EAGLE — Jeff Leonardo and Claude Seeman wanted to thrive through the recession and enjoy themselves. So, they opened 808 Distillery in Eagle.
Spirits may be one of the only industries that resists economic cycles, Leonardo said.
“When the economy is bad, people drink. When the economy is good, people drink,” he said.
As you can see, they’re practical. 808 is the distillery’s street address in Eagle. So far, they make rum, gin and vodka consistently good, and with local juniper berries, which makes it smooth.
Then there’s Leo’s Limoncello. Mix it with a little iced tea and make yourself a grown-up Arnie Palmer.
“We try something and if it works, we keep doing it,” Leonardo said. “If not, we try something else. If something works, then the question becomes whether we can do it consistently.”
“When life give you lemons, drink Leo’s Limoncello,” they said, laughing and raising a glass.
You can check them out for yourself. They’ll be at the new Flavors of Colorado festival in Avon today and Sunday.
Art and science
Leonardo is a structural engineer by trade. Seeman is a builder. They incorporated 808 Distillery in 2012, after the construction and development industry hit the skids. When they decided to start a distillery, the first thing they did was build a garage and filled it with gear. To make approved libations they needed an official still, and they settled on Hillbilly Stills from Barlowe, Kentucky.
At first, they wanted to make moonshine. Eventually, though, they decided they’d make rum, vodka and gin. The formulas are fairly uniformed. Bourbon is always 51 percent corn mash, just so you know.
“You can only use so much corn or fruit,” Leonardo said.
The techniques and fundamentals have not changed since 14th century Arab alchemists began separating the essence — the spirits. The differences can be subtle, but important.
“It’s art and science. It’s like cooking,” Seeman said.
Mediocrity is easy. Excellence is not.
“Craft distilling is like anything else. Anyone can make something, but to make something good is something else altogether,” Leonardo said.
Microbreweries are popping up all over, and custom distilleries are following suit. In 2000, there were distilleries in only 12 states. As of 2011, 45 states had them. When Bill Owens founded the American Distilling Institute in 2003, 86 people showed up for the first meeting, mostly old friends. The U.S. is now home to 623 craft distilleries, and Owens said the number could rise to 750 by the end of this year.
Owens likens it to local coffee roasters, bakeries and breweries.
“There’s a huge amount of pride in physical work. There’s no pride in going to an office building and sitting in a cubicle. Distilling is part of that,” he told Entrepreneur magazine.
In Starlight, Indiana, for example, Huber’s Starlight Distillery just sold that state’s first legally distilled spirits directly to customers. There’s even a federal government agency that oversees this sort of thing.
Like every startup, Leonardo and Seeman do everything, all the time.
“We want people to enjoy this,” Leonardo said. “We certainly are.”
You can buy 808 products at Eagle Liquormart, Riverwalk Wine & Spirits, West Vail Liquormart and it’s served at a few local restaurants, including The Rose and e|town.
For more information, visit www.808distill.com.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.