Pair of Eagle County distilleries encounter plenty of obstacles |

Pair of Eagle County distilleries encounter plenty of obstacles

Derek Franz
Jeff Leonardo, left, and Claude Seeman show off the new still they will use to launch 808 Distillery. They have been making private batches but are waiting to have a label approved by the federal government before they can sell anything.
Derek Franz / |

EAGLE COUNTY — Two sets of business partners received initial permits from the county to start two separate distilleries in 2012. Almost a year later, both operations are still navigating the state and federal permit process.

Claude Seeman, of 808 Distillery near the county fairgrounds, finished construction and got his still fired up last spring. He’s made some private batches of limoncello, but he can’t sell any yet.

“Our label and formula has to be approved by the federal government,” he said. “We’ve been doing private batches to establish our formulas. We’re hoping to have something on the shelves by the end of the year.”

Jim Bensen, of Stoneyard Distillery in Dotsero, has had a couple extra hurdles to clear. His plan required more construction, such as installing water lines, and he leases the property.

“I finally got my building permits and then I had renegotiate with my landlord,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll have the building up in the next 90 to 130 days. Our state and federal permits are still in the works.”

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Bensen and his partner already built an 8-inch-diameter, 12-foot-tall column for the kettle that is currently being shipped from Georgia.

“The kettle was originally used by Hostess and was probably used to make Twinkies, so we’re thinking of naming it Twinkie,” Bensen said. “I already have 30,000 bottles sitting in a warehouse for when we start production.”

Stoneyard’s first batches will be rum, since it ages faster than whiskey.

“We’ll use water from the Eagle River and Colorado beet sugar,” Bensen said. “It’ll be a complete Colorado product except for the bottles.”

Storage is another tricky matter.

“We can only store so much in barrels because if you have 120 gallons in one container, it puts you into the ‘hazardous’ category for building codes and I would have to install a $20,000 sprinkler system,” Bensen said.

Meanwhile, the men have regular jobs and families to maintain. Their original intent was merely to brew liquor as a hobby. Since they need permits to brew regardless of intent to sell — state permits cost $4,000 and the federal licensing is $16,000 — they figured they might as well make a business out of it.

“It’s a very arduous process,” Bensen said.

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