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Distillery 291: Pass the Mike

Craft spirits



Distillery 291 to grow twentyfold, into Bristol Brewing's old space

Inevitably it will be asked: "What's happening with the old Bristol space now that Ivywild's open?"

The answer, friends, is aging in a charred American white oak barrel. Actually, many of them.

You see, the Springs' only craft spirits-maker, Distillery 291, has already started moving into the facility, with owner/distiller Michael Myers promising a completely different look and feel to come: "There's a good chance my tasting room won't even be in that area [up front]," he says.

And it'll probably be a while until any of us find out.

"Most likely the windows will be painted black and you won't be able to see in for a little while ... there might be a small scratch about six feet high so if you're tall or stand on somebody's back, you can maybe peek in."

The former New York fashion and advertising photographer has moved out of 339 square feet of space into 7,500 — literally growing 22 times in size. And if that sounds crazy, consider that just as Bristol's brewing operation had to move to answer demand, 291 has been past capacity for quite a while. As quickly as this not-yet-two-year-old company sends bottles to shelves, they're gone.

Myers' Colorado Rye Whiskey earned a bronze award from the American Distilling Institute in early April. And his aspen stave-finished Colorado Whiskey pulling a 94 rating — and the distinction of "Liquid Gold" — from Jim Murray's Whisky Bible hasn't hurt sales, either.

To get ahead, Myers says, "I've got to move in there and just distill for days, weeks, months." Barrels of his Colorado Whiskey usually age for six to 12 months, while the American Whiskey label ages for three months. (His White Dog and Fresh labels are un-aged, and therefore more viable for short-term sales.)

The good news is that the extra space and a million-BTU steam boiler will let him distill four to six times the product with the exact same tiny setup he's operated to date. (See Side Dish, Oct. 13, 2011 for more on Myers' unique, artistic pot still.)

Citing a recent tour of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey facility in Denver, Myers says he too hopes to one day have "racks and racks" of barrels aging — which could easily tie up much of his new space. He also somewhat jealously mentions another Colorado outfit that hasn't reached the market yet, but already has nearly 500 barrels up.

The president of the Colorado Distillers Guild, Rob Masters of Rob's Mountain Gin, estimates there are 40 craft distilleries in-state, with "at least five if not 10 in the permitting process right now." The growth has been stratospheric: We knew of around five, total, just four years ago (See "High spirits," March 5, 2009).

To understand the enthusiasm, at least through the prism of 291's products, head to the Principal's Office (see here) to try two cocktails that use the whiskies. Also, keep an eye on the Blue Star, where mixologist Nate Windham has launched a five-part series based out of cocktails aged in a used 291 White Dog barrel.

The first in the extremely limited series was a six-week-matured White Manhattan consisting of the White Dog, Lillet, Maraschino and Kübler Absinthe Superieure. Come year's end, Windham plans to host a cocktail dinner featuring all five varieties, perhaps paired with meats smoked by the then-broken-apart barrel.

This friends, is what whiskey sometimes drives man to do. It's big, getting bigger, and simply beautiful.

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