[Editor's Note: At the invitation of Breckenridge Colorado Tourism, Travel Past 50 returned to the Breckenridge Distillery–and a bunch of other Breckenridge sites–in September 2015. During this visit, and since we published the initial story a year ago (below), we learned a thing or two about the Distillery's experimental ways.
Our passionate tour guide, Taylor, gave us the lowdown on what makes bourbon bourbon*, and what inspired the founders of Breckenridge Bourbon to start up here. The mineral-heavy Breck water was the big attraction. We also learned something about the crazy subjective process distinguishing heads (first spirits) from hearts (the essential spirit captured for the barrel) and tails (the end of the process alcohol). The process depends on the various boiling points of the grains’ liquids, which is also subject to Breck’s high altitude (9,600 feet). And of course the altitude and dry climate affect the evaporation of the bourbon from the barrels. All of which is to say, we have new found respect for the distillers, and a wee bit more educated palate.
Besides the bourbon and vodka widely distributed by Breckenridge, we were treated to tastes of Vodka Chili Chile (especially yum with the locally concocted 9600 Bloody Mary mix), their Spiced Rum, and their very clever Breckenridge Bitter, so complex it can be drunk solo. It’s meant to be mixed into your favorite Manhattan or other rad trad cocktail. Cheers.
Future plans include the equipment for higher volume production and an attached restaurant. A Tasting Room is now open in the center of Breckenridge, too, across from the Breck Welcome Center.]
Breckenridge Distillery in Colorado is about halfway between Aspen and Denver. Lucky for my adult daughter and me, that was barely a detour from our all-girl getaway. Luckier still, said daughter has a friend who works at the distillery. Jordan Stielow, who’s been in Breckenridge for about a year, gave us a tour and a taste. It's obvious he enjoys helping perfect Breckenridge Bourbon and the distillery's line-up of other spirits.
While Colorado's been a leading state in the microbrewery craze, this distillery, started up in 2007, is at the forefront of the small distillery industry. Master distiller Jordan Via (formerly a winemaker) and principal Bryan Nolt focus on their smooth, complex bourbon whiskey – but also crank out a full-flavor sweet corn vodka and the fascinating Breckenridge Bitters, cooked up not just for cocktails, but to be drunk as an aperitif or even in your favorite local IPA. Spiced rum and a few liqueurs are available now, with other selections in the offing.
Breckenridge Bourbon has already won some top honors (three gold medals awarded at the 2011 International Wine and Spirits Competition), and the distillery is expanding. We caught the tour on a day the distillery was closed for installation of new equipment–and could look out to the empty lot that is awaiting a new building. The place feels bold and fun. We imagine the signature ingredients of Breckenridge Distillery products will continue to be experimentation and innovation.
*To be certified as a Bourbon Whiskey, the spirit must be produced in the United States from a grain mixture of at least 51% sweet corn; meet the distilling, barrel and bottle proof levels; and be aged a minimum of two years in virgin, charred, white oak barrels.