Skiing's Coolest Distilleries

Woody Creek Distillers bottles Aspen’s high spirits

When the two former electrical engineers behind Colorado’s Woody Creek Distillers planted seven potato varietals near Aspen, Colorado in 2010, they were farming with precedent. Potatoes were the Roaring Fork Valley’s boom crop from the 1880s to the Great Depression. But Mark Kleckner and Pat Scanlan weren’t thinking heritage potato salad. They were thinking vodka. Fresh vodka. Field to flask. “We harvest one day and mash for vodka the next,” says Kleckner.

Woody Creek Distillers  specializes in “field to flask” spirits distilled from fresh, local ingredients, much of it grown by the distillers themselves. Located a half-hour from downtown Aspen in Basalt, Colorado, Wood Creek’s stay-a-while tasting room is open Tuesdays thru Saturdays from 2 pm - 8 pm.  Cocktailmarler |    CC BY-SA 4.0

Woody Creek Distillers specializes in “field to flask” spirits distilled from fresh, local ingredients, much of it grown by the distillers themselves. Located a half-hour from downtown Aspen in Basalt, Colorado, Wood Creek’s stay-a-while tasting room is open Tuesdays thru Saturdays from 2 pm - 8 pm. Cocktailmarler | CC BY-SA 4.0

Craft distilleries (those making less than 40,000 cases annually) and other boutique booze makers are booming across North America. Mountain towns are a particular magnet: Micro distilleries, craft breweries and even small-batch winemakers are popping up throughout the ski world at record rates.

What makes Woody Creek stand out is that it distills with a difference.

Woody Creek’s “seed to sip” distilling starts with the planting of rare potato seed varietals (like Polish Strobawa). Once harvested, potatoes immediately start being processed for vodka—without any storage time.  Øyvind Holmstad |    CC BY-SA 4.0

Woody Creek’s “seed to sip” distilling starts with the planting of rare potato seed varietals (like Polish Strobawa). Once harvested, potatoes immediately start being processed for vodka—without any storage time. Øyvind Holmstad | CC BY-SA 4.0

The best small-batch distillers skip computerized distilling and instead utilize a hands-on mix of art and science—but great equipment does help. Woody Creek’s custom stills were manufactured by CARL GMBH.  Dreamstime

The best small-batch distillers skip computerized distilling and instead utilize a hands-on mix of art and science—but great equipment does help. Woody Creek’s custom stills were manufactured by CARL GMBH. Dreamstime

Woody Creek Distillers sources 100% Colorado rye for its “field to flask” whiskey, which is then aged for a minimum of two years in American White Oak barrels. Throughout the distilling process, low environmental impact is prioritized.  Dreamstime

Woody Creek Distillers sources 100% Colorado rye for its “field to flask” whiskey, which is then aged for a minimum of two years in American White Oak barrels. Throughout the distilling process, low environmental impact is prioritized. Dreamstime

Most potato-based vodka around the globe is made from B-grade potatoes culled from the premier produce that ships to market. The holdovers are stored in bins and cellars (sometimes for a long time) before being made into spirits. Woody Creek Distillers skips all that. Premier spuds are hand-harvested eight miles from the stills. Storage time is nil. Absent, too, are the mass-produced neutral grain spirits (think Everclear, but made from GMO corn), unlisted additives like artificial enzymes and glycerin, and aggressive filtering commonly used throughout the distilling world.

“Harvest, mash, harvest, mash,” says Kleckner. “We grew thirty acres our first year, and produced over half a million pounds of potatoes. At harvest, we cranked vodka until it got too cold to dig.” After harvest, batches work their way through gleaming copper stills and towering fractionating columns in Woody Creek Distillers’ 10,000-square-foot plant and tasting room in Basalt, Colorado. Multiple passes through the still? Not necessary. Woody Creek Distillers meets the proof mark in one single pass.

Sipping Woody Creek’s spirits is like tasting Colorado. Sounds goofy, but it’s true.  © Ski Travel Go

Sipping Woody Creek’s spirits is like tasting Colorado. Sounds goofy, but it’s true. © Ski Travel Go

Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey. Enough said.  Dreamstime

Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey. Enough said. Dreamstime

In addition to vodka, Woody Creek Distillers now crafts gin, rye whiskey and limited edition spirits, all sourced from regional ingredients.  © Ski Travel Go

In addition to vodka, Woody Creek Distillers now crafts gin, rye whiskey and limited edition spirits, all sourced from regional ingredients. © Ski Travel Go

The result is vodka without harshness, but with flavor, character, body and subtle sweetness on the nose. In other words, it actually tastes of the land and water from which it hails. “If you’re looking for complete neutrality,” Kleckner says, “that’s definitely not us.”

What started with 100% potato vodka at Woody Creek Distillers in 2013 has since expanded to gin, rye, accolades and awards.

Meanwhile, the popularity of craft spirits keeps spreading like a cool kind of contagion through mountain towns everywhere, with tasting rooms, distillery tours, cocktail-making classes and, of course, bottles to take back home for tastes of that special mountain terroir.

Woody Creek’s steel, concrete and glass distillery, tasting room and event space are located in Basalt, Colorado, about thirty minutes from  downtown Aspen .  © Ski Travel Go

Woody Creek’s steel, concrete and glass distillery, tasting room and event space are located in Basalt, Colorado, about thirty minutes from downtown Aspen. © Ski Travel Go

Bee’s Knees, anyone? Honey is local to the Roaring Fork Valley, too. (Lemons, not so much.)  Will Shenton |    CC BY-SA 3.0

Bee’s Knees, anyone? Honey is local to the Roaring Fork Valley, too. (Lemons, not so much.) Will Shenton | CC BY-SA 3.0

Tasting flights at small-batch distilleries makes for a very fun après-ski field trip (with a designated driver, of course).  Unsplash

Tasting flights at small-batch distilleries makes for a very fun après-ski field trip (with a designated driver, of course). Unsplash

Does it all make après-ski even more fun? You bet! 

Sample the full range of Woody Creek Distillers’ seed-to-sip spirits in the distillery’s tasting room, located a 30-minute drive from downtown Aspen, at 60 Sunset Drive in the town of Basalt, Colorado. Open Tuesdays thru Saturdays from 2 pm – 8 pm. www.woodycreekdistillers.com

Or, explore Ski Travel Guru’s other favorite ski town distillery discoveries, below.