Some people just don’t know when to stop; they keep on trying despite the roadblocks that are tossed in their path. Spirit Hound Distillers in Lyons is full of people like that. In their quest to create perfect Colorado Straight Whiskey they have faced and overcome their fair share of hardships, all while anxiously awaiting the maturation of their first batches of aged whiskey to release to the public.
As the two-year aging date approached (all straight whiskey must age twoyears in American Oak barrels according to law) they hoped and prayed it was worth the effort that went into creating it. At times their resolve was pushed to the breaking point.
In December 2012, when the boilers were first lit under the stills inside their distillery located on the eastern edge of Lyons on Highway 36, they had already poured their heart and souls into the project. Under the watchful eyes and hands of distiller Craig Engelhorn (the first brewer at Oscar Blues) they had handcrafted all three of their classic copper stills; instead of ordering a pre-made still, they took on the project of building theirs by hand.
“We put in over 500 hours of time fabricating our copper still by hand, hours upon hours hammering the metal,” Engelhorn says. “Sometimes I questioned my sanity at undertaking such a project, but in the end we have a perfect still modeled after the classic Scottish designs.” Besides saving themselves a few hundred thousand dollars, it also enabled the doors to open earlier than if they had ordered a custom still.
If they had known what was coming a short 10 months later, they might have waited.
By the time the rains started falling on Sept. 9, 2013, it is safe to say Engelhorn and his partners figured the hard times were behind them. They were putting whiskey in barrels to age, producing an exceptional gin and helping to turn out a fantastic coffee liqueur. Then the St. Vrain Creek began to rise.
We all know what happened next; Lyons was devastated, actually cut off at one point. Unfortunately Spirit Hound was right in middle of the historic deluge.
When they were able to return to work at the distillery — all five owners live in Lyons, and Englehorn was at the distillery during the flood — wreckage awaited them. Coming in from the back of the building, the water had risen as high as 3 feet inside the building. Every surface was coated in a layer of sludge. Equipment was ruined.
But there was good news: their whiskey had survived. The flood waters had lapped on the outside of the barrels, like a thirsty drunk looking for a drink, but had not gotten inside. Their three stills, including the beautiful copper pot still were undamaged. They would survive like the old dogs that they are.
Today if you visit you cannot even tell that they were flooded.
“We had to tear everything out, but we were distilling as soon as possible,” says Wayne Anderson, sales director and co-owner. “The people of Lyons needed a drink.”
Their Straight Whiskey made with 100 percent Colorado ingredients will be released in August… come hell or high water.