Summit County’s Still on the Hill | VailDaily.com

Summit County’s Still on the Hill

Breckenridge Distillery's bourbon was a very popular pour at the Breckenridge Wine and Spirits Festival at Main Street Station over Labor Day weekend.

BRECKENRIDGE – Booze. Since ancient times, through the squalor of the Middle Ages, on the sailing ships of colonialism and into the present, it has made, if not the world go ’round, then at least the people go ’round the world.

And now, it’s bringing them to Summit County.

Starting today, distillers and their salivating acolytes will descend upon Breckenridge to celebrate and savor the bounty of the booming craft distilling industry. Fifteen distilleries from across the state and country and a slew of local restaurants and bars are partnering for the second-annual event.

“Last year, (the distilleries) were all Colorado,” said Jordan Via, distiller at the Breckenridge Distillery and one of the organizers of the event. “This year, we invited a couple of friends – one from California and one from New Mexico. They are doing such incredible products that we wanted them to be involved.”

The distillers will be showing off their products at the main event, a Grand Tasting on Saturday night at the Riverwalk Center. Restaurants and bars around town will be hosting the booze barons for a Poker Run on Friday night and the aptly named Hangover Brunch on Sunday morning. In addition, many restaurants will be running $18.59 dining specials, in honor of Breckenridge having been founded in 1859, said Ken Nelson, president of the Breckenridge Restaurant Association.

“Everyone is kind of participating how they want to and how it fits their restaurant the best,” Nelson said.

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Dining specials will range from a three-course dinner at Mi Casa to an entree with an appetizer or dessert at the Briar Rose Chophouse and cocktails and small plates at The Hearthstone.

“We’re doing it to enhance food and beverage in the state of Colorado, particularly in our town,” Nelson said. “And as a fundraiser for the Breckenridge Restaurant Association scholarship fund.”

Distillers will be bringing their signature liquors and liqueurs – with a few twists.

“This year, I’ve made a watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumber vodka,” Via said.

Ted Palmer, the distiller at Roundhouse Spirits in Boulder, will be bringing his award-winning, Western-style Roundhouse Gin, along with the barrel-aged Imperial Gin and Corretto, a coffee liqueur.

“We get our coffee from the Unseen Bean here in Boulder,” he said. “He’s the best roaster I’ve ever met, and I’ve lived in Seattle, so I know good roasters.”

The idea for the event was hatched last year, around the time the Breckenridge Distillery opened to the public, and has grown from seven distillers in its inaugural run to the 15 participating this year.

Via attributed the rise in popularity and the explosion of craft distillers in Colorado to the relaxed licensing laws in the state. He said in other states, distilleries are treated like hazardous-materials plants, leveling high taxes and making unreasonable demands for redundant and unnecessary upgrades to a building to make it a manufacturing plant. He said Colorado is really friendly, quick with licensing and understanding about the budget of a small distillery.

“Colorado wants us here,” Via said. “They want our business to flourish, to have more Colorado-produced products in the artisinal industry.”

Palmer compared the advent of the craft distilling industry in Colorado to the rise of microbrewing in the state more than 20 years ago.

“I used to be a microbrewer; I’d been a microbrewer for almost 20 years,” Palmer said. “I was there in the beginning. It’s the same feeling as it was back then in the late ’80s and early ’90s. All my customers who were afraid of beer, I had to hold their hand – just taste it and don’t think of it as the same kind of beer you’ve been drinking since college.

“The same thing is happening with spirits. A lot of people are afraid of spirits or don’t like certain spirits because they had a bad experience.”

Palmer pointed at gin as an example, saying many people are used to English dry gin, which is mostly juniper and coriander.

“But there’s more to gin than just that one style,” Palmer said. “Gin can be anything you want it to be. The only thing it has to have in it by law is juniper. There’s a lot of new gins popping up. A lot of people are starting to discover that gin is the new thing. It’s going to be the new IPA of the micro world.”

Palmer said the thing he is most looking forward to at Still on the Hill is getting to talk to people who have heard about the craft distilling scene and want to come see what it’s all about.

“(There will be) a little hand holding, just like in the old days,” Palmer said. “We’ll teach the consumer that this stuff is really good.”