Colorado may be known for the barrels on barrels of craft beer found in all four of its corners. But there’s also an explosion of craft distilleries in the state, many of which are experimenting with gins that impart a kick of local flavor.
Local distilleries are scouring the Rocky Mountains for their botanicals and, in a few cases, using locally grown produce as the base ingredient for their gin. If you ever wondered what Colorado tastes like, its craft gins are a solid place to start. These five bottles are helping put the Mile High State on the world’s gin map.
Boulder Ginskey Barrel Aged
Unlike many aged gins, this one from Vapor Distillery, in Boulder, rests in new No. 3 char American oak barrels rather than barrels that previously held whiskey, wine or beer. The result is a flavor-packed spirit made from 11 botanicals: juniper, jasmine tea, star anise and chamomile included.
Despite its rich amber color, the nose is clean and sweet. The taste, on the other hand, is deep and bourbon-like, but with a mellow spice and light flower essence reminiscent of candied violets. Coriander notes come through loud and clear, making it a perfect gin for savory cocktails.
Jack Rabbit Hill Farm owner Lance Hanson has taken his affinity for fermented fruit and turned it into an organic gin local bartenders swoon over. The base? Loads of organic Braeburn and Jonathan apples grown at Ela Family Farms, right near Jack Rabbit’s Peak Spirits Distillery in Hotchkiss. “We didn’t have experience fermenting grain, but we knew how to ferment fruit,” says Hanson.
What he makes is something like apple brandy, which is then combined with an organic red-wheat distillate. From there, Hanson adds botanicals from all over the world, including the best organic juniper he has found, sourced from Eastern Europe. The result is a gin with a rich mouthfeel that imparts the sunshine-happy flavor of crisp apples, budding flowers and a hint of musty juniper.
Nestled at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Golden is an old Gold Rush town that takes its booze-making seriously. Golden Moon Distillery co-owner and master distiller Stephen Gould spent a lot of time researching juniper, coriander, field mint, lemon balm, fennel, angelic and lavender. A handful of the ingredients are sourced locally, imparting a true Colorado flavor. What comes out of the bottle is earthy and bright with hints of anise that work wonders in a Negroni.
Leopold’s Navy Strength American
Twenty years since its debut, Leopold Bros. still leads the charge in Denver’s distilling scene. The locally focused brand produces a trio of outstanding gins, including its navy strength American gin, brimming with juniper berries, bergamot, coriander, cardamom and orris root, all distilled individually with a neutral grain spirit in what’s known as fractional distillation. After each ingredient has been brought to its full potential in the liquor, it’s removed and set aside for proper blending. Despite the high ABV (57%), the gin unfolds with layers of warm citrus and bright juniper flavor. It’s a perfect base for a high-octane G&T.
This square bottle of gin from Woody Creek Distillers stands out because of its base spirit: vodka made from local potatoes. Distilled in the classic London dry style, this gin features everything from Rocky Mountain juniper and hibiscus to lavender and cranberries. The botanicals macerate in the spirit base at 150 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours before being redistilled into a marvelous finished product that ties the spicy, woodsy flavors together in a smooth, unique sip.