KJ Wood Distillers, Colorado
Distilled from Blue Corn.
The purpose built KJ Wood Distillery in Ouray is ideally positioned to establish itself as a boutique destination distillery. When I visited, deer were grazing at the front of the two story pine clad building which could so easily have been a replica of the earliest buildings erected over 100 years ago by the gold and mineral miners, for which the town is most famous.
That said, the town is named after the Native American Chief Ouray, chief of the Ute tribe who lived in the valley below the stunning San Juan Mountains, including the aptly named Whitehorse Mountain and Wildhorse Peak. Owner, John Wood is keen to work with the Utes and to cement a bond between them and his distillery. Coincidentally, he was already distilling with blue corn grown by the Hopi Tribe in Arizona, but now that he is closer to the Ute tribe, will be using blue corn cultivated on their Reserve. Blue Corn is harder to work with, has a lower yield and is more expensive than the yellow corn but according to John, has a better flavor. Sweeter, more buttery and with a smoky hint. Working with the Ute tribe not only support the native people and adds to the uniqueness of their whiskey but also provides the Ouray distillery with a direct link to the historical valley.
Having spent many years home brewing, including making the beer for his wedding with 250 guests, John was exploring the idea of starting a brewery when he visited Dancing Pines Distillery. Immediately, he decided that distilling rather than brewing was the way forward for him. Attending some distilling classes including at Downslope Distilling and with the manufacturers of Carl stills in 2012, John leased and fitted a small warehouse in Berthoud, south of Loveland, before taking delivery of two Spanish Hoga stills. One 100 gallon (400 litre) for gin, the other a 200 gallon (800 litre) still with a reflux column, for whiskey and vodka. The total start-up cost was a round $165,000 and the license was filled in Jan 2013. Within just a few months of operating John chanced his luck by entering a competition for his gin and amazingly, won a gold medal, the only gin to do so. Emboldened, he started experimenting with a whiskey and encouragingly, his first very small 15-gallon batch of blue corn whiskey was also an immediate success and affirmed the need for a larger location.
Thinking long term and for a dream retirement location they headed to the quaint and historic mountain town of Ouray in southwest Colorado. Buying a vacant lot in 2014, the next two years were spent overseeing, part self building and fitting out the new building, eventually moving in, in Sept 2016. A smart move in my view.
As a Hendricks Gin drinker, John’s Jinn Gin was inspired by the less juniper-influenced style of gin. It is pot distilled with a total of 13 botanicals macerated in the pot, including fewer junipers, lavender flowers and pale ale malt extract.
In addition to the use of blue corn, the current whiskey is made up of rye and wheat, (the actual percentages are a closely guarded secret). While there is no barley in the whiskey, which is quite unusual, John’s goal is to have a single malt whiskey made from 100% malted barley. An affirmation to his Scottish roots and his enjoyment of Scotch whisky.
A new 600 gallon (2,200 litre) still and mash tank is on order and will allow K J Wood to step up production, all be it, on a very small scale. Looks like a very busy year ahead for the ambitious enterprise.
Dead Drift Colorado Aged Whiskey
Berthoud Blue Vodka