Colorado distillers flock to sixth annual Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival
If you go …
What: Still on the Hill Grand Tasting, part of the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival.
When: 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Riverwalk Center, 150 W. Adams Ave., Breckenridge.
Cost: $30, plus fees, in advance or $40, plus fees, at the door, if not sold out ahead of time. Beaver Run Resort has special room rates that start at $128 per night.
More information: Find a full schedule for the three-day festival, including a list of participating distilleries, hikes and tours, workshops, the Friday night poker run, cooking classes and more at www.breckenridgecraftspiritsfestival.com.
After five years hosting the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival, organizers know how to tie the spirits theme into a weekend that not only showcases Colorado distillers, but also the town, lodging, restaurants and even the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance. In its sixth year, the festival has grown to feature its biggest lineup of events yet, including lectures, tours, a cooking class, the Poker Run and its signature event, the Still on the Hill Grand Tasting.
“Our goal was to stretch the summer seasons — bridge between the summer and winter season and create an event that really ties into the character of Breckenridge as well as the craft-spirits movement,” said Corry Mihm with the Breckenridge Restaurant Association, the organization that puts on the festival.
The Breckenridge Restaurant Association created this festival back when the Breckenridge Distillery was still in its infancy to bring more awareness to the craft-spirits movement and also help bring more business to local restaurants, Mihm said.
“Since then, the distillery has grown very strongly, so now it’s nice we have this event steeped in Breckenridge, and there’s that tie in with the distillery … We’ve also been adding other ancillary events to package into a full weekend,” she said.
EVENTS FOR EVERY INTEREST
The Breckenridge Heritage Alliance is hosting several tours that tie in with the spirits theme, the history of the town and also Breck’s paranormal activity as the festival falls close to Halloween. The Behind Swinging Doors Historic Saloon Tour is a walking tour that highlights the history of brewing and distilling in Breckenridge. Tour the town’s historic cemetery on the Tombstone Tour at Twilight or take the Preston Ghost Town & Gold Mine Tour or Paranormal Investigation.
“Because distilling has such a heritage in Breckenridge because of the old mining days where people would come to town and have their whiskey and moonshine, there is a real natural tie there,” Mihm said. “So many of our restaurants and bars have either historic buildings or historic back bars, so it’s kind of neat to pair the history of drinking in Breckenridge and the modern reinvention of a lot of that.”
New this year, on Friday, Oct. 23 from 6-8 p.m., Ceramic Studio in the Arts District will offer a class to create personalized whiskey tasting glasses. Last year, the shot glass making class sold out, so get there early because the class is first come, first serve, and $5 includes all materials.
On Friday, master intoxicologist Mic Beseda will offer a free workshop on the distilling process, how distilling has evolved, how to add and change flavors and all about what makes a quality spirit.
“We are adding a couple of lectures this year because the trend in America and everything is wanting to have hands-on and knowing more about the back story of what’s happening,” Mihm said. “So with the craft-spirits movement, people are certainly enjoying the products, but also wanting to understand more about how they come to be and how does it work and that kind of thing. … It’s kind of fun to see the traditions through human history and how things have come to be and how things have changed over time.”
On Saturday, Oct. 24, a Spirited Cooking class will be held at Colorado Mountain College in Breckenridge with chefs Ian Buchanan and Doug Schwartz. This hands-on class will focus on how to make a beverage edible, and Buchanan said the menu was crafted around three different craft spirits that will be featured. The three-course lunch will include fresh herb marinated chicken skewers with Downslope Distilling Vodka citrus butter sauce, dry spice rubbed pork tenderloin with JP Krause Rum brown sugar glaze, roasted fingerlings and crispy Brussel sprouts and Axe and the Oak pumpkin bread pudding with caramel sauce and vanilla gelato. As of Thursday afternoon, Oct. 22, there were only a few spots left, as organizers try to keep the class small and intimate.
The class will also pair the spirits with each course, so that everyone gets to do a tasting as well, Buchanan said. Last year, the class for the Spirits Festival was a three-course chef demonstration, and, this year, the chefs decided a more hands-on approach would make for a better experience.
“The interactive piece is what we enjoy about our regular (CMC cooking) classes and what I think a lot of our students do as well, so we just brought that aspect into the event this year,” he said.
Participants will be split into teams, and, after instruction, each team will prepare a different recipe.
“It’s very cooperative, and it’s team work, it’s not liked ‘Chopped’ or anything like that,” he said. “The end is always the best because people’s faces when you start rattling through how everything is going to work — they are just like deer in the headlights. They are like, ‘What? We are going to cook for everybody?’ … Seeing how it all comes together … with everybody cooking bits and pieces of it. It all comes together at the end, and people think that’s amazing, ‘Look at what we just did in two hours.’ I think that’s my favorite part.”
POKER RUN AND STILL ON THE HILL GRAND TASTING
The sixth annual Poker Run and Bar Mix-Off is one of the highlights of the weekend. Distillers are paired with 18 stops at Breckenridge restaurants to offer different craft cocktails from the different spirits the distillers are featuring over the weekend.
“It’s the opportunity for the public to talk one-on-one with the distillers, and it’s an opportunity for the distillers and the restaurants to get to know each other and the products, and it’s a chance for the restaurants to experiment with craft cocktails and the growing popularity of that,” Mihm said. “Of course, you don’t have to go to all the spots, but it’s a neat opportunity to try different craft cocktails in the restaurant and bar setting, which Breck is obviously very well known for.”
The Still on the Hill Grand Tasting is the main event of the weekend, featuring 36 distillers, mainly from Colorado, but some from around the country. The reputation of the festival has grown so much over the years that distillers now reach out to event organizers themselves in hopes to receive an invitation, and there is even a waiting list.
“The distillers have told us they love this event because it’s in Breckenridge, so the setting is fantastic,” Mihm said.
Some distillers will offer tastings of their spirits, while some will create craft cocktails from their featured liquor.
“You can see them kind of playing off each other and wanting to outdo each other,” she said. “Some of them come in period costumes, some of them will make a special cocktail and some will bring small batch product they want to test out or are working on developing. A lot of distilleries are working with local farmers and ranchers in area to source things they can infuse with.”
For example, she said, Peach Street Distillers out of Palisade will buy peaches and pears from local orchards to feature in cocktails, and other distilleries will source local chili peppers.
There will also be snacks and live music by the Honey Gitters. Tickets are $30 in advance or $40 at the door, if not sold out. As of Thursday afternoon, there were still tickets left to the event. Proceeds benefit the Breckenridge Restaurant Association Scholarship Fund.
“It’s a really upbeat, fun atmosphere; the enthusiasm just kind of spreads through the room,” Mihm said.
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