasting room. But if you’re indecisive, you can’t go wrong with a lavender gin fizz paired with a pretzel board. —Madi Skahill
Take It Home
Eager for a one-of-a-kind beverage adventure? Try the Foragers gin, an annual summer release that features botanicals and herbs hand-plucked by Denver Botanic Gardens horticulturists. $35
When the pandemic made travel nearly impossible, Cindy and Kyle Pressman drank their way around the world from the safety of their couch. Out of all the styles the husband-and-wife duo tried, they were most enchanted by the refreshing European-style aperitif wines, though they craved a less cloying version. In 2020, that infatuation led the Pressmans to invent their own American aperitivi dubbed Atōst. The buzz-inducing elixirs (at 21 percent ABV, they’re just low enough for Atōst to technically qualify as a winery, not a distillery) are produced with fermented white wine and a California grape spirit infused with fruits, herbs, and botanicals. Try one of the four flagship flavors—Bloom (floral), Woods (oaky), Citrus (crisp), and Roots (herbaceous)—in Atōst’s tasting room in Golden, where you can also enjoy wine cocktails like the floral Shirley Rose. —Helen Xu
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In the springtime, look for the Lemon Lavender, a seasonal crowd-pleaser steeped with California lemons and woodsy purple buds, to use as a floral base for spritzes. $40
Bear Creek Distillery
Located on an unremarkable stretch of South Acoma Street in the Overland neighborhood, Bear Creek Distillery looks like a century-old saloon dropped into a modern-day industrial business center. In reality, it was founded just more than eight years ago by a small group of friends and now produces a wide range of alcoholic beverages. From clear sippers such as silver rum, an assortment of vodkas (corn, rye, and wheat), and white whiskey (aka moonshine) to the hooch Don Draper once dubbed “big and brown,” like straight bourbon and rye whiskey, there’s something for almost everyone in Bear Creek’s small, warmly lit taproom. Pull up a chair and chat with the friendly, knowledgeable bartenders to figure out what you might want to sample; we suggest a flight (four half-ounce pours) so you can directly compare the flavors of various spirits. —Geoff Van Dyke
Take It Home
You can find a solid straight bourbon just about anywhere these days, so why not add something a little different to your bar cart? We found the distillery’s wheat whiskey (made from organic whole wheat) to be less sweet than bourbon and slightly smoother than rye—although at 90 proof, it still delivers a boozy wallop. $50
At a pub in Galway while on their honeymoon in 2011, Meagan and Patrick Miller sampled Redbreast’s single pot still whiskey, an old style undergoing a revival in Ireland, and had a revelation: We should start a distillery. Unlike most dewy-eyed dreamers, they actually did it, opening Talnua Distillery in Arvada in 2019. Their brown spirits follow Irish standards, because single pot still whiskey isn’t a regulated category in the United States. They’re made in a pot still, versus the more efficient column stills one usually sees, and use 50 percent raw barley and 50 percent malted, whereas most whiskeys use only the latter. To learn the full geopolitical backstory of the style—it involves tax evasion!—book a guided tasting and tour. Or simply try any of the handful of whiskeys (Talnua also makes pot still gin) to see if you can detect the velvety mouthfeel and spicy, earthy notes that are the hallmarks of this rare variety. —Jessica LaRusso
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Hold out for Talnua’s annual St. Patrick’s Day release (and massive party) next month: Olde Saint’s Keep is a single pot still whiskey aged in Madeira and cognac barrels. $100
As one of the first craft whiskey distillers in the country (and the first legal one in Colorado after Prohibition), Stranahan’s can easily be credited with jump-starting hooch mania in the Centennial State in 2004. Although the original owners sold to a New Jersey–based spirits company in 2010, operations and distribution remain mostly within our rectangular borders, and the Denver taproom is still a great spot to sip something smooth. Dressed in barrel tops, an antler chandelier, and all the distressed leather you could want, the handsome bar serves classics such as the Stranfather, an old fashioned made with Stranahan’s Original single malt, and the Mile High Mule, a gentle tipple of ginger beer and Blue Peak, a mellow whiskey. But the barkeeps are also happy to keep it simple with drams of pours only available in-house, like the SCW Staff Single Barrel. —Lindsey B. King
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The coveted Snowflake is an annual release of an American single malt that’s finished in barrels the head distiller sources from around the world before blending the contents together. This season’s resulting rare whiskey sold out within hours of its December debut, meaning supplies are likely nonexistent. So set a calendar reminder to snag next year’s edition. $120
Opened in 2014 by booze-crafting pioneer Todd Leopold and his engineering-minded brother Scott, this zero-waste facility in northeast Denver has one of North America’s few (and Colorado’s only) manual malting floors. That’s where the crew follows an ancient methodology of mashing and fermenting locally sourced grain low and slow. The Leopolds, 2020 James Beard Award finalists, also run a rare three-chamber still—the first of its kind to be used worldwide in more than 50 years—to transform the liquid gold into Leopold Bros.’ selection of nearly two dozen prized whiskeys, gins, vodkas, liqueurs, and amari. Watch the centuries-old process firsthand during a group tour, then head to the on-site bar and terrace to taste the results via a flight of five spirits or a pour of the coveted Three Chamber rye whiskey, whose aromas include hazelnut and stone fruits. —MS
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The second rendition of the award-winning George Dickel and Leopold Bros. Collaboration Blend is a 100 proof mixture of the beloved Tennessee whiskey brand’s column-distilled rye and Leopold Bros.’ Three Chamber distilled rye. $110
Don’t judge three-year-old Ballmer Peak by its cover. Inside an unassuming warehouse in Lakewood, co-founders Eric Strom and Austin Adamson (who is also the head distiller) serve the suburb’ s finest gins, rums, vodkas, and whiskeys in a mingling-friendly tasting room furnished with booths and a patio. The cocktail menu has more than 30 options, including the Z-Word—a head-spinning concoction that combines three of the distillery’s core rums and two bitters—and the S’mores Old Fashioned, a quaffable take on the treat with graham-cracker-infused whiskey and marshmallow syrup. You can feel good about drinking these beverages, too, given Strom and Adamson’ s devotion to sustainability: Their distilling process was designed to conserve 400,000 gallons of water per year. —Barbara Urzua
Take It Home
Ballmer Peak’s spiced rum, twice distilled via a process that uses pure molasses, is steeped with Sichuan peppercorns, cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, all of which give it a warm yet crisp flavor perfect for mixing into a cable car cocktail. $29
To create his aged masterpieces, Golden Moon owner and distiller Stephen Gould spent much of his life researching vintage distilling processes, with a significant portion of that knowledge coming from rare books dating as far back as the 1500s. The fruits of his labor are 14-year-old Golden Moon’s 20-plus whiskeys, gins, and liqueurs, which you can imbibe in a speakeasy-inspired tasting room tucked in a downtown Golden alleyway. The candlelit, taxidermic-elk-studded venue—which also features weekly live music, from rock to bluegrass—is a fitting locale for watching mixologists prepare drinks such as the Edna Jensen, a sweet elixir made from absinthe, lime juice, and Golden Moon’s floral crème de violette. To see Gould’s mastery at work, book a tour of the distillery, located about four miles from the bar. —BU
Take It Home
Gould uses a small-batch production method that was popular during France’s late-19th-century belle epoque (known as the country’s golden age, when spirit sales tripled) to conjure his herbaceous 130 proof Redux absinthe. $82
Ironton Distillery & Crafthouse
There’s a seat—and a spirit—for everyone at four-and-a-half-year-old Ironton’s sprawling, topographic-map-adorned RiNo tasting room, which boasts a 10,000-square-foot patio lined with retired chairlifts, fire pits, and Adirondack chairs. Co-founder Kallyn Romero and head distiller Laura Walters helm a female-forward team that crafts spirits beyond the usual bourbons and single malts. Ironton’s Nordic Gold barrel-aged aquavit, for instance, is a rye-based drink laden with caraway, dill, anise, and fennel that’s stored in rye whiskey barrels for six months, yielding a straw yellow color and aromas of honey and toffee. Also look for the java liqueur, made with air-roasted beans from Denver’s Kaladi Coffee Roasters, among other aperitifs and digestifs. Seasonal cocktails—such as the rum mule topped with a pumpkin spice liqueur float—complement a roster of wood-fired pizzas, spent-grain garlic knots, and other elevated bar bites. —Riane Menardi Morrison
Take It Home
Ironton’s Ponderosa gin—which has a floral and woody flavor profile, thanks to pine needles, sage, lavender, and rosemary from Ironton’s beautiful on-site gardens—has earned international accolades. $34
The Block Distilling Co.
Kraig Weaver hates reruns. For evidence, look no further than the rotating cocktail list at the Block Distilling Co., the RiNo operation he launched in 2017 with his wife, Michelle, and his brother and head distiller, Kameron. With the help of bar lead and creative director Melissa Ostrow, even evergreen cocktails such as the classic martini receive subtle makeovers—like the addition of fresh garnishes or different renditions of gin (the Weavers have four versions, one for each season)—to ensure no lineup is the same. What you can count on for your visit to the Block, however, is potions brightened with ingredients such as pistachio orgeat (a nutty syrup), sage-thyme honey, and salted plum. Thursday through Sunday, you can also expect stacked sandwiches, stuffed with the likes of decadent hot chicken or peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, courtesy of the This Is a Waffle Truck parked on-site. —Patricia Kaowthumrong
Take It Home
After soaking with botanicals such as vanilla, pepper, bay leaf, and juniper and resting in unused whiskey barrels for more than six months, the Block’s Winter gin becomes a honey-kissed, hot-toddy-ready spirit. $43
The Family Jones Spirit House
Slink into this elegant LoHi establishment to sip elevated craft cocktails against a backdrop of low-slung, velvet-upholstered couches, vaulted ceilings, and cascading greenery. Perhaps the chicest distillery in town, five-year-old Family Jones has sophisticated spirits to match its decor—including the Annika Jones (vodka), Juniper Jones (gin), and Ella Jones (bourbon)—whose names nod to the kindred theme. The liquors are each bottled at less than 50 percent ABV, making them easy sippers and stellar foundations for house cocktails that are categorized as “bright and lifted” or “boozy and bold.” We like the Negroni 2.0, a variation on the classic made with gin, nonalcoholic Giffard aperitif syrup, triple sec, and Peychaud’s bitters. Pair your pour with a plate of burrata with peaches, tomatoes, and smoked almonds or the house-made focaccia with rosemary oil and compound butter. Happy hour, from 4 to 6 p.m. daily, provides the same fabulous experience for less outlay, with $5 well drinks and $2 off specialty cocktails. —RMM
Take It Home
The Juniper Jones gin, which strikes a bitter-sweet balance between dry London varieties and botanical New World drams, is an iteration that appeals to connoisseurs and dabblers alike. $37
Laws Whiskey House
When former finance executive Al Laws set out to fulfill his lifelong dream of starting a distillery, he committed to producing great spirits and capturing Colorado’s terroir. To find out how he did it, take a 60-minute tour of Laws Whiskey House, a no-frills distillery that opened in Overland in 2011. The program highlights the heirloom grains that lend unique characteristics to Laws’ products: For example, the San Luis Valley rye crop used in the rye whiskey gives fresh, vegetal highlights to the golden liquid. You’ll also spot fermentation tanks left open to catch wild yeast in the air, which adds distinct notes of spices and dried fruits. At the session’s end, taste three of the flagship spirits—straight bourbon, rye whiskey, and wheat whiskey—and purchase pours in the shop and true tasting room (no mixers!), which is open Wednesday through Sunday for those who forgo the tour. —RMM
Take It Home
Get the flagship four-grain straight bourbon bottled in bond, a designation that means it was made in a single season by a single distiller and aged for at least four years (in Laws’ case, eight years) in a charred American oak barrel. $85
Mile High Spirits
This is not your father’s bourbon brand—and that’s precisely the point. Eleven-year-old Mile High Spirits prides itself on taking the stuffiness out of distilling while still achieving top-shelf taste. That tenet is evident in the company’s rotation of inventive cocktails, starring house-made infusions such as almond tequila and apple pie moonshine, and in the playful lineup of entertainment at its gigantic Five Points facility and tasting room. Enjoy a DJ set by the Bachelor franchise’s Blake Hortsmann or a rowdy round of bingo while sipping a barrel-finished Fireside Old Fashioned, which goes down so effortlessly many patrons opt to take the 80-proof potion to go ($30 for a 750-milliliter bottle). From Thursday through Sunday, grab a bite from food trucks outside to devour under a disco ball chandelier on the covered patio. —MS
Take It Home
Mile High’s Elevate vodka is made with local corn instead of wheat, rice, or rye and distilled six times for an ultrasmooth flavor and finish. Bring your empty bottle back to the bar to receive a drink on the house. $20
Like all good Coloradans, we enjoy the rustic, wood-enrobed distillery aesthetic, but there’s something undeniably sexy about walking into six-year-old Deviation Distilling’s Dairy Block venue. Co-founders Cindi and Bob Wiley and Dave Gade (also head distiller) tapped local design firm Unum: Collaborative to make it feel more like an upscale lounge than an afterthought tasting room. While homages to Deviation’s function are evident in the constellation of gin-bottle lights hanging from the ceiling, the leather benches and plush, fire-pit-heated seating on the front patio create a date-night-ready haven that happens to have a splendid drink list. Flirt over a round of frothy, gin-forward Blood Orange Flips or pours of the butterscotch-scented Zin Finished bourbon. —PK
Take It Home
Beans sourced from Central America by Denver’s Copper Door Coffee Roasters give the distillery’s Barista Spirits Americano—a solid foundation for espresso martinis and Irish coffees—characteristics of almond and sweet cream. $34
At 12-year-old Syntax Distillery in Greeley, head distiller Heather Bean and cocktail mix master Jeff Copeland deliver a variety of concoctions in a cozy bar and lounge housed in a repurposed, 115-year-old grain elevator. When you visit, look for Ginger, the distillery cat, and order the Red Leg, a tart refresher named for one of the historical building’s grain lifts, known in industry parlance as legs. The Red Leg features Syntax’s Crystal vodka, which Bean distills from local wheat in handmade column stills and purifies through carbon filters. The process results in a product so smooth that Bean likes to drink it neat. Until you can make the trip, use this recipe to make one at home. —Sarah Kuta
4 frozen Bing cherries
¾ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounce tart cherry juice
½ ounce fresh lime juice (about half of one lime)
1½ ounces Syntax
In a cocktail shaker, muddle the cherries with simple syrup (adjust the amount depending on how sweet you like your drinks). Add the rest of the ingredients and ice. Then shake and pour everything into a rocks glass. Garnish with a thin lime wheel.
Peach Street Distillers
Peach Street Distillers has been a grain-to-glass (and fruit-to-glass) distillery since it opened in downtown Palisade in 2005. “Working with our local farmers to turn their work into an elevated spirit form is why we chose to build our distillery in one of the best agricultural regions in the West,” head distiller Davy Lindig says. Below, a sampling of the Colorado-grown ingredients that make Peach Street’s spirits so enticing. —SK
Juicy Clingstone, Freestone, Cresthaven, and Newhaven peaches grown at nearby Fuller Orchards are the foundation of Peach Street’s eau de vie, which means “water of life” in French. As the potent young spirit matures in lightly toasted French oak barrels, it transforms into a sumptuous fruit brandy.
Colorado wine lovers know the Grand Valley for its perfectly aligned rows of high-elevation grapes set against the picturesque backdrop of the Book Cliffs. The plump muscat clusters grown at Carlson Vineyards take center stage in Peach Street’s grappa, a popular Italian after-dinner liqueur that offers subtle hints of apricot and raisin.
Corn, Rye, and Barley
Corn from Western Slope farmer Paul Young as well as rye and barley from the San Luis Valley’s Proximity Malt contribute sweet, slightly spicy flavors to Peach Street’s Colorado straight bourbon.
Spirit Hound Distillers
In 1998, Craig Engelhorn shared one of his homebrews with a friend named Dale Katechis in their tiny hometown of Lyons. While Katechis, the owner of newly opened Oskar Blues, used the recipe (with Engelhorn’s blessing) to begin making and distributing what became the brewery’s wildly popular flagship Dale’s Pale Ale, Engelhorn moved on to higher ABV offerings. He launched Lyons’ Spirit Hound Distillers with two others in 2011 and spent a few years creating rums, gins, and other clear liquors while waiting for his single malt whiskey to age. In 2015, he finally cut the product with Rocky Mountain water and began corking bottles, and today, Engelhorn produces nearly 300 barrels of Spirit Hound Straight Malt Whisky per year. Below, a look at how the second smash hit of Engelhorn’s beverage career is made. —Maren Horjus
- 7,545: Elevation, in feet, of Alamosa, aka the Land of Cool Sunshine, where Spirit Hound sources its barley. “It sits in a bowl that can be just as cold and dry as Minnesota in winter,” Engelhorn says. “That makes for great grain.”
- 246: Miles the barley is driven north to Lyons.
- 8: Hours it takes to turn San Luis Valley grain into a mash.
- 1: Week the mash spends fermenting.
- 36: Hours the mash is distilled in two copper stills, which Engelhorn handmade in 2010. “If we need another, I’ll hire someone to pound the sheet metal this time,” he says.
- 2: Years, at a minimum, the fermented beverage needs to age to be classified as a straight malt whiskey.
- 96: Score Spirit Hound Straight Malt Whisky achieved at the 2022 London International Spirits Competition, where it won Whisky of the Year out of a pool of over 1,000 entries in the category.
- $7: Cost of a three-ounce pour at Spirit Hound’s cozy, English-pub-style tasting room, which is slated to expand its outdoor sipping area later this year.
Since the Pullman Distillery opened in Frisco two years ago, guests have been able to linger over go-to cocktails such as whiskey sours and vodka tonics in a 280-square-foot 1881 rail car, where exposed wood beams, plush green velvet chairs, and damask floral wallpaper create a 19th-century ambience. Read on for an abridged history of the singular sipping spot. —RMM
- 1881: Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Car No. 120 is built in Alamosa and spends most of the next seven decades carrying mail between Summit County and Denver.
- 1951: After being rebuilt in 1900 and 1926, the car is retired and later scrapped.
- 1988: The car is found, restored, and eventually parked on Frisco’s Main Street.
- 2009: Car No. 120 is moved into the Frisco Emporium building.
- 2010: Scott Pohlman opens Ein Prosit, a Bavarian beer hall, in the Frisco Emporium.
- 2021: Following eight months of restoration work, which included replacing the floor, Pohlman debuts a tasting room inside Car No. 120, where patrons can sample his new Pullman Distillery’s vodka, gin, agave spirit, and rye, bourbon, and single malt whiskeys, all made with spring water sourced from terrain between Arapahoe Basin and Keystone.