Eagle County hooch purveyors head to Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival | VailDaily.com

Eagle County hooch purveyors head to Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival

BRECKENRIDGE — Since its advent six years ago, the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival has more than doubled in size, attracting three-dozen distilleries from across Colorado and beyond.

This year's event will include additional tours from the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance that explore the history of booze, the mining days and — because the event falls near Halloween — Breck's paranormal activity, as well as a craft spirit-inspired cooking class at Colorado Mountain College and a free workshop about the evolution of hooch.

"We've expanded the number of distilleries and added a tent to the back end of the Riverwalk to expand the venue a bit," said Corry Mihm, of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association, the organization that puts on the festival. "We're also working on adding education and workshops."

Grand tasting

The highlight of the three-day festival is Saturday's Still on the Hill Grand Tasting, where representatives from each of the distilleries, including Eagle's 808 Distillery and Vail's 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits Co., sling cocktails and offer samples of their products to the public. Jeff Leonardo, vice president of 808, said his distillery would be pouring all three of its spirits at the tasting.

"We have our Red Canyon Rum, a regular rum that we will be serving over the rocks," he said. "It's a whiskey-drinker's rum. When people try it, they do not really think it's rum because it's so smooth and has a nice, oaky flavor and smell to it. We'll also be doing our Red Canyon Spiced Rum."

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The spiced rum would likely be served as a cocktail, Leonardo said, though he wasn't sure quite yet what form it would take — something with fall spices to reflect the season. The distillery's Leo's Limoncello, mixed as a spritzer with mint and seltzer water, will round out the trio.

"It's a big, fun party," he said of the Grand Tasting. "There are a lot of phenomenal micro distilleries out there, and it's a blast to try their different things. Some are peculiar, some are great — it's nice to see people be creative with their stuff."

Judgment on the Hill

The festival also includes Judgment on the Hill, a double blind tasting by a panel of industry experts who award medals based on taste, smell, integrity and smoothness. Each distillery is allowed only two entries into the competition, said Jordan Via, head distiller at Breckenridge Distillery, who facilitates the panel.

"We keep the categories fairly broad — whiskey, rum, liqueurs, vodka, gins — we separate the whiskeys into categories so we're tasting against like products — malt whiskeys, bourbon," Via said.

Rather than pitting products against one another in particular categories, each is judged based on its own merit, making the results qualitative rather than comparative, Via said.

"We don't focus too much on conforming to a certain identity of a typical style," he said. "Is this a well-made product, and does it leave a favorable impression on the palate?"

About 40 spirits have been submitted for medal consideration thus far this year, Via said, with a few more expected to trickle in. Because of the small pool of entries, only gold and silver medals are awarded, and 808 Distillery took home one of the six gold medals handed out last year for its Leo's Limoncello.

"Last year, that was our first launch was our Limoncello, and for us getting a gold medal, we were excited about it," Leonardo said.

The Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival is only open to small- and medium-capacity distilleries, none of the big guys, and Via said it's a great opportunity to see what's out there and to try a lot of delicious booze all in one place for one price.

"It's a chance to meet a good selection of Colorado craft distillers," he said.

If you go …

What: Still on the Hill Grand Tasting, part of the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival.

When: 4-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 24.

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 http://www.breckenridgecraftspiritsfestival.com.