There are now nearly 40 craft distillers in Colorado, and the one generally acknowledged as the finest is located in a modest industrial park on the outskirts of Denver.
The operation is run by (you guessed it) two guys named Leopold. They started out in Ann Arbor about 15 years ago, founding the first environmentally sustainable brewery in the state; after branching out into spirits, they relocated their business to Colorado. Todd began his career making beer, and later went back to school to learn to be a distiller; Scott has a background as an environmental engineer, and is the public face of the small company.
“We want to do things the way they were done 100 years ago,” says Scott, and the goal at Leopold Brothers is a return to Pre-Prohibition distilling. There is no refrigeration; the mash is fermented in open-topped wooden tanks, then distilled in small batch copper pot stills custom made for the brothers by Vendome in Kentucky. The hand-crafted products are all natural, with no artificial flavorings or colorings, and production is small (roughly 25,000 six-bottle cases).
The brothers make more Small Batch American Whiskey ($35) than anything else, using a traditional sour mash of corn and rye and aging the spirit in new American oak barrels for one year. The result is a whiskey that is light to medium-bodied, leaner and more angular than the average Bourbon. It has a pleasantly grainy texture on the palate, and displays a long, spicy finish.
The production of the two gins is painstaking as well, with each botanical distilled separately. The American Small Batch Gin ($35, 40% alcohol) has scents of juniper and wild herbs on the nose. Full-bodied with an intense palate imprint, it is also nicely balanced, with the flavors of the eight botanicals softly integrated and not intrusive. The Navy Strength American Gin ($45, 57% alcohol) is stronger and more assertive, with flavors of citrus and pepper that make it perfect for cocktails.
Leopold is one of the leading American producers of absinthe. Their Absinthe Verte ($70, 65% alcohol) is distilled from Pisco made from Alexander Valley muscat grapes. It is fennel-infused and deceptively innocent on the palate, with flavors of star anise that resonate on the finish.
The Leopold Brothers spirits are currently available in 12 states, with more on the drawing board, as well as through major Internet merchants.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, which will be published November 6 by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to www.iconicspirits.net.