Jeff Lindauer, owner, head chef and lead janitor at Spring 44 in Loveland, never intended to get into the distilling business.
“If you would have told me seven years ago that I would be on the phone talking to you about building a distillery, I would have told you you were drunk,” he said. “It wasn’t like I woke up one day and decided to build a distillery. It was inspired literally by this spring on some property my father bought in the late ’60s.”
Lindauer’s father was looking for something remote, and he found it — 160 acres of private land surrounded by thousands of acres of National Forest.
“When I was a kid, I had a boyhood dream that I was going to build a home there,” Lindauer said, adding that his father laughed at the idea. “To access the property, you have to take 2½-mile-long four-wheel-drive trail that goes up a couple thousand feet.”
Lindauer originally played around with the idea of selling bottled water from the spring, but the logistics of handling that venture were too onerous, so he punted on that idea.
“Through a weird set of circumstances, my cousin said you ought to see how well suited it is to spirits,” Lindauer said. “I didn’t’ even know what that meant. The single biggest thing that prompted me to put time and money into this business was the whole notion that craft was a legitimate category.”
After a lot of research, the aspiring distillery owner settled on clear spirits, vodka and gin, which at the time had a very small market share domestically.
“So we got smart about the business,” he said. “We went about the process of building our facility in Loveland, and we have four stills, and we’ve got a great bottling line and fantastic team and we’re really enjoying the ride. I’ve never done anything I’ve felt as passionate about or had as much fun as this.”
Continuing the ride
Rob Masters, head distiller for Spring 44, said the distillery will be pouring all of its products at Still on the Hill in Breckenridge, starting with its straight vodka, which is 40 percent ethanol and 60 percent water from Lindauer’s mountain spring.
“It’s a grain-based, corn-based vodka,” Masters said. The distillery also produces honey vodka. “The honey vodka is Colorado honey that’s been distilled, and what comes off the still is a honey-flavored distillate; we infuse it with amber agave nectar and vanilla beans.”
The company also makes — and will be pouring — three different kinds of gin. Masters started out making his own gin, Rob’s Mountain Gin, which became a Spring 44 product when he signed on with the company a year and a half ago. The company’s original gin is also still produced and is made with juniper, coriander, nutmeg and a hint of light agave nectar. The third style is Old Tom, a classically inspired recipe from back in the day, Masters said.
“They have to be sweetened gins,” he said of the Old Tom style. “And ours is juniper, fresh rosemary, fresh grapefruit, lemongrass, coriander, golongo root in the ginger family and orris root. Each is distilled separately and then blended together and aged in toasted barrels for two to four months and then sweetened up a little with agave nectar.”
Spring 44 also has ventured into the bourbon market, with a blended Kentucky bourbon and a single-barrel bourbon.
“Went to a bunch of distilleries in Kentucky and bought 50 barrels from two different distilleries,” Masters said. “We tasted them all and came up with our own proprietary blend of Kentucky bourbon. We take six to seven barrels of corn, rye and barley whiskey, blend the barrels, add our wonderful water and bottle it up at 90 proof.”
After tasting through all of the barrels, a few were set aside that were really great on their own, Masters said. These were bottled at 100 proof as Spring 44’s single-barrel bourbon.