Today, Durango is home to a variety of local-made beverages, from Animas Brewing Co. beers to Zuberfizz sodas. A century ago, Durango was home to another famous beverage: John Kellenberger’s Raspberry Julep.
Writing for The Durango Herald in the summer of 1970, May Anne Chapman cites a pamphlet published in 1921, “The Great San Juan”:
“There is one beverage Mr. Kellenberger puts up that has a reputation all over the San Juan and as far as Cripple Creek, Pueblo and New Mexico; That is his Raspberry Julep. This julep is a refreshing delightful beverage, blended to the connoisseur’s taste, and is in demand by every first-class bar, hospital and family. It is par excellence the best julep on the market, and belongs in a class entirely to itself.”
Alas, Kellenberger’s julep recipe is lost to history. But this Saturday, a group of modern-day Durangoans will debut their homage to the drink.
John KellenbergerBorn in Switzerland in around 1862, John Kellenberger immigrated to New York in 1880 as a teenager. According to Chapman, a year later, he made his way to Breckenridge and established a bakery before even mastering the English language. At the age of 21 in 1883, Kellenberger sold the bakery and used the profits to invest in wineries in California, where he married and had two daughters.
In 1892, he returned to Colorado, opening a wholesale liquor and cigar emporium on Main Avenue in Durango. It carried the largest supply of imported and domestic liquor and cigars in the San Juan Basin. Kellenberger also bottled his own liquors in the back of the store and served them at the mahogany bar in the saloon and in the card room at the front of his shop.
Kellenberger was eccentric, filling his bar with oddities, such as pelts, scalps, Native American crafts and taxidermied animals, including a pair of lambs born as conjoined twins and a bear made to hold an automatic pistol. He was reportedly a very large and jovial man and was popular on the narrow gauge railroad for sharing from his lunch basket stocked with fine cheeses, rye bread, smoked tongue and Sunny Brook whiskey.
Living on Third Avenue at the time, Kellenberger greeted people by shouting “whoop-e-tee-whoop” with his Swiss accent. This became his nickname and he printed the phrase on coins he minted that could be redeemed in his store, wrote Chapman, who had the opportunity to speak with people who knew Kellenberger.
“He sounds like a complete character,” said Jeremy Foote, president of the La Plata County Historical Society.
In addition to other saloons around the area, Kellenberger opened a Coors distributorship in Durango, Foote said.
At some point in there, Kellenberger began making his Raspberry Julep. According to Chapman, it was the only nonintoxicating beverage he made in the beginning of the 20th century. By other accounts, the julep may also have been alcoholic.
Prohibition hit Colorado on Jan. 1, 1916, a year earlier than the rest of the U.S., but Kellenberger persevered, partially by running whiskey to mining towns like Silverton and Rico – which brought on run-ins with the law – and partially by converting his businesses to soft drinks. His Coors distributorship became a Coca-Cola franchise, but facing consumers with a thirst for fizzy drinks, the julep fell out of style.
An homage to a classicIn preparation for Saturday’s Animas Museum Live! event, Foote met with brewers Kurt Randall, Joe Hull and Dave Thibodeau of Ska Brewing Co. about collaborating on a historically-themed beer.
“This one that kept coming up was called Kellenberger’s Raspberry Julep,” Foote said.
Lacking an existing recipe, the Ska brewers crafted a beer based on what they think the julep might have tasted like. Their beer, also called “Kellenberger’s Raspberry Julep,” was brewed using lightly colored malts and very little hops – just enough to balance the malty sweetness, Thibodeau said in an email, “but then we added a monster-load of raspberries; almost 34 pounds per barrel.”
“Bright pink in color, this brew is slightly tart, a little sweet and very much a juxtaposed raspberry julep we think Kellenberger would have been proud of,” Thibodeau said.
Ska’s Kellenberger’s Raspberry Julep will debut Saturday at Animas Museum’s event and in Ska Brewing’s taproom.