Steamboat distillery, brewery partner to make Routt County’s first beer-based, single-malt whiskey
The pandemic was just starting. Stay-at-home orders were keeping people out of the taproom and the folks at Storm Peak Brewing Company had significantly reduced their production.
“COVID hit and we ended up with excess capacity because we couldn’t brew,” said Wyatt Patterson, one of the owners of the brewery.
Over at Steamboat Whiskey Company rather than whiskey or vodka, they were using their stills to make hand sanitizer. Patterson reached out to see how they could help.
“We’re good on hand sanitizer, but why don’t we make a whiskey?” Patterson recalled Nathan Newhall, owner of the distillery, saying in response. “Then we just kind of snowballed it from there.”
The Storm Peak Collaboration is the only whiskey ever made from a beer starter in Routt County and likely one of the first handful made in Colorado.
Corbin Korsgard, head distiller at Steamboat Whiskey Company, said the collaboration was really a community project, bringing together the only distillery and one of the most popular breweries in town to make something that is accessible to people who live in Steamboat.
For Newhall the collaboration speaks to how well the community works together and is an expression of the connections between agriculture and the people who live here.
“This is a true expression of agriculture, taking it from its grain state through the beer state, through the distillation state with a technology that is at least 3000 years old,” Newhall said. “This is a true piece of history, not only for Routt County but for Steamboat.”
The distillery chose to bottle the whiskey in smaller 375 milliliter bottles so the price point would be lower and they could make twice as many bottles out of the one batch.
“We wanted all the locals who wanted a bottle to be able to get their hands on it,” Korsgard said.
To start, Patterson brewed up a batch of their Maestro IPA, but without the hops, as Korsgard says hops don’t go through the still very well because it makes it acidic and bitter. Instead of making it cold and adding the bubbles, Patterson handed it off to the distillers to turn it into whiskey.
When fermentation was complete Korsgard put it in their stills and ran it like they would normally run a single-malt whiskey, which means everything comes from a single distillery.
Like many distilleries in America, they use a double pot distillation process. Ari Wilson, marketing director for the distillery, said this allows for a more flavorful whiskey than a continuous still that mass-production distilleries generally use.
This method takes the fermented mash and distills it into low wines, which are filled with oils and is often not even a clear liquid, but lacks the desired flavor profile.
That is run through the still again for what Korsgard called the spirit run, which refines it down to whiskey, though it is still clear instead of the various shades of amber whiskey generally has. This is because the distillation process boils the low wines to collect and condensate the vapor into whiskey.
“Because of that change in states, the solid particulate isn’t going to change into a gas, so it gets left behind,” Korsgard said. “All of the color in whiskey comes from the oak in the barrel.”
Korsgard said they opted to use smaller 10-gallon barrels instead of using the standard 53-gallon size, because it has a lot more surface area contact and will generate more extraction from the oak.
“10 gallon barrels are perceived as a lesser quality spirit than 53s, but for this project it was just fitting,” Korsgard said. “We wanted to get the product out to the consumers at a reasonable timeframe and we bought really high-end 10 gallon barrels.”
They put the whiskey in the barrel at 113 proof, which is the mark Korsgard said they use for all of their whiskeys. With the lower proof, the whiskey will extract more of the water-soluble elements out of the barrel, which tend to be sweeter. A higher proof would generally extract more bitter and acidic flavors.
“We like that lower proof because we get a lot more of that sweetness out of the wood,” Korsgard said, adding that most mass-produced whiskeys will have a barrel proof of 125 simply because it allows them to use fewer barrels.
The proof will change in the barrel, but when finished Korsgard, Newhall or distiller Ben McLaughlin proofs the whiskey down to 93, which is 46.5% alcohol.
Korsgard and Newhall said they want to do another collaboration with Storm Peak, potentially distilling a stout. The hold up at this point is availability as the brewery is busy brewing beer.
Steamboat Whiskey Company isn’t done debuting new spirits though, as they plan to release about one new bottle for each of the next several months, which will include the release of a new horseradish vodka that won a gold medal in the New York International Spirit Competition, earning the brewery the title Colorado Vodka Distillery of the year.
“It is definitely unique and interesting,” Korsgard said. “It is definitely going to make one hell of a bloody mary.”
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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