Lee Spirits’ Philip Taylor takes the time to get weird

Taylor’s spending this downtime on R&D.

We speak with Lee Spirits’ director of research and development and tasting room operations Philip Taylor the morning after Gov. Jared Polis announced a stay-at-home order, so it’s hard for him to say anything conclusive about how that’s going to affect business for Lee Spirits Co. or for their downtown speakeasy, Brooklyn’s on Boulder. But the distillery’s Monument tasting room, which just opened for business in late February, has closed for now. Their downtown spot, however, has transitioned to retail — and has been offering a buy-one-get-one-half-off bottle deal daily from 4 to 8 p.m. They’re also stocking three newer products: a vodka that they’ve been selling out-of-state for years, as well as two canned cocktails. One combines lemonade with Lee’s strawberry ginger gin; the other uses Lee’s lavender gin.

While Taylor and the rest of the bar team aren’t mixing drinks for customers for now, he remains at work, restocking the bar with homemade liqueurs, bitters and cordials, and creating new items.

“Before [the shutdown], I put a pistachio liqueur into R&D,” says Taylor. “I tested it on a few of our guests, and it was one everybody seemed to enjoy. I keep having people tell me to put a label on it and sell it, but it’s still in R&D.”

For Taylor, his day-to-day hasn’t changed too much. He works mostly alone when he’s researching and developing new products, so it’s easy to err on the side of caution, even as Lee Spirits pivots to produce hand sanitizer. They’ve thus far given 900 2-ounce bottles to the El Paso County Public Health Department, and 100 free to the public, and say they can make more when needed.

[pullquote-1] Taylor has also been working on an aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit that, much like gin, starts neutral and is infused with a mix of herbs and spices, though European Union standards dictate that caraway or dill must be the leading flavors. Taylor says each batch comes out better than the last.

“It’s nice to just keep seeing the articles pop up about aquavit,” he says. “It’s gonna be a big thing here in the future.”

Then, Taylor has his stranger projects. When we’ve tasted cocktails with him during better times, he’s come up with offbeat concoctions like savory mushroom bitters. He recalls one of 2019’s seasonal cocktails, named Watership Down for the Richard Adams novel. It combined lavender gin with carrot and a Brussels sprouts cordial.

“With the ingredients list, it sounds like it’s going to be terrible, but it was really, really well done,” he says. “It was actually one of the more popular cocktails on that menu.”

Taylor, and by extension, Lee Spirits, hasn’t shied away from the odd and unexpected. And as all of our samplings at Brooklyn’s over the years have shown, he’s got the palate to pull it all together. Take for instance a ginger-turmeric spirit he’s playing with. And when he says he’s working on a spirit inspired by French cuisine that will use garlic, onion, grapefruit and fennel, we’re confused but intrigued nonetheless. When the pandemic passes, we’ll be right there to try it.

“It sounds weird, but it makes sense in my head, and there’s no reason not to try it in this situation,” he says. “It’s good to see something weird be received by the public really well. People want that unique experience.”