Drinking efficiently at 8750

Heather Sackett

Dec 1, 2014

Telluride Distilling Company hand-crafts rum, whiskey coming this winter

A familiar happy hour scene unfolded on Wednesday as a group of “Telluride’s working men,” as they called themselves, stood around and socialized after work with a drink in hand. But it wasn’t PBRs they were sipping on. It was cuba libres, painkillers, caipirinhas, light & stormies and four fruity flavors of mojitos — all offerings from San Miguel County’s first (legal) distillery.

Four local entrepreneurs — James and Pete Jaeschke, Joanna Grenawalt and Abbott Smith — recently opened the Telluride Distilling Company in Lawson Hill. Currently the distillery’s silver rum, made from pure Columbian evaporated cane juice, is what’s being poured. It can be found in Telluride bars and restaurants, as well as liquor stores for $30 a bottle. Whiskey — currently being aged in American white oak barrels — and golden rum — currently being aged in whiskey barrels with added cane juice — will be available this winter.

“The whiskey will be even bigger and better,” Smith said. “This is a whiskey town.”

The project has been in the works for nearly three years. Being the first distillery in the county meant Smith had to get numerous permits and clear lots of red tape before being allowed to operate. The distillery officially opened on Aug. 28. The project has been in the works for nearly three years. Being the first distillery in the county meant Smith had to get numerous permits and clear lots of red tape before being allowed to operate. The distillery officially opened on Aug. 28.

The inspiration for the business, Smith said, was a small copper still he had in his kitchen for many years. Smith has a degree in business and Grenawalt, his fiancée, has one in molecular biology, backgrounds perfectly suited for a joint alcohol-making venture. Grenawalt even makes their own brand of yeast they use in the process. The copper still now sits in the window of the distilling room, a tribute to tradition.

“I love that thing,” Smith said. “It’s just a big chemistry experiment.”

The tasting room is in the front of the building. Oak barrels lining the walls serve as tables, large windows make the space bright and original art decorates the walls. In the back room is where the magic happens. Malted barley goes into huge mash tuns, vessels with false bottoms, where it sits for about 90 minutes to covert the starches into sugars for fermentation with yeast. After that process, the mixture is about 8 percent alcohol. After being distilled twice, the rum is about 40 percent alcohol — a number better suited to Telluride Distilling’s motto of “Drinking Efficiently at 8750.” The fermenting and distilling process takes about seven days. Then the whiskey sits in oak barrels for about three months to age.

Smith, who is originally from Wisconsin, estimates this year Telluride Distilling will put out about 1,000 bottles of rum and 2,000 bottles of whiskey. Next year he hopes to up that to about 10,000, with state-wide distribution. With a bit of a reputation as a wild west, whiskey-loving town, Smith hopes the name “Telluride,” will help sell the product in Colorado.

“We are putting out the best local product we can,” Smith said.

Smith, who also tends bar at the Mountain Lodge, slings cocktails (just $5 each) behind the tasting room bar from 3-7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The recipes are simple and fresh, made with lime and other fruit, simple syrup, ginger beer and soda water.

Even though it took a while to get the business up and running, Smith said the positive energy from the community has been great.

“The town has embraced it,” he said.