Eat, Drink, Play: High Country highball
November 27, 2011
The founders of the Breckenridge Distillery decided to start the business in Summit County because they wanted their bourbon to begin with cold, mineral-rich mountain water.
“It’s the right place to do it,” master distiller Jordan Via said. “The water source is unmatched.”
Less than five years later, the nation is taking notice.
Breckenridge Bourbon was picked up by a national retailer this year and is now sold in 12 states.
The distillers say its unique, smooth flavor starts in Breckenridge with the best ingredients and a careful production process. But whiskey enthusiasts can make that call for themselves after a tour and tasting at the world’s highest distillery.
The tour takes about 30 minutes. Distillers walk visitors through what is, for those of us who have never given much more thought to the origins of our whiskey than watching a bartender pull it off the top shelf, a surprisingly artful process.
The Breckenridge Distillery’s bourbon, vodka and some day scotch-style whiskey, all start with grains steeped in the High Country’s cold mountain water.
From the resulting brew, distillers coax out, through evaporation, the alcohol. Good alcohol is separated from the bad and then poured into a barrel, where it ages, taking on the flavor and color of the barrel as the surrounding temperature fluctuates over the next three-and-a-half years.
The golden-amber bourbon distillers pour into the plastic shot glasses for tastings is spicy-sweet and smooth, going down without a chaser or a grimace for even inexperienced drinkers.
Likewise, the distillery’s vodka, which is also sampled during tours, is made from corn rather than potatoes or wheat for a silky sweetness with almost no aftertaste.
But the real reason the distillery was opened – scotch-style whiskey – isn’t ready yet. It might be three or more years before the first batch hits the market.
But the Breckenridge distillers are patient, almost like vineyard owners, with no interest in rushing the aging process on their finest labels.
The environment in the distillery itself is somewhat reminiscent of a winery as well; high-end chic is combined with Breckenridge’s saloon-era Old West feel, and somehow it works. A delicate smell of whiskey and wood meets customers as soon as they step inside the distillery, where there is a small shop stocked with everything from glasses to T-shirts.
Inside, the tour stops first at a bar for the tasting, which includes legitimate shots, not subtle sips of some of the distillery’s products. Surrounded by barrels, distillers explain the laws that govern the production processes and how the Breckenridge products differ from other brands.
Then visitors get a peak at the inner chamber, where the alcohol is made. The tour offers an up-close look at the whiskey at different stages of production as distillers get into the mechanics of production.
Tours and tastings are hosted seven days a week. More information about the distillery and products is available online at http://www.breckenridgedistillery.com.