Small Batch, Handcrafted Spirits in Salida, Colorado
by Anna Sitton, The Buena Viking
Over the course of history, plenty of wild tales have been regaled in the depths of the Grand Canyon. Around the campfire at night, with nothing but moonlit red walls keeping watch, river friends explore their wildest dreams as the bottle of whiskey is passed around the dancing flames. PT Wood is not the first, and definitely won’t be the last river soul to fall prey to that canyon inspiration; the siren song of the southwest. It was in these towering walls and wild waves that his tall tale of “I’m going to make my OWN whiskey someday”, began.
“Once you start telling your stories, you have to eventually, quit telling them, or suck it up and do it.” It was a proclamation that took a while to take form, and plenty of whiskey bottles were drained on snow, current, and dirt to get PT and his brother, Lee Wood to the point of creation, but nestled in the heart of downtown Salida, they’re here to stay.
The pieces began to come together when regulation changed in 2003 and allowed for an easier entry point to the business of small-batch distillation. Next came “Ashley”, an antique German pot still from the 1880s, brought to the United States in 1960 and retired for 50 years. She was allowed a reawakening and became the solid foundation that produced those first few bottles of whiskey and gin. As soon as a former auto body shop became available in downtown Salida, the place PT calls home, they knew this reverie could truly come to fruition.
Wood’s High Mountain Distillery opened its doors to the public in 2012, serving small-batch handcrafted spirits and cocktails. The brick exposed walls are perfectly adorned with a retro kayak, a living room area for ideas and social commentary to permeate through friends and drinks, and revolving local art exhibits create a tasting room that begs settling in and enjoying your day after your favorite mountain activity. Both brothers aim to bottle their product to showcase the essence of adventure and mountain town living. It’s no stranger to PT – who has made his home in Salida for the past 30 years and is currently the sitting mayor.
“The mountain town thing makes you a jack of all trades – that’s how you survive. I think that’s what gives our community character – what makes Salida interesting. Part of living here is being a lifestyle entrepreneur, where you’re constantly doing stuff to reinvent yourself to live the lifestyle you want. It means going out and reinventing yourself to find new ways that you can stay here and run rivers, bike, and ski – so much of it is more than having a job.”
Both Lee and PT Wood had a dream of reinventing themselves to manufacture something in the valley they find so special. PT didn’t really come from a distillation background, and he didn’t have any pre-conceived notions. “I drank a lot of whiskey, so I knew what I liked. I aimed for flavors I liked, and not really for convention.” To get to the flavor he wanted, PT reverse engineered spicy, dry, and savory flavors, with hints of chocolate through five different malts. Through plenty of sips off the still, he created the first batch of Tenderfoot Whiskey. This unique blend of malted grains includes 2- row barley, Cherrywood smoked barley malt, dark chocolate barley, malted rye, and malted wheat, all aged in American White Oak Barrels. This whiskey offers a smoky quality with sweetness and zing that is the perfect complement to any mountain adventure. Wood’s High Mountain Distillery also offers three different types of gin and a magical Fleur De Sureau made with Colorado-grown Elderflower and finished with local honey. Coming in early 2019 – a potato vodka is grown from potato farmers in the San Luis Valley right over the hill.
PT doesn’t distill spirits because it’s easy. He creates to quiet his never- ending interest and curiosity. In a state where “Colorado-Grown” goes a long way, it’s way more common to find your “local” distillery using liquor from industrial factories in Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee, then mixing with Colorado water. This method of blending is its own art, but the Woods journey is one that labored for years to produce a true grain to glass product. Today “Ashley” is joined by two new stills, and the distillery has gone from a 150-liter system to a 2400-liter system. An extensive cocktail menu combined live music nights, community events such as avalanche talks, and plenty of locals with stories to tell, creates a utopian spot in downtown Salida.
“I hope ultimately that we’re an anchor for downtown Salida and remain a community gathering spot, a place where folks can come have conversations. I hope we can make enough money to pay our employees living wage with benefits and all those things we are working on. We just want to keep the family going down here.”
For PT, he’s hit the jackpot in mountain lifestyle. In-between long hours and days in the distillery, you can find him hitting the skin track at sunrise, making the time for the river trips that inspired this reality, and living life with his new wife, Kristy and adventure pup, Pearl. Paths have been paved in our mountain homes, by entrepreneurs that think outside the box, and refuse to see failure in their quest for making a life thousands of feet above sea level. PT and Lee Wood have not only figured out how to keep playing in the mountains, but also how to make life sweeter and tastier for those who walk through their doors. It’s truly a dream worth living.
by Anna Sitton Winger
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