Distillery Visits: Denver
Updated: Jun 19, 2022
A little gin time in Colorado.
I tend to visit Colorado at least once a year for a number of reasons: family, fly fishing, food, weird art experiences (Meow Wolf is definitely worth doing), baseball, hockey, really plenty of things to do. One of my favorites is touring some of Colorado’s many microdistilleries who are changing the face of the American gin scene.
While the last time I was here I managed to take some time over at the Block Distillery, on this trip I decided to tour three that had been on my radar for a while. The Family Jones, Leopold Brothers, and Deviation - all Denver based distillers who’ve developed a great reputation for gin - and at least two of which I’ve heard of as possibly producing the best gin in the United States.
I started over at Leopold Brothers out by Denver International Airport. Leopold Brothers started distilling in 1999 and moved their operation to Denver to build their dream distillery. They produce 4 different gins, 9 whiskeys, 4 liquours, an aperitivo, an amaro, and one of the best America made absinthes you’ve ever tasted.
But I digress, this is about the gin. They have three gins in their regular rotation as well as a summer gin which is seasonal. As seems to be the trend these days, they make a gin for people who don’t love gin called #25 gin. Which is highly perfumed and should find some good use in floral cocktails.
They also have a very traditional London Dry style gin, which is a very solid gin of that style and matches up well with the best of the premium gins you usually see, and a Navy Strength for those who like a little more oomph, in their cocktail, or want to use a bit less gin, but still get the stronger botanical bill. And lastly they have their summer gin - light, complex, and well worth dabbling with - that one gets a very high recommendation.
After visiting Leopold Brothers it would have been a bit much to tackle another distillery the same day so we headed off to dinner.
Next on our agenda was a stop at the Family Jones Distillery. This is really more of a bar/restaurant/tasting room than an active distillery at this point, (but maybe that is not being quite fair as they still make their original gin at the tasting room), but they’ve expanded so much that they make the majority of their stuff off site at this point.
I was introduced to the Family Jones via Argonaut Wine and Spirits in Denver (which is well worth a stop for anyone in the area, as their selection is outstanding and includes a lot of gins that I had never seen in the States before), where a bottle of Family Jones Earl Grey gin fell into my possession. It wasn’t so much that I fancied a tea forward gin, but that I . do love a good barrel aged gin.
Now if you are looking for a place for a cool cocktail in the Lower Highlands neighborhood of Denver you won’t be unhappy to stop by the Family Jones Spirit House. It’s a rather charming place with friendly staff and a lot of things to taste. Now the Jones family has three gins (and cocktails made with those three) to try. The most pedestrian of them is their classic take on a London Dry - their house gin. It is a good gin, high quality but rather traditional in flavor. Their other two gins, Juniper Jones, and Juniper Jones Earl Grey however are quite different.
Juniper Jones is what some would call a new western style, but I’d just call a modern gin. Far more floral and perfumed than traditional gin, it still has a fair whack of juniper, but it was clearly aimed at bringing people who don’t love gin into the fold and finding an accessible gin for them to drink. It certainly does that - but it’s a very potent gin, bottled at 97 proof so while not quite navy strength it packs more punch than most gins.
I’ve already reviewed the Juniper Jones Earl Grey gin, - and you can read about it in that review, so I won’t talk much about it here - but to say of all the tea infused gins I’ve tasted, this is by far the most tea-like and I think it offers a lot of cocktail possibilities.
My last stop to taste gin in Colorado on this trip was to the Deviation Tasting Room and Gin Bar in the Dairy Alley in LoDo just off Blake street. Now while Deviation doesn’t distill at this location they do just a short distance away in the city itself. But the bar is a showroom for what they’ve done so far. And I have to tell you that I was very impressed - by the location, the cocktails, and the gins themselves.
Now Deviation bills itself as Denver's premiere gin destination - and honestly I think it might be hard to argue against that billing. Gorgeous well created craft cocktails that are far more than a cut above what I usually see in tasting rooms, a great location, and solid service really made it a place worth visiting.
Their menu that night highlighted five different gins - three of which are in their regular rotation, and two which were limited editions. And of course as they had tasting flights so I couldn’t fail to try them all.
As I don’t go to these things alone I’ll mention the impressions I got from each of these gins as we sipped them. For the non-gin lovers the Rose gin was the belle of the ball and even I found it a nice gin both for sipping and in a good G & T. Their Mountain Herb gin tastes exactly like what you’d imagine a gin from the upper elevations of the Rockies should taste like - incorporating the flavors of the Rockies and distilling it into a creation that really evokes high mountain tundra. It’s an outstanding take on a London dry flavor profile. And their Spice Trade gin made me believe in spiced gins again - heavy on botanicals from the far east including a nice little bite from Szechuan peppers. I liked them so much I took home a sampler of all three - so you can expect reviews of some of those coming down the road.
Their two limited edition gins were no slouches either. A barrel aged take on their Spice Trade gin, with some nice notes of lemon curd and baking spices and a Blood Orange gin which was rock solid in terms of flavors.
The gin at Deviation is impressive - and I do fully understand why I was told that this could be the best gin distillery in the States. They are gins I’d keep in my collection which is among the highest praises that I can give. And the tasting room is a wonderful spot to visit in downtown Denver, and not far from Coors Field for before or after a game (Although to be fair I imagine it’s probably a zoo on game days).
But to be fair - Colorado gins so far have really impressed me, and they speak very well for the future of gin making in the USA. While I certainly won’t rate all the distilleries as equal, either in terms of product or experience, I do think gin lovers with a few days to visit Colorado will end up going home with some great memories and some bottles of excellent gin. Denver at least so far has proven to be a great destination, and great producer of gin.