Vail Veterans Program, 10th Mountain Whiskey Co. partner on bottling process
Barrel aged for two years bottled up by Vail Veterans Program ambassadors
The Vail Veterans Program uses the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to heal wounded military veterans.
Through ski trips, golf outings and other outdoor activities throughout the year, the Vail Veterans Program helps both veterans and their families tap into the freedom of the mountains after a traumatic experience in their lives.
However, founder Cheryl Jensen and her team have been expanding programming outside of outdoor recreational opportunities.
On Feb. 20-21, the Rocky Mountain Ski Fest brought in country music star Chase Rice and other musicians for an event to raise money for the Vail Veterans Program. And on Tuesday, 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirit Co. partnered with the Vail Veterans Program to wrap up a two-year bottling process.
“The past two years, we’ve had all of the vets that participated in the winter program, all vets that volunteered and any vet that was in attendance during the final dinner of the winter program, sign a 53-gallon barrel head,” Ryan Thompson, of 10th Mountain Whiskey, wrote in an email.
The barrel was aged for two years, and on Tuesday, Vail Veterans Program ambassadors and military veterans Matt Parker and TJ Johannsen were in Gypsum to help head distiller Shawn Hogan bottle it up in about 250 bottles to be gifted to the Vail Veterans Program and those who signed the barrel.
In total, it’s about a $12,000 donation from 10th Mountain Whiskey, according to Thompson.
“This is one of the most fun things that we do all year,” Hogan said. “Having them come down here and be able to get something that we did for them because of what they did is amazing.”
The veterans had some fun in the distillery, too.
“I love whiskey, so this is like a dream come true,” Parker said with a laugh. “It’s a great experience and we had a great time. They treat us really well.”
Johannsen and Parker, both of Elizabeth, have been coming to Vail for years and are ambassadors for the Vail Veterans Program. As part of the bottling process, the two were able to sip some exclusive 10th Mountain Whiskey products.
“Drinking from a barrel has been on my bucket list since I first saw it on TV,” Johannsen said.
The remaining bottles will be used by the Vail Veterans Program at fundraisers, parties, silent auctions and more. The signed barrel will be donated from 10th Mountain Whiskey to the Vail Veterans Program to display in its office, or wherever.
‘Happy to give back’
For 10th Mountain Whiskey Co., veterans have been at the forefront of the business since it started, initially working with the Wounded Warrior Project before teaming with the Vail Veterans Program. One of the founders is directly related to an original member of the 10th Mountain Division.
“We’re happy to give back,” Hogan said. “This is a huge deal for us and something that we’ve done since the beginning.”
Back then, 10th Mountain Whiskey Co. was only in Gypsum. Now, it has a second location in Vail Village.
Working with the Vail Veterans Program helps 10th Mountain Whiskey be part of the rehabilitation process for these wounded vets.
“You’re literally going from a hospital setting after a traumatic experience to physical therapy and that’s your life,” Parker said. “Then they bring you out here and all of a sudden you’re on a mountain, learning to ski again, moving fast with the wind in your face, and it makes you realize there’s something after this. This isn’t the end of everything. It changes your mindset.”
“It changes your life,” Johannsen said, helping Parker finish his next sentence.
Both Johannsen and Parker have been getting used to a new normal after being injured serving their country. They are both married, each of them with two kids.
“The first time I went whitewater rafting, I didn’t have prosthetics on,” Johannsen said. “We were in the water and they said put your foot in a little foot holder to hold yourself in, and I was like, I don’t have anything. Eventually, I had to take my jacket off and tie myself to the raft so I didn’t fall out.”
For more information or to support the Vail Veterans Program, visit http://www.vailveteransprogram.org. For more information about 10th Mountain Whiskey Co., with locations in Gypsum and Vail, visit http://www.10thwhiskey.com.
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