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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Spirits of the Wild West: Boot Hill Distillery

When I first met Roger Kelman and his son Hayes, they were bidding on a tote full of whiskey at the American Distilling Institute convention in Seattle, with the intent of filling bottles for the distillery in Dodge City, Kansas they had more or less inherited. Even then it was clear that, although they were already selling spirits under the Dodge City label, Hayes had a grander vision in mind, and I want to be among the first to congratulate him on having realized it.

This weekend, on the very site of the original Boot Hill Cemetery, Roger and Hayes, along with partner Chris Holovach, will open the doors of a distillery that has previously existed only in Hayes’ imagination and his co-owners’ faith in his ability to make it happen. Located in Dodge City’s old municipal hall, which was built in 1929 and recently restored, and situated atop the infamous Boot Hill of Wild West lore, the distillery will celebrate its grand opening with samples, tours, live music, and local food.

“Dodge City’s entire history is built on spirits,” Hayes says. “From the initial soldiers, to the buffalo hunters, to the cowboys of the cattle trails. And with our distillery perched on top of the original Boot Hill, we’ve now become the history of Dodge City.”

The Kelmans’ approach to spirits at Boot Hill Distillery is as far removed from their original business model as could be imagined. Having abandoned the practice of bottling and marketing spirits sourced from a contract distiller, their new product line is “obsessively-local”, with Hayes and his team maintaining complete control from seed to sip. Being farmers first and foremost, the ownership group produces every single grain that the distillery uses to craft their spirits, grain which is milled, mashed, fermented, distilled, filtered, proofed and bottled right onsite at the distillery. It’s everything that a true micro-distilling operation ought to be.

In the spring of 1872 George M. Hoover loaded his wagon with whiskey barrels, tied a bandana to his wagon wheel and counted out exactly five miles west from the edge of Fort Dodge, Kansas, where the sale of liquor would be legal. In creating western Kansas’ first and only craft distillery, Hayes and Roger Kelman have come at least that far.

Boot Hill Distillery will produce vodka, gin, and white whiskey at the start of their run. For more information on their grand opening, visit them at

Thursday, May 5, 2016

@timwenger1: Silver Linings

I rode alone up Loveland Ski Area’s Lift 6 up and tilted the whiskey flask to my lips. “Cheers to the best season of my life.” My friends Andy and Jeff were two chairs ahead of me, pointing toward the vast ridge on our right. As we drew closer to timberline the fresh white snow beneath reflected the brightness of Colorado’s springtime sun. The lift carried us up to chase the next clue in New Belgium’s spring skiing scavenger hunt. Watching my friends plot out our next run, I thought back on the past five months.

I had experienced the steep chutes and deep powder of Jackson Hole’s backcountry access gates for my bachelor party in January. I had hiked high above tree line at Whistler Blackcomb, dropping into terrain I’d seen in photos and videos for years but never thought I’d get the chance to ride. I had taken the snow cat to 13,000 feet and ridden the longest runs of the season back to the base just above I-70 at my home mountain of Loveland, and skirted down one of the area’s most difficult runs, the Number 3 Headwall. Not a bad winter - and the forecast for the next month looked promising for late season snow - good for recreational uses as well as an extra cushion of water to minimize the wild fire risk as summer creeps in.

We strapped in together at the top of the lift. To our right, a man dressed up in a bunny costume barreled past us. This had to be the next clue in the hunt, we decided. We rode as fast as we could after him and cornered him next to a tree about a half mile down the mountain. It turned out that the goal was to snap a photo of our team with this bunny. Check.

The bunny hinted at a group of people gathered around a makeshift sign at the bottom of the terrain park to our right. “Let’s cut through those trees and into the terrain park on the other side,” I said. “We’ll still be able to make it down towards the next clue.”

They both agreed. We headed through a sparse grove of trees under warm spring sun and dropped into the park area. I jetted down the left side of the run and approached a rail I had ridden before - a rainbow box with a smooth transition and easy landing. I checked my speed into the final approach and ollied onto the box. The nose of my board slapped the box. I careened off to the right and tumbled down the icy slope. My board caught on the edge of the rail and twisted my legs sharply to the left.

I hit the ground and slid to a stop. My left ankle throbbed. I glanced around in panic. I dragged myself to the side of the run. It felt as though the ankle was in a vice. A sharp pain shot up my leg as I lay down in the snow. Jeff rode up.

“Are you going to be able to make it down?” he said.

“I don’t know yet. Give me a few minutes. You guys can go on ahead if you want.”

“No, that was a nasty spill. We might need to call the Ski Patrol.”

“Stop being a bitch, dude, let’s go!” Andy yelled from below. “We’re going to miss the next checkpoint.”

“He might have a broken ankle,” Jeff said.

I sat up. The mountains spun around me. “I can make it down.” The perceived humiliation of riding the toboggan down was too much for me. These guys would never let me hear the end of it.

“Are you sure?” Jeff said. “I can call ski patrol right now.”

“I’ll be ok.”

I rode switch down the mountain, my bad ankle on the back half of the board instead of the front like in my normal stance. I fell down every three or four turns, embarrassed to look like a tourist. When I reached the bottom of the hill, my ankle still throbbed heavily and I struggled to unstrap from the board. Jeff and Andy assisted me in walking to a bench. Almost unbearable pain took over my leg. I knew my season was over. I told them to go back out and finish the scavenger hunt.

“I’m just glad this happened in April instead of December,” I said.

“Yeah but there are still two months left,” Jeff said. “Are you going to go to the clinic?”

“Not until we get back to town. I’ll be alright for a while, just don’t take all day. I can only handle watching everyone else ride for a couple hours at most.” I chewed on what I had said to them. Why is it that I have pursued this hobby so heavily? Riding a board made of wood and fiberglass down a mountain over and over must seem crazy to most people. I knew the answers: travel and adventure. This season alone, snowboarding took me to British Columbia, Wyoming, and all across Colorado. It provided an excuse to catch up with friends new and old. It helped me get outside and stay in decent shape. I’ve always enjoyed checking out the scene in different ski towns and always made a point to talk with other riders about where they have been and where they’re headed next.

It’s a labor of love. Much like craft distilling. A common theme in mountain states like Colorado and Montana - there is a lot of love going on. I’ve always thought that it has something to do with the region - those who prioritize living in the mountains seem to have a higher tendency of also prioritizing a strong work-life balance. Mixing in a love for the outdoors with a line of work built from passion is a common theme around here. Two weeks after I broke my ankle I took off to play a weekend of shows with my band. On the way to meet up with the guys down in Durango I stopped in at Wood’s High Mountain Distilling in Salida and spoke with owner and head distiller P.T. Wood. Wood and his brother Lee formed the business that offers lines of both gin and whiskey, their Treeline Gin and Tenderfoot Whiskey being the most well known. In line with his desire to increase the balance between work and life, Wood’s is gearing up to release spirits in an aluminum can, perfect for the outdoors. The Backcountry Bottle will be hopefully available by summer. “It’s for guys going on river trips, hut trips, backpack trips,” Wood said.  

“This came from being a river guide,” Wood said. “Going out and doing lots of river trips, sitting around the campfire drinking whiskey. On one of my early Grand Canyon trips in the early nineties one of the local bar guys brought three different ammo cans with a variety of different bourbons and Scotch and Irish whiskeys. We went through probably fifteen different whiskeys on that trip and talked about (distilling). That was the original inspiration.”

After years of talking and planning and a failed attempt in the early 2000’s, Wood gave up on the dream for a bit. “It started back up in 2008,” he said. Watching bigger names like Stranahan’s and Peach Street Distillers pop up around the state put a burning desire in Wood’s head to take his knowledge and put it into a distilling business. The market was tough, and the start-up costs were high. Craft beer took all the glory in those days. But Wood’s High Mountain Distilling took a small town DIY attitude and started bottling spirits that appealed to the mountain men and river bums living the outdoors lifestyle around the state of Colorado.

“The craft beer guys came into this world when there wasn’t any good beer to be had, so that was a pretty easy route to market. In distilling, the big guys are making great juice. There is crap for sure, but it’s a little bit different. That being said, people love small and they love local.”

Prominently displayed in the front of the distilling area is Wood’s original 50 gallon pot still, nicknamed Ashley. Built in the 1800s, Ashley is Wood’s original still and was used until P.T. and his crew brought in a larger 250 gallon homemade still called Frankenstill. Currently, Wood’s is in the process of acquiring a new 500-gallon system to increase their capacity above the their annual mark of 15,000 bottles. Not bad for a business that acquired their DSP on November 13, 2012.

In addition to the Treeline Gin line and Tenderfoot whiskey, check out Wood’s Mountain Hopped Gin, Alpine Rye Whiskey, and Fleur de Sureau Elderflower Liqueur. Order online at A little bit of Wood’s helped mask the pain of what turned out to be a broken ankle. While seriously affecting my work-life balance at the moment, I should be good to go for river season, with an aluminum bottle of whiskey sitting in my dry bag.

Tim Wenger is a Denver-based microshiner, journalist, musician, and avid snowboarder. Check in with him at @timwenger1 and catch more of his work at Colorado Music Buzz, Snowboard Colorado, and his weekly talk show on

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


South Hollow Spirits - Dry Line Gin

Dry Line Gin is crafted by fermenting sugar cane juice for three weeks before distilling, then steeping the mixture in a 55 gallon steel drum for 48 hours with a carefully curated local selection of botanicals, including Eastern Red Cedar juniper berries, orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom, allspice, coriander, orris root, grains of paradise, angelica root, anise and dried cranberry. This infusion method enables the spirit to absorb essential oils from the botanicals before it is redistilled and brought to its final proof of 94. This process results in a carefully blended palate embodying the spirit of the seaside Cape Cod town where this craft gin is distilled.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Pick of the Litter - Old Tom Expressions from Copper & Kings

Louisville-based Copper & Kings American Brandy Co. is launching a very limited release, small batch, artisanal gin. Double distilled in a Vendome copper pot still, “Alley Cat” gin is apple-brandy based with classic gin botanicals and aged in a Kentucky Bourbon barrel for 22 months. It is non-chill filtered and unadulterated by any post distillation infusion of flavor or color.

The Alley Cat is a follow up on to the 2015 Serbian Juniper barrel aged gin – the Stray Cat.

Only 750 bottles will be produced and sold at the distillery store, with a tiny selection of superlative bars and liquor stores. The original fine art is illustrated by renowned Louisville artist Douglas Miller.

“We like to do different things with our gin; no chill-filtration, an unusual apple-brandy base, just a double-distillation, no compounding and no GNS re-distillation.” said founder Joe Heron. “We like slightly oily, viscous barrel aged expressions, the “Old Tom” style profile, and Douglas Miller sets the tone with his beautiful illustrations, so we are going to keep picking from the same litter.”

Copper & Kings is located at 1121 E. Washington St. in Butchertown.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Get Your Jorum of Skee at the NYC Craft Distillers Festival

If they know their onions, we suspect we know what big timers in the Big Apple will be doing this weekend, as the third annual NYC Craft Distillers Festival is taking over The Bowery Hotel on Saturday, April 2nd. This sockdollager is set to a Roaring Twenties theme, so a Jazz Age band will keep the struggle jumping while you taste giggle water from more than 60 craft labels. And if you want to avoid being pegged a wurp at this modern equivalent of a Gatsby gala, you best pull out your glad rags and be togged to the bricks.

There are two sessions, one from 1 to 4 p.m. and another from 7 to 10 p.m. Cost for the first session is $95 ($150 VIP, which includes admission an hour earlier) while gaining entrance to the evening will run you $100 ($164 VIP).

Its sure to be the bees knees, so get your tickets here

Friday, March 25, 2016

Who Are These MicroShiners You Speak Of?

The easy answer to that question is to say that a microshiner is a micro-distiller or someone who enjoys craft spirits, but that merely scratches the surface. In reality there is much more to being a microshiner than just the alcohol. 

It could be said that a microshiner is the modern version of Prohibition's scofflaw, except today it isn’t the law that is flaunted so much as convention. A microshiner is a reactionary, someone who took a look around and said, “Thanks for the inspiration, but I’m going about this my own way.” Microshiners are risk takers, explorers, pioneers. They are not content accepting the status quo. They realize living a deliberate life is the highest form of art, and they aim to live it well.

The first thing to note about a microshiner is that they choose to live by principle, and their choices are based on value. They are unwilling to settle for the convenient, choosing rather to seek out things of quality, items and associations that embody the manner in which they choose to live their lives.

Of course, they enjoy spirits. The name itself is a nod to small group of insurgents, sappers who are quietly tunneling their way beneath the edifices of the beverage alcohol market. Slowly breaching each fortification the industry had erected to insulate itself, this underground force has quietly taken the thread that began with the craft beer movement to its logical conclusion. 

They distilled it.

Distilling is about reducing something to its very essence, and the essence of a microshiner is authenticity, the authenticity that comes with the freedom of personal expression, in word, style, and deed. Being a microshiner is about being authentic. It is about taking ownership of every facet and instance of our lives, and being deliberate with our choices. And it is bigger than trends or fads because it relates to functions essential in the maintenance of a civil society, the manufacture of goods and provisions.

It begins with craft spirits, however they are merely the gateway to the journey. 

At its core, this movement is about relationships, between producers and their process, the process and the product, the product and those who make use of and enjoy it. A microshiner takes none of those relationships for granted, and in fact exalts them. 

A microshiner is a member of a larger craft culture, a growing community of producers and consumers who are creating a modern expression of quality. A tribe of individuals who find the subtle differences in style, texture, and taste that come from local materials and hands-on methods preferable to what is offered on the common market.

As microshiners, we concern ourselves with terroir. We savor the differences in weather that influences those in dress between the Pacific Northwest and New England. When we travel, we don’t want to see what we saw back home, nor do we feel there is any reason we should have to. We prefer our New England fisherman’s sweater be truly from New England, just as we would our clams. For a microshiner, this manifests in a focus on distillation, with a goal in mind of returning terroir to the realm of spirits and repairing our fractured cocktail heritage.

At its most elemental, a microshiner is an individual who enjoys life, distilled.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

#ThisWeek in #CraftSpirits

Here are the latest additions to our circle of friends. Drop them a line, and tell them MicroShiner sent you.