Driven to Drink.
There is little that could be considered as conventional at Syntax Spirits; from its outdoor patio area featuring graffiti art by local painters to their home made stills, Syntax is unconventional to say the least. Situated alongside a rail track and next to a towering grain silo in the agricultural town of Greeley, they are well positioned for a good supply of their raw materials.
Co founder Heather Bean, affectionately referred to as the Mistress of Stills, not only founded the ‘grain-to-glass’ distillery and is the head of distilling; she also made the equipment herself! A brave undertaking by any measure but as a qualified Chemical and Mechanical Engineer, Heather affirms “I felt I had all the necessary tools in the toolbox to start a distillery”.
Established five years ago, there were few other craft distilleries in the area so the Syntax distillery was viewed as an unknown phenomena to many locals, some even questioning whether it was legal and if they would go blind if they drank the spirit! Heather jokes that “being on the wrong side of the tracks” only adds to the perception of their illegitimacy! But legitimate they are and with wonderful branding, their spirits would not look out of place on any top shelf.
Having spent 15 years as an engineer with Hewlett Packard, Heather felt the corporate world had become “a lot less fun” and was becoming disillusioned. Then, traveling to Portland Oregon in 2008, where she first saw craft distilleries, she thought, “that could be interesting… what could possibly go wrong?” Jokingly adding “corporate engineering drove me to drink and being a good engineer, I had to figure out a way of making it cheaply enough to satisfy my new habit”. With some inspiration from Tom Burkleaux who established the New Deal Distillery in Portland, the 4th US craft distillery back in 2004, Heather was up and running, distilling vodka within a couple of years from conceiving the idea.
The home-made distillery resembles a tiny oil refinery (no surprise considering Heather’s training), with a network of pipes leading from the matching, although different sized, stainless pots, each with vertical copper pipes rising straight out of the tops, acting as filters through which the spirit is distilled. The larger of the two pots is just 126 gallons (475 liters), and with a 250 gallon mash tun and fermentation vat, this is clearly a very small operation, filling two bourbon barrels of whiskey a week.
Their vodka is made purely from locally grown wheat, while two flavored versions have added green chili peppers and vanilla beans respectively. They also make a 100% wheat whisky, while their bourbon is made from a mash of corn, wheat and barley. The bourbon is matured for 2+ years in 53 gallon barrels and bottled at 95% proof. I found it to be surprisingly spicy and smooth. Not overly influenced by the wood which is typical of many bourbons, and which is also a surprise considering the 2+ years spend maturing in new oak casks.
Any review of Syntax Spirits would be incomplete without reference to the packaging. The company’s name is a play on words and is a jab at the level of tax (sin-tax) levied on spirits while according to Heather, the glamour muses on the vodka bottles are “what she looked like in her head when she used to do a lot of kayaking”. Last but not least, the Garfield-looking cat on the bourbon bottle depicts how their own distillery cat, Gustav, probably looks like in his head. When I learnt that the illustrator for the work is a pinball game artist, everything at Syntax made perfect sense!
Syntax Spirits Class V Vodka
Syntax Spirits Class V Perky Pepper Vodka
Syntax Spirits Devious Vanilla Vodka
Syntax Spirits Powder White Rum
Syntax Spirits Bourbon
Syntax Spirits Big Cat White Whisky