Jordan Via is a mad scientist, concocting new recipes with his beakers and potions at the Breckenridge Distillery. Some are meticulously groomed, and some happen by happy accident, but all showcase his talents as a still monkey and master blender.
Not content to rest on his laurels after creating the award-winning Breckenridge Bourbon and Vodka, Via has dreamed up some new products, some of which will be on the market very soon. Between cranking out new spirits, keeping pace with the demand for its bourbon and breaking ground on a new barrelhouse, the Breckenridge Distillery is a bustling hub of activity. Here’s a look at some of the new items brewing on Airport Road.
Rather than developing dashing bitters, Via went the route of an Italian-style amaro, a bittersweet liqueur like a Campari.
“It was about a year of formulating,” he said. “I have always been interested in the category; I love drinking amaros myself. One nice summer up here gone by and I said, ‘I’m going to have to make one for next summer.’”
The liqueur is 16 percent sugar and 72 proof, which is significantly less alcohol than dashing bitters, Via said. It’s made with 16 different herbs and botanicals and fruit to finish and requires a three-stage maceration and three weeks to produce a batch from the base alcohol.
One of the bittering herbs that provides aroma and flavor is genepi, which grows wild in the Tenmile Range and thrives above 8,500 feet. The herb is in the same family as wormwood, but without the thujone that causes hallucinations.
“There are two types of genepi; only one smells like chamomile, and the other smells like dish soap,” Via said.
The two species look identical, so finding the fragrant twin is a process of rubbing the flowers between his palms and taking a whiff. The artistry and detail of the bitters don’t stop with the spirit itself. The bottle and label have stories of their own.
“The bottle — there was a competition over in Italy at a university by Bruni Packaging, and this was one of the art student’s winning entry,” Via said. “So they produced it and no one was using it.”
Via found the bottle by reading an article about the contest and immediately wanted it to showcase his product.
“I love that bottle,” he said. “It looks like an anaphore, an old wine bottle from ancient Rome. Our graphic designer hand drew that label. We went back and forth between two different designs that he made on the computer, and we didn’t really like either of them, so he hand drew this one. It’s an art project.”
A 750-mililiter bottle of the bitters sells for $29 at the distillery. Via said it’s a great summer drink with a little bit of ginger soda and a slice of fresh orange, or drop a shot of it into a nice, hoppy beer like an IPA for a more complex flavor.
The production of single-malt whiskey isn’t limited to Scotland. For the past two and a half years, give or take, Via has been aging his own version of the liquor.
“It’s still resting,” he said. “It’s delicious, but we’re not releasing it yet. I’m going to give it at least four years, perhaps six. Single malt is all about patience; there’s a reason why the Scots don’t release it for eight years. It’s going to be fantastic.”
Because of the popularity of Breckenridge Bourbon, the distillery can’t do many batches of the single malt on the still.
“We’ve laid down about 60 barrels so far, and we weren’t really able to make any last year,” Via said. “We’ll roll it out in small, numbered batches once a year just to hold on to it. People want it, but you have to be kind of stingy with it to give them the best.”
The Breckenridge peach-bourbon liqueur was a serendipitous creation brought on by an excess of peach juice.
“We made a peach brandy using four tons of fresh peaches from last year’s harvest in Palisade,” Via said. “The peaches were de-stoned by hand and pressed in a basket press. We filled a tank because we wanted to make a peach brandy and age it for a few years.”
The distillery was also making a pear brandy, and the pears arrived riper than the peaches.
“So we put the peaches in the greenhouse and they were so fat and ripe that they had so much juice — we didn’t know what to do with the juice,” Via said. “So I pulled down some 2-year-old bourbon barrels, and I emptied them halfway and ran the peach juice off the press into the bourbon barrels.
“We let it age for about six months before we checked it, and when we opened it up and tasted it, it was just awesome. It has a perfect balance of sweetness; it’s 50 proof. There’s nothing else in it but fresh peach juice and Breck Bourbon. It’s sweet but not cloying.”
Only two barrels of the peach-bourbon liqueur were made, and it will be released on Aug. 1 in 375-mililiter bottles. The stuff was so good, Via said they are going to shoot for six or eight barrels with the next peach harvest.
“It’s one of the happiest accidents I’ve encountered,” he said.
Brandy also takes some time and patience, which is why the Breck peach brandy is still “resting away,” Via said. The pear brandy, on the other hand, is an un-aged, clear, white variety that also will be released in 375-mililiter bottles on Aug. 1.
“It’s made from a whole bunch of fresh Palisade pears,” Via said. “Its real charm is in its youthful, bright pear notes. We pressed the pears off in the basket press and then retained the fleshy material, and after the first distillation of the spirit, we put that product back onto the skins and macerated them for 48 hours so they would pick up that bright, waxy note of the pear skins — that brought in a whole other pear note.”
Only about 400 bottles of the pear brandy will be released.
“I really didn’t make much of that,” Via said. “It’s a test batch, so we didn’t want to over do it. We’ll release it right before harvest, so people can come and get it and then see what we’re doing back there with the next batch.”
Breaking new ground
All of those new products need a place to hang out until their time arrives. The distillery recently added larger fermentation tanks and will break ground on its new barrelhouse next week. The current storage capacity is about 320 barrels, and the new building will hold upwards of 3,700 barrels.
“We’re going to be racing to get it done before the summer’s out,” Via said. “We were planning on breaking ground in June, so we’re a little bit behind. We’re just getting started; we just moved the electrical and are getting started on digging it out and laying the foundation next week. It’s going to be beautiful, and it’ll be done by September or October.”