Tennessee and Kentucky are the states that come to mind when you think of whisky, whether you prefer it neat, on the rocks or in an old fashioned. However, the town of Lyons, Colorado contains an unexpected but happy surprise for whisky lovers. Spirit Hound Distillers shows that Colorado can indeed have high-quality whisky that holds its own with the well-established whiskies of Kentucky and Tennessee.
The History of Spirit Hounds Distillers
Spirit Hounds Distillers was founded by a group of four friends who followed their passion for whisky and decided to open a distillery in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Craig Engelhorn, the head brewer, had the idea of opening a whisky distillery in Colorado back in 2000, but was initially discouraged by the lack of precedence in the state.
However, as the craft brewing scene grew more established in Colorado, whisky aficionados in the beverage alcohol industry became interested in the idea of a whisky distillery as well. The first one to open was Stranahan's in Denver, and others soon followed as a natural progression from the growing craft beer scene. Spirit Hound Distillers was opened in 2012, and since then has continued to produce and evolve its delectable whisky.
Craig Engelhorn explains, "It felt like graduating from beer into whisky. People who come from the beer world are nerdy about this stuff so its really natural for someone who comes from beer to take the flavors you're used to in the fermented product and see what happens to the flavors after distillation and then when it comes to whisky two to three years later in a barrel."
"The Colorado whisky world is born out of the craft beer movement in Colorado, which is a unique mindset. There are small breweries here and that passion for making authentic original spirits is translated right from the craft beer world into the craft whisky and spirits world."
From the beginning, the distillery's whisky was a hit. When asked how he decides which ingredients to use and how long to age the bottles, Engelhorn replied with "serendipity and a little bit of research. I started off on the right foot but made tweaks. The third bottle of whisky made in my life I sent off to a whisky critic and he gave us a 93 rating which is amazing for the 3rd in my life, so then I knew I needed to not change a it a bunch and screw it up."
What Makes Spirit Hounds Distillers Unique?
Spirit Hounds Distillers is known for making craft whisky from local ingredients, using hand-crafted stills and distillation equipment. The distillery strives to create one-of-a-kind flavors, and is known across the state for its singular whiskies.
This Colorado brewery is unique in many ways, one of which being how hands-on and home-grown it is. The distillers do every part of the process themselves, from brewing to fermenting to distilling to bottling. The copper stills that they use are modeled after the ones used in the production of Scottish whisky, and from the juniper berries to the malted barley, the ingredients used in their Colorado spirits are grown in the area and sometimes even hand-picked by customers. As Engelson explained, the whisky they produce is "100% Colorado from grain to glass."
Along with this, Spirit Hounds Distillers produces all of their whisky in a single barrel manner, meaning that each bottle is distinct. "We don't vat any barrels together into a batch, but instead do exclusively single barrel bottling...especially in a tasting room, that's fantastic because every bottle is different. From the char level or the tree it came out of or the part of the warehouse it's in, each whisky has a subtle difference we get to enjoy."
One whisky that truly sets this craft distillery apart is its aged honey whisky, which is made by sending a used malt whisky barrel to an apiary and filling it with 300 lbs of honey. It's then rotated around and aged for 3 months, and then returned to the distillery, where they put a barrel of whisky into the honey barrel.
This honey whisky "is unique because it doesn't have honey in the whisky, but picks up the honey aroma and flavors which complement the natural flavors of our whisky. It's super nice because it tastes like whisky character with subtle hints of honey."
Some other tasty whiskies produced by Spirit Hound Distillers are the Straight Malt Whisky, Sambuca, and the White Dog Moonshine.
What Makes Colorado Whisky Different From Whisky in Tennessee or Kentucky?
As explained by Engelhorn, the climate of Colorado makes for a whisky that tastes distinct from the typical whiskies we're used to in the United States. Engelhorn said, "the high altitude and dry climate cause the whisky to evaporate through the wood at a faster rate than in a humid place. This speeds up the rate at which the characters are infused into the whisky which is a good thing, but you have to be careful that you don't end up aging it too long. Because of this, Colorado whisky has a more pronounced oak flavor because you're infusing those characters at a faster rate."
Spirit Hound Distillers products are available in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska. This craft distillery is in Boulder County, right outside of the Rocky Mountain National Park. To go to the tasting room and experience this unique craft whisky for yourself, head to 4196 Ute Highway/US Route 36 Lyons, CO 80540.