Amore amaro! |

Amore amaro!

It’s spring, and young Collin Baugh and Lance Hanson’s affections turn to … crab apples?

But let’s consider the humble crab apple. They did and came up with an exotic liqueur and plans to plant an orchard and make much more.

But before we can tell you that story, we need to tell you this story.

Baugh is co-owner of Avon restaurant vin48. Hanson owns two organic farming operations – Jack Rabbit Hill, a vineyard and winery, and Peak Distillery, both in Hotchkiss.

Hanson and Baugh were strolling outside vin48 one warm spring day, when their conversation turned to crab apples.

As it turns out, vin48 has a bunch of crab apple trees outside. Baugh wondered what Hanson could do with them, so he and his staff picked about 400 pounds and hauled them to Hotchkiss, where Hanson began to experiment.

“Two years later, we think we have found the best home possible for Rocky Mountain crab apples,” Hanson said.

Hanson experimented his way to amaro, an Italian spirit. The Italians drink it over ice before dinner to help stimulate the appetite and palate.

“You don’t see amaro much in American restaurants, but you’re starting to see it more and more,” Hanson said.

Never have so many crab apples made so many so happy.

“Crab apples are good for the sugar but even more importantly for tannins and acids,” Hanson said. “We want to see all three of those. When you put all those together, you have a nice balance and structure in this type of liqueur.”

If you were lucky enough to get a seat at Restaurant Kelly Liken for Friday’s wine-pairing event, you sampled amaro and other Hanson creations.

“It’s coming back in popularity in the U.S. as an ingredient in cocktails. When it’s done right, it’s tremendous,” Hanson said.

In big commercial orchards, you’ll notice that about every one in 10 trees is a crab apple tree. The crab apple trees attract bees, bees pollinate the trees, and nature takes its course.

Collin has the same variety of pollinator crab apple trees growing in front of vin48. They spent part of the afternoon Wednesday taking 12-inch cuttings from those trees – sort of a do-it-yourself orchard kit.

“Eventually, we’ll come up with an orchard,” Baugh said.

Hanson’s is a biodynamic farm, which means it has to meet a rigorous organic standard and taps into natural systems.

“If we look deep enough into Mother Nature, we find all kinds of ways to grow more and better foods,” Hanson said.

It also means they have the time and flexibility to consider all kinds of things your average soybean farmer might not think about.

Phases of the moon, for example.

Wednesday was a particularly good day for cuttings, Hanson said. The moon was in the constellation Leo, a fruit sign.

Trees were particularly alive and active, with a lot of life force in them, Hanson said.

“We like to work with the fruit-bearing plants on good fruit days,” Hanson said.

Yeah, that sounds a little earth-motherish, but even the Book of Ecclesiastes says there’s “a time to plant and a time to sow,” so there.

“It’s not like we’re studying the cosmic calendar to figure out what we’re going to do today. When we’re doing something special and we do have some flexibility, we take everything into consideration,” Hanson said.

They’ll soak the cuttings in some willow tea, which stimulates root growth, Hanson said.

It’s farming, and there are no guarantees, but Baugh and Hanson like their chances. And Hanson has done this before.

CapRock vodka is made from Hanson’s own locally grown grapes. The gin made at his Peak Distillery is from apples grown in his own orchard, as is the base spirit – Jonathan and Braeburn apples.

“For us, it’s always been about making our spirits from locally grown fruit,” Hanson said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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