With six breweries, Durango is certainly a craft-beer town, but beers are not the only alcoholic products making a name for themselves. Durango Craft Spirits is on a streak, winning awards for its vodka and moonshine.
At the New York International Spirits Competition in October, the distillery took home a gold for its Soiled Doves Vodka, a silver for its Mayday Moonshine and was crowned the Colorado Vodka Distillery of the Year. In April, the moonshine won a gold medal, best of class and best of category at the American Distilling Institute annual conference in Baltimore. The moonshine also was awarded a bronze medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition the same month.
When asked what sets his spirits apart from others, co-owner Michael McCardell says it has a lot to do with the carefulness with which he cuts the spirits. “Larger producers tend to run continuous stills and don’t do as clean of a job,” he said.
By taking very large cuts, or removing certain parts of the distilled liquid, from the alcohol and running the still slowly and deliberately, he can make sure he has a very clean and very smooth spirit.
Micheal says that the distillery, located downtown at 11th Street and Main Avenue, borrows one of its mottoes from Laws Whiskey House in Denver: “There are no shortcuts.”
The quality of the spirits is not the only goal Durango Craft Spirits strives for. Amy McCardell, the distillery’s other co-owner and Michael’s wife, said another of their mottoes is: “All Colorado all the time.”
The distillery sources all of its ingredients from within the state. It receives non-GMO white corn from the Ute Mountain Utes in Towaoc and gets the rest of its grains from the Colorado Malting Co. in Alamosa. After the spirits are made, the spent grains go to a pig farmer on Fort Lewis Mesa.
“We try to be as sustainable as we can,” Michael said.
The futureIn addition to its vodka and moonshine, Durango Craft Spirits plans to release a straight bourbon on Dec. 1. Named “Cinder Dick” after the railroad detectives that once roamed the West, the bourbon has been aging since September 2015. It will have aged for 27 months when it is finally released, Michael said.
The names of the distillery’s spirits and cocktails all relate to the history of the region. The moonshine is linked with the history of Durango’s illegal stills, which sprung up in mines in the San Juan Mountains after the crash of the silver market and the onset of Prohibition, Michael said. The vodka borrows its name from the term for the prostitutes that once inhabited many mining towns.
In the future, Michael wants to distill several more whiskeys, including a rye and a blue corn bourbon. He wants to age a rye whiskey in a bourbon barrel. “I try to think a little bit outside of the box,” he said.
Durango Craft spirits is currently Durango’s only grain-to-glass distillery, and it is distributed as far as Boulder within Colorado. Amy and Michael are looking at taking their spirits into New Mexico next.
The tasting room itself draws a diverse audience of both local regulars and tourists and features live music every Friday night.
As a tasting room, the distillery can’t have any alcohols on the premises that are not manufactured there. As a result, Amy is forced to get creative when creating cocktails, Michael said. In addition to seasonal beverages, the distillery serves traditional cocktails such as juleps, old fashioneds and manhattans.