Breckenridge Distillery opens new restaurant with ‘Top Chef’ |

Breckenridge Distillery opens new restaurant with ‘Top Chef’

Heather Jarvis

When construction began on the expansion of Breckenridge Distillery in April, it was unforeseen how long it would end up taking to open the doors to its new restaurant. Challenges forced the Distillery to push back the expected date from summer into fall, and then into winter. But for its new chef, Daniel O’Brien, it just gave him more time to perfect the food and focus on finding quality ingredients. In late August, he was on his third leg of the menu for the brand-new restaurant on Airport Road.

“It’s not just building a restaurant … we are also expanding the distillery,” he said at the end of the summer. “Having everything come together as fast as they wanted to just didn’t happen. We’d rather have it done right, so we are taking the time to make sure those things are in place.”

Now, just as most of the ski resorts are finally up and running, the restaurant is complete and has announced an official opening date that’s right around the corner on Tuesday, Dec. 6.

The new Distillery restaurant is just the first of a multi-phase project, which also includes production expansion and plans for a brewery and winery in the future. Like the ski resorts, the Distillery sees the expansion as an opportunity to become a major piece to creating a destination location.

“When you come to Breckenridge, Breckenridge Distillery is the No. 1 reason outside of going skiing that you come by,” said Grace Gabree, marketing coordinator for Breckenridge Distillery, about their aspirations with the project. “You can come here and it’s sort of like Disneyland. You can eat and drink and play games outside, tour the whole distillery, tour the winery, you can sign up with our whiskey club that we are planning on forming — it’s really just a whole day affair at the Breck Distillery.”


O’Brien met the founder of Breckenridge Distillery, Bryan Nolt, while judging food at the Cochon 555 culinary tour, bonding over their mutual love of Wu Tang Clan and a shared passion for food. O’Brien has an extensive résumé in the culinary world, which all began while growing up on a farm in upstate New York. He loved cooking for his family as a child, even teaching himself how to make doughnuts one day when his parents wouldn’t take him out to get any.

His passion for food blossomed into a career, receiving a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts & service management from Paul Smith’s College. From there he moved on to work with several notable chefs, including Michael Schlow of Radius and Marc Orfaly of Pigalle, even appearing on a season of The Bravo Channel’s “Top Chef.”

After moving to Washington, D.C., and working under Todd Gray of Equinox for around four years, he became the executive sous chef under Nicholas Stefanelli of Bibiana. After a year in that role, he opened up his own restaurant, Seasonal Pantry, which was awarded the Washington Post Editor’s Pick, and was also named one of “10 Best New Restaurants” in the Washingtonian.

“(The restaurant made a) major impact just doing something different,” O’Brien said. “We had a king’s table, one service, one night, 12 people.”

After five years with Seasonal Pantry, he felt ready for a change — the chef said the food scene had changed drastically over that short time period.

“You have the stay with the Joneses kind of idea,” he said about owning a restaurant in the city. “And that kind of wears on a person after awhile.”

He uses the example of a few notable fine dining chefs who have recently taken their craft to cities where the food scene isn’t quite as distinguished, “that culture of bringing a whole new level of fine dining with maybe a casual affair to really impact,” he said.

Getting the Distillery restaurant off the ground is the fourth opening of his career.

“He’ll be training his entire kitchen staff and bringing a certain level of professionalism to the restaurant,” Gabree said. “You’re not really working for him, you’re learning under him.”


Although the new restaurant has been its current focus, Breckenridge Distillery is working on upping the entire production facility. Previously, the Distillery could produce about two barrels a day, but the continuing expansion will soon give it the ability to produce around 30 barrels a day. While it already distributes to 45 states, this will allow the brand to be on more shelves.

“We will be in every liquor store instead of just select ones,” Gabree said.

She said they hope to go international at some point next year.

One of the future phases of its expansion project includes adding to its lineup with a brewery and winery. In the state of Colorado, as a spirits production facility, the Distillery cannot serve anything it doesn’t make.

“If we wanted to serve beer and wine we would have to make it, so we decided we would make it,” Gabree said.


Chef O’Brien’s focus when it comes to food is to source ingredients locally, changing the menu with what’s available during the seasons.

The menu focuses on small plates and family-style meals for sharing. Currently, it features items such as lamb tartine and truffle fritters, meats and charcuterie, smoked trout and calamari, to family-style options like Whole Roasted Chicken and Porchetta Alla Breck. Items will change daily, as well as seasonally. There is a dessert menu, and to top it off, an extensive list of craft cocktails perfected by liquid chef Billie Keithley.

When Nolt and O’Brien first started discussing ideas for the food, O’Brien said they envisioned the restaurant to embody the vibe of the song “Misirlou” by Dick Dale from the movie “Pulp Fiction.”

“We kind of feel like that tune — because it’s not just surfer but gives it an edge,” he said. “We thought of it to be like the gnarly, cool, couple of biker, slash tattooed, or somebody kind of in that realm of fine dining. That aggressive, raw personality, bringing that to it, while keeping it casual and keeping it simple.”

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