Colorado has long been known for its craft beers. But today, craft distilleries are also putting the state on the map. Thanks to Colorado’s unusual liquor laws the state has a near ideal environment for entrepreneurs of the boozy variety.

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Local makers are distilling fine whiskeys, vodkas, gins and rums that give long-established national labels the kind of locally-based competition not seen since California wines bested acclaimed French vineyards in a 1970s blind taste test.

Not only are Colorado liquors winning national awards and surprising taste buds with their astounding quality and drinkability, but they are also becoming a major part of the state’s economy. In 2006, there were only two distilleries in the state. Ten years later, there are more than 60, according to the Colorado Distillers Guild. In Colorado, craft distilleries can have tasting rooms, they can self-distribute, and liquor stores are all independently owned—no chains. Allowing tasting rooms means distillers can introduce their libations to the public in an
intimate setting that comes with an experience and offers up a story behind the bottle along with a culture, an atmosphere, and a feeling. It also means distillers have an outlet for direct sales—saving on the cost of distribution and wholesale discounts.

The state is also unique in that distillers can distribute their own products. They don’t have to sign expensive contracts with distribution companies. A distiller can mosey down the road to the liquor store on the corner and ask the owner to carry a few bottles of his moonshine and see how it sells. Moreover, the liquor store owner has the power to decide if he wants to carry the local distiller’s stuff because he’s a one-shop operation. He doesn’t have to check in with corporate or sign an agreement to place the unknown spirit in all 20 of his stores. Colorado has not (until now) allowed chain liquor stores. A 2016 bill in the legislature cracked open the door slightly, but carefully protected the mom-and-pop shops that have wetted citizen’s whistles for the last 100 years or so and spurred the growth of the state’s craft beer and liquor industries.

So, where do you try these delicious local libations? The best place is the tasting room. That’s where you’ll get the story behind the flavor.

Woods High Mountain Distillery
144 W 1st Street
Salida, CO 81201

They distill and bottle small-batch Handcrafted spirits in historic downtown Salida, Colorado. All products are distilled on-site and are available in the Tasting Room and at select locations in Colorado and the European Union. Wood’s High Mountain Distillery was founded by brothers PT and Lee Wood, with the goal to bottle their passion for the outdoor adventures into spirits that shine with the essence of the mountains of Colorado.

Lee’s Spirits
110 E. Boulder St.
Colorado Springs

Brooklyn’s on Boulder appears to be a fine haberdashery in downtown Colorado Springs. The storefront and the Website both display pocket squares and neckties for men. But ring the inconspicuous entry bell, and you’re swept back in time to the 1920s. The speakeasy is thronged with people who know how to find something special and hidden. Lee’s Spirits, created by cousins Nick and Ian Lee, distills a fine authentic Prohibition-era gin. The distillery just has the one amazing spirit, though it has started selling infused varieties. If gin sounds a bit daunting, don’t worry. This is probably the most sophisticated tasting room in the state. Using antique mixology recipes, the crew at Brooklyn’s has crafted a menu of truly delicious cocktails. This is not your father’s gin – this is your great-great grandfather’s pre-prohibition gin. You’ll love ‘em!

Distillery 291
1647 S Tejon St.
Colorado Springs

The warm smell of rich oak and the smiling creator of this line of fine whiskeys and liqueurs greets guest as they enter this award-winning distillery. Michael Myers, a New York fashion photographer, used old copper photo printing plates to build his first still back when he occupied 339 square feet in the unmarked basement of a nearby commercial building. Now filling the tall spaces of the old Bristol Brewing location, Distillery 291 distributes five whiskeys and one liqueur all over the state and beyond while collecting national and international awards. Enjoy a tasting flight for $10, take a tour of the back room and meet the man behind one of the finest new whiskeys in the country.

Axe and the Oak
1604 S Cascade Ave.
Colorado Springs

Axe and the Oak, which has its distillery in an industrial area off of East Platte., recently opened a new tasting room at the Ivywild School. It shares an address with Bristol Brewing, the city’s oldest and biggest brewer. Axe and the Oak was created by five talented friends – Jason Jackson, Casey Ross, Eric Baldini, Scott White and Sky Young. The name derives from prohibition days when the law would strike casks with an axe when they raided distilleries. The whiskey is full of flavor and body and recently won a silver medal for small-batch bourbon at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Woody Creek Distillery
60 Sunset Dr.
Basalt

This is a beautiful tasting room that feels like a high-end bar or restaurant in the glitzy Aspen valley. And it feels that way because that’s kind of what it is. You can sip straight spirits here, but it’s not the only option. The seasonal tasting menus are complete with delicious cocktails. The distillery boasts award-winning craft gin, vodka, and whisky. Its creators take great pride in truly handcrafting every spirit branded with its name. The distillery even grows some of its own produce, including most of the potatoes used in its vodka.

Deerhammer Distilling Company
321 East Main St.
Buena Vista

Amy and Lenny Eckstein knew they wanted to make fine, carefully-crafted spirits founded on old-world recipes, the best ingredients, and their own sense of flare. And they knew they wanted to do it in beautiful Buena Vista. Surrounded by the stunning Collegiate Peaks and situated on the Arkansas River, the town offered ample inspiration for a bold new business venture. The Deerhammer Single Malt Whiskey is the staple of the small tasting room on Main Street, but visitors can also enjoy a lovely cocktail made with the distillery’s Whitewater Whiskey, Buena Vista Brandy, or Dutch Style Gin.

3 Hundred Days of Shine
279 Beacon Lite Rd.
Monument

Looking for something a little outside of the ordinary spirits? Try this authentic moonshine. The distiller hand-crafts six delicious flavors, including Apple Pie, Margarita Moon, Summertime Strawberry Lemonade, Firebomb, Peach Cobbler, and Colorado Honey. Founded by six Colorado families, this inviting distillery takes its name from the state’s 1870s slogan—“300 Days of Sunshine.” The tasting room has a delightful old-timey atmosphere that goes right along with the rugged rebel spirit you’ll sip there.

Cockpit Craft Distillery
4893 Galley Rd.
Colorado Springs

One of Colorado’s newest distilleries, Cockpit opened with its FG-10 Rum. It’s a smooth, rich flavor that some compare with high-end sipping Tequilas. While rum is the distillery’s opening act, founder Curtis Calder plans to introduce a full lineup of spirits, including fine whiskeys, vodka, and gin.

Other Notable Distilleries:
This is not a complete list. There are new distilleries opening all the time and we’ve likely missed a couple. But these should give you a taste of Colorado’s burgeoning distillery scene.

Montanya Distilleries
212 Elk Ave.
Crested Butte, CO 81224

Telluride Distilling Company
152 B Society Dr.
Telluride, CO 81435

Woodshed Distilling
1150 CR 600
Pagosa Springs, CO 81147

Spirits of the Rockies
2907 Graneros Ln.
Pueblo, CO 81005

Boathouse Distillery
7728 County Road 150
Salida, CO 81201

Double Diamond Distillery
1925 Airport Rd.
Breckenridge, CO 80424