Who: Business partners Casey Ross, Eric Baldini, Sky Young, Scott White and Jason Jackson (the distiller, pictured)
When: Bottles went to market in November 2014
Where: Production at 4665 Town Center Drive, #140; no tasting room, but available in local bars, restaurants and liquor stores. Info at axeandtheoak.com.
What: Colorado Mountain Whiskey; retails for around $47 per 750-ml bottle.
The mash is composed of 68 percent corn, and 32 percent barley and rye in even proportions, making it a bourbon recipe. White's grandmother's farm in eastern Kansas provides the corn and rye; the spent grain feeds Jackson's chickens and his neighbor's pigs.
AOD cooks mash, placing it in 65-gallon fermenters with a proprietary formula of yeasts. That ferments for 10 days, after which the resulting wash is distilled in a 125-gallon pot still with a two-plate column, for eight to 10 hours. It yields around 10 gallons of alcohol at around 155 proof.
That high-proof alcohol is then placed in new, charred American white oak barrels for three months with oak staves and chips added to produce more mature flavors by adding extra surface area. After leaving the barrels, the liquid is proofed down to 92 proof. That finished whiskey is then hand-bottled on site; each bottle's label features the song the person was listening to while bottling.
AOD plans to add a new 175-gallon still later this year, and by year's end, it hopes to release a white dog, high rye and Colorado rum.
"We're really proud of the product that we make and the time and effort that goes into it," says Jackson. "This is craft. Even though we try for continuity, every batch will likely be slightly different because of factors like seasonal temperature differences affecting ingredients and aging, when the oak was harvested, even the soil the oak grew in, et cetera. We are not a rectifier — which is someone [who] buys a mass-produced spirit, and adds water and a custom label and ships it out the door. We are a distillery."
(See a Sept. 28, 2014, Denver Post article regarding customer deception, which mentions class-action lawsuits brought against supposed "craft" distillers.)
Why: "I was between songs at a gig, drinking Knob Creek," says Jackson, who's also a local musician, "and I thought to myself, 'Damn that's good. I wonder if I can make that?' That's it. That's the story."
The 42-year-old says he's all about a self-sustaining lifestyle: growing in greenhouses on 35 acres in Calhan, hunting his own meat, catching fish, "keeping out of grocery stores as much as I can."
But the Arc? That store is totally on-on. It's where, five years ago, he bought a $3 popcorn maker and began roasting his own coffee, where part of his affinity for subtle aromas and nuanced flavors was born.
Tasting notes: Remove the wood-and-cork top and stick your nose in to be greeted by aromas of maple, vanilla and butterscotch.
"Like a Werther's candy," Jackson says. "It took me a good deal of time playing with different combinations of rye, barley and corn, and with different toasts on the rye and barley, as well as different combinations of oak staves and chips in the barrel to come up with this unique profile."
Even at 92 proof, it's quite smooth, warming the esophagus while not burning the nose. Character presents itself evenly from front to back with faint, spicy rye personality and a youthful, lingering oaky note. Jackson recommends trying it in a Manhattan or Old Fashioned if not drinking it neat.