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When Rawley Gunnels and Johnathan Tilley founded Boulder’s DV8 Distilling in 2016, they set out to craft crave-worthy gluten-free spirits and carve out a space for the neighborhood. As the distillery’s product line of rice-based bourbons, gin, and vodkas grows, so does the business’s mission to generate a safe, inclusive atmosphere where “community can flourish without judgement,” according to Tilley. With sex-positive, kink-themed events sprinkled throughout its calendar—think: glow paint dance parties and circus shows—some nights lean more toward the risqué than others.
While the distillery has always been a community gathering place, it wasn’t originally branded as a “queer bar.” Concerned about rainbow capitalism—the commercialization and commodification of LGBTQ movements—Gunnels and Tilley shied away from declaring DV8 as a queer space until last year. That’s when the designation became such an important facet of their lives that not doing it felt disingenuous to them. Both individuals identify as queer, and Gunnels only came out fully in the last few years. As a result, the bar became a natural progression that echoed their personal journeys.
“I did not feel very safe in much of my youth, so making the thing I personally want feels very natural,” Gunnels says. Both he and Tilley say they have always been focused and concerned with their own—and others’—mental health—so they truly want to hear and care about how their customers are doing. “This makes people want to come back because hopefully they don’t feel judged, and if we do a really good job, maybe they’ll even feel seen,” Gunnels says.
The duo’s commitment to showcasing queer pride is reflected in their events and products. For example, the DV8 Sparkle, a vodka-based fruit punch cocktail set to be released in a few months, comes in a clear glass flask emblazoned with a unicorn. The pink, all-natural, ready-to-drink beverage is made with real fruit—and it even glitters, thanks to a mica-based pearlescent. Gunnels says it fully captures the DV8 spirit. “It’s a flamboyant, pink unicorn drink made to party with,” he says.
Several of DV8’s craft spirits are distilled from rice and Rocky Mountain spring water, including its gluten-free vodka, gin, and whiskey. In fact, the distillery’s rice whiskey is the only one of its kind in Colorado and features flavors of cherry, beeswax, and lemongrass. DV8’s five-grain bourbon and peanut butter bourbon—which Gunnels said took two years to get right—both contain gluten. In June, the distillery will launch Lykke. The new bitters-forward, non-alcoholic line is infused with damiana, a mildly psychedelic shrub from Central America with a history of enhancing arousal, and caters to those who want a craft beverage experience without the buzz. Both Gunnels and Tilley typically only drink alcohol when they’re dancing and are passionate about creating this new, alcoholic-free line.
DV8’s first still was built out of a converted beer keg in a South Boulder basement where Gunnels and Tilley lived along with their roommate Jeremy Moyers, an experienced distiller who showed them the ropes. Moyers served as their third co-founding partner but parted ways professionally with Gunnels and Tilley once the company launched in 2016 to pursue a different path. The three originally gravitated toward rice—which is naturally gluten-free—because it adds a sweet, velvety flavor to spirits. Gunnels and Tilley acted as co-head distillers until just six months ago when they handed the reins over to Will Kropp.
“DV8 Distillery is a lifestyle, community, and distillery company all wrapped up in one. ‘DV8’ sprouted from the word deviant and is for those who don’t fit in, feel out of place, or have been marginalized by society,” Gunnels says. He believes the space is a home for those who don’t have one and a community for those who didn’t know they needed one.
Gunnels and Tilley recently unveiled a new 11-by-16-foot stage for performances that will highlight queer voices in Boulder. Upcoming happenings include the return of DV8’s Big Gay Wet and Wild event in June, a fundraiser that rallied funds last year for Out Boulder County, and a Halloween party in July featuring Dirty Circus, a seven-year anniversary bash that will incorporate fire and flow and aerial shows and other performances. Also look for its monthly Dance Til You Glow parties, where glow paints are set out for people to play with which Gunnels refers to as “a big, messy, beautiful time.”
2480 49th St., Suite E, Boulder; DV8 spirits are also available at liquor stores throughout the Denver/Boulder area