A single-malt with echoes of Scotland

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Boulder Spirits, Boulder, CO
MATT MAENPAA

Scotland is famed for its single malt whisky, sought out by whiskey snobs all over the world, including this writer. Each distillery spread across the highlands and islands that litter the Scottish coast produces a unique spirit, varying in levels of smoke, peat, brine and other qualities whiskey snobs tell you it has before you catch a sharp scent of moss in your glass.

Boulder Spirits/Vapor Distillery owner Alastair Brogan is Scottish, but his distillery most definitely is not. Boulder Spirits’ variety of single malt whiskies are not Scotch whisky, but they bring the best of Colorado and Scotland together in the quality of the spirit. 

Vapor Distillery was started around a decade ago by Ted Palmer to make gin and vodka. Brogan had just moved to the States and toured Colorado distilleries looking for a place he could set up a single-pot still to produce a Scottish-style single malt, he explains. Brogan described Palmer as the “friendliest and most open” distiller he’d met in the state at the time and they hit it off from there.

Brogan and Palmer struck a deal—Vapor’s gin would continue to flow and Brogan would start making single malt whiskey the way he wanted to. Since then, Brogan and his team have continued to produce a few varieties of gin, but Brogan’s real passion and focus is on single malt. 

MAENPAA Credit: Matt Maenpaa. Boulder Spirits, Boulder, CO

Distributed as Boulder Spirits, the distillery now boasts a substantial portfolio of aged whiskeys from single-malt to bourbon that boast characteristics of both Scotland and Colorado. The single malt, particularly the peated malt, can hold equal ground with most other whiskies for quality and consistency, no matter their country of origin.

Making whiskey is a patient art, affected by time, the quality of the barrels, how they are distilled and how long they age. When Brogan explains it though, it sounds much simpler.

“There are only four ingredients in single malt whiskey,” Brogan says. “The barley, the yeast, the water and the barrels.”

Brogan doesn’t discount the effect of water quality, climate and other factors in how whiskey is produced and aged. Quite the opposite, Brogan found when he was building his recipes, malted barley grown and produced in the States had a different temperament than what he was used to in Scotland. 

The flavor he wanted required going straight to the source, so the malted barley comes in from Scotland by the ton, as well as the peated barley and yeast. His massive copper pot-still was made by the same manufacturer that produces stills for many distilleries in Scotland, including Macallan. Even though the whiskies are rooted in Scottish traditions, Brogan calls it a “distinctly American” spirit.

Because American whiskies must be aged in new American white oak barrels charred on the interior, as opposed to the second or third fill barrels used in Scotland and Ireland, Brogan had to make some adjustments to the distillation process and produce a more robust spirit to stand up against the oak of new barrels.

Boulder Spirits also brings in another aging tradition from Scotland, finishing whiskies in sherry and port wine barrels. The port casks soften and sweeten both the single malt and bourbon, while the sherry brings out sharp, robust notes that can challenge the palate in a delicious way. 

For those uninitiated to the world of single malt whiskies, Boulder Spirits is a rich, flavorful and approachable entry point. The best way for readers to discover it themselves is by visiting for a tour.

During the pandemic, Brogan and his team made the difficult decision to shut down the tasting room for normal bar operations. Instead, the distillery offers tours Thursday through Sunday for a reasonable $20 per person, including a sampling flight of the whiskies and a steep discount on bottle sales. The tour is worth it for the classic, dark wood of the tasting room and the significant knowledge imparted by Brogan and the other tour guides on the distillation process. 

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