Colorado rum flows from Stoneyard Distillery located at Dotsero |

Colorado rum flows from Stoneyard Distillery located at Dotsero

The Stoneyard Distillery team — left to right, Scott Rossow, Max Vogelman and Jim Benson — display their signature still kettle Twinkie. The large tank was formerly used at a Hostess baking plant.
Pam Boyd/ |

DOTSERO — Distilling craft spirits is a painstaking process that requires know-how, creative thinking and a discriminating palate.

The team at Stoneyard Distillery boasts all three of those attributes, with a side order of tenacity and a generous dollop of industry. Their inaugural and signature product — dubbed Colorado rum because it is distilled using local water and Colorado beet sugar — was extracted from their Dotsero-based still back in October. The distillery’s spirits can already be found in 85 locations around the state. Additionally, this week the Stoneyard Distillery tasting room will open to the public with operating hours slated from 4 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.

Born in a hangar

2015 has been a big year for the guys at Stoneyard — owners Jim Benson and Max Vogelman and sales rep/rum runner Scott Rossow. But they are quick to note Stoneyard’s story really began four years ago. That’s when Benson and Vogelman first met, and it wasn’t over drinks. Instead, aviation was the basis for their friendship. Both are pilots and Vogelman was building kit plane. Benson was intrigued by the younger man’s engineering abilities and his attention to detail. After watching him toil at airplane construction for months, one day Benson asked Vogelman what he did for fun. Vogelman responded that he did a little garage distilling and Benson was again intrigued. He was more than intrigued when he sampled Vogelman’s brew and the idea for a distillery was born.

Craft Spirits

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Colorado has been at the forefront of the craft beer movement for about a decade now and the craft spirits movement is now gaining steam statewide. But Vogelman’s vision expanded beyond purchasing a still and setting up shop. He envisioned actually building his own operating still.

“Now, finding the parts is no easy task,” Vogelman said.

But his search does make for a good story. For instance, the still kettle is a repurposed piece from the former Hostess plant in Denver. It’s easy to spot once inside the Stoneyard building — its the large tank with the word “Twinkie” on its side.

The distilling column is a custom piece both designed and built by Vogelman. It took tenacity and a bit of serendipity to bring it into being. Vogelman noted since he couldn’t find the exact parts he wanted, he had to fabricate them himself. But then he tapped into a bit of good fortune when he found out a high school buddy had recently completed his sanitary staining welding training — a speciality skill set that can be difficult to find.

In addition to building the still, the Stoneyard partners had to construct a building to house their operations. Vogelman’s uncle owns property in Dotsero where he ran an actual stoneyard and the pair purchased some land from him for their endeavor. Ultimately, the land’s original use yielded their company name.

While Vogelman tweaked the still mechanics, Benson employed his carpentry skills. The wood and other materials for the building came from demolished structures at the site and eventually the Stoneyard Distillery building — which can be spotted form Interstate 70 with its distinctive “Distillery” lettering on the roof — rose from the ground.

“The whole building is a bit of a machine,” said Vogelman. “The configuration of all this is to make the product we are after.”

Exacting standards

When the still construction was finally completed last year, Benson recalls asking his partner when they could expect to have rum ready to sell. Vogelman wouldn’t, or rather couldn’t, provide an answer.

“With a lot of this, you jump into the void not sure if it’s going to work,” Vogelman said.

But they did find the Stoneyard formula had legs — with its Colorado beet sugar and spring water base. That’s not to say there were not missteps along the way. The Stoneyard guys grimace remembering the batch of spirits they produced that simply didn’t meet their quality expectations. They dumped that entire batch. Considering the fact in involved about 800 bottles it was a painful, albeit necessary, choice.

“You can’t cut corners,” said Rossow. “You definitely have craft workmanship here.”

Take a taste

Opening the Stoneyard tasting room is the operation’s latest brand-building strategy. Rossow noted by bringing people into the center of operations, they can gain an appreciation for what goes into production of the Stoneyard brand.

“We wanted to bring people to the source and tell them our story,” said Rossow. “There is a misconception about rum being just for tropical drinks. My brother is a chef and he says chefs love rum.”

As they open their doors for visitors, the Stoneyard crew noted they are looking to evolve their operations to include new products. This fall look for a cinnamon fire rum and even now, some of the Stoneyard rum is aging in wooden bourbon barrels.

At the tasting room bar, there’s a menu of rum based cocktails to order including mojitos and the operation’s play on a Moscow mule, which is appropriately called a Dotsero donkey. The Stoneyard spirits can also be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or mixed with just about anything within reach. While enjoying the spirits in hand, tasters can also gain an appreciation of the distilling process by checking out the machinery located right on site.

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