Breckenridge Distillery Revisited: Starting with Water

Breckenridge Distillery started with the local water to concoct their signature Breckenridge Bourbon.
Breckenridge Distillery started with the local water to concoct their signature Breckenridge Bourbon.

[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.

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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.]

Our buddy Jordan Stielow is still working the stills and rolling out the welcome mat.
Our buddy Jordan Stielow is still working the stills and rolling out the welcome mat.

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.

Breckenridge Distillery
Breckenridge Bourbon, currently being produced at about 105 barrels a day, will need to find this character a new playmate.

*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.

See our other coverage of our visit to Breckenridge, here, here, and here.

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26 thoughts on “Breckenridge Distillery Revisited: Starting with Water”

    • Agreed. I thought the Bitters tasted great as an apertif, but I would love to sample cocktails made by someone (not me) who knows what they are doing. I see Breckenridge Distillery has some recipes on their site.

  1. I remember years ago climbing one of the close to Breckenridge 14,000 foot peaks – Mt. Quandary – as a snow climb. To top off what was one of the most fun days ever on a mountain, we ended up at a brewery in Breckenridge. It may be long gone but what better place to hang out after an epic day in the mountains. A tour and a tasting sound like great fun as well.

    • Leigh, I think you have more skill and guts than I do! Oddly enough, there was a hiking accident the week after we were in Aspen, in the Maroon Bells Wilderness Area which has at least three 14Ks. One fatality. We were on the tame route to Crater Lake, but gorgeous. So glad you had a successful and exhilarating summit.

  2. It has been many years since I’ve been in Breckenridge, but this distillery is a good reason to come back. But I do remember getting a terrible altitude headache when I was there, so I would probably have to acclimate for a while before visiting the facility. :(

    • Hi Carole,
      Yes, we take it pretty easy when heading up to the mountains. This time it was a breeze, because we drove. My dear adult child flew in, so with her adjustment we were panting about the same as each other on our hike through Maroon Bells.

  3. Nice that you were able to get a personal tour of the distillery, it makes the experience all that much better.

    We have done several bourbon tours on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and really enjoyed them. Each place makes their product just a little be different.

  4. Mr. Excitement once had a conference in Aspen and we opted to drive from the Denver airport to Aspen with an overnight at a beautiful Breckenridge Bed and Breakfast. We also foolishly opted to wash down our Italian dinner with a bottle of chianti. So not smart. Red wine and one’s first night at an altitude of 10,000 feet — D-U-M-B. We both woke up in the middle of the night with splitting headaches. I wonder if drinking bourbon under the same circumstances would have been the same, better or worse. If I’m ever in Breckinridge again, maybe I’ll give your daughter’s friend’s bourbon a try — totally in the interest of science. ;-)


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