Thursday, October 13, 2011

Colorado Springs gets its first craft distillery

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2011 at 10:33 AM

Today's Side Dish column features the breaking news on the first craft distillery project to venture into the Springs: Distillery 291.

I spoke to distiller Michael Myers for a good while by phone earlier this week, after meeting him in person at Breckenridge's Still on the Hill last weekend.

So I wanted to take the opportunity with this blog post to share a little more on the business that I couldn't fit into print this week.

First, here's a look at Myers' inaugural product line:

Bright new products on the way from Distillery 291.

If you take a look at this interview with Myers from Denver Off the Wagon, you'll see that he's also working on a bourbon whiskey. And due to the success of a last-minute clove spirit that he whipped up at Still on the Hill, he's considering playing with that down the road as well.

As mentioned in the Side Dish blurb, Myers came to distilling via photography, and you can check out his portfolio here on his website.

When I asked him if he's completely transitioned careers, he says that he still flies to New York when he's called to. "I love photography as much as distilling, maybe more because I've been doing it longer. But I'm definitely as passionate about whiskey as much as photography now. When I decided to become a distiller, the only other time I had that clear of a vision was when I wanted to be a photographer."

What's most cool about Myers' pot still, as touched on in the Side Dish blurb, is that with the help of Colorado Springs craftspeople, he had it welded and formed out of copper photogravure plates which he'd used to print photography for an art show shortly after 911.

The most recognizable photographer for the photogravure technique is probably Edward S. Curtis, and Myers worked with a modern New York photographer named Lothar Osterburg, who he calls "phenomenal" for his show.

When Myers had the vision for the still, he had Osterburg ship him the copper plates that he'd etched for Myers and been storing for him. Now, some of those etchings face inward to add character to the spirit during distillation, while others face outward so that images can still be enjoyed. Myers says when he finally settles into a space that's open to the public, he intends to hang the photography in his barrel house that corresponds with the etchings.

Michael Myers, the friendly smile behind Distillery 291.

Again, if you read the Denver Off the Wagon interview, you'll see that the name 291 holds meaning for Myers, so when I joke about the potential confusion over our local area code, 719, I hear him groan through the phone. "I didn't think about that until someone here pointed it out, but I stuck with it because it means a lot to me."

One thing that Myers really wanted to emphasize about his whiskeys is the intent specifically for the Fresh to compete with other clear spirits in cocktails. He developed his own Triple Sec in order to facilitate a "whiskerita," basically a margarita made with whiskey instead of tequila.

For anyone new to the white whiskey trend, grumbled about by some, it basically involves what some consider "unfinished" whiskey.

The spirit is bottled after as little as a minute of seeing a barrel (by definition, whiskey must meet a barrel at some point, says Myers), rather than staying in for several years to pick up the caramel coloring and flavors added by the wood.

Myers will likely put his Colorado White Dog into barrels to age and make "a really nice whiskey." But he says he wanted to make a whiskey that was very drinkable and good before it even saw the barrel so that for practical and monetary reasons, he had a product to sell while other barrels aged.

From fellow distillers at both the Still on the Hill event and the earlier Colorado Distillers Guild Festival, Myers received great praise and encouragement.

We'll keep you posted here on Myers' progress and announce when he's settled into a location.

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