Wood’s High Mountain Distillery, Colorado
Sailing Their Own Course.
Literally surrounded by over a dozen of Colorado’s 14,000ft+ peaks, and with the Arkansas River flowing through it, Salida is situated in the heart of the Rockies. Alongside the river, the red brick buildings of the old town have been preserved and housed in one of these, although now painted blue, is the Wood’s High Mountain Distillery.
The distillery is very much the life of two spirited brothers who started the project on a budget and built it on a dream. Conceived while enjoying a malt whiskey at the end of the day during a long kayaking camp trip through the Grand Canyon. Brothers PT and Lee Wood established the distillery in 2012, some twenty years later.
Their story would not be complete however, without the mention of their third founding member – Ashley. Ashley is believed to be over 120 years old and is made from copper. Yes, she is the antique German made pot still which could easily be mistaken for a deep sea diving capsule, although far to small for an adult to fit inside. Having been collecting dust in a friend’s garage, the old still was brought and brought back to life after 50 years sitting idle.
Some engineering work was required to get the 45 gallon (170 litre) still working again, and the same resourcefulness and ingenuity was put to work to creating Frankenstill; the Styrofoam covered square stainless steel tank that acts as the wash still. Similarly “some of pieces of junk that were laying around’ were used to create the worm tub condenser. Having served their time now, most of the original pieces of equipment are about to be replaced, including a 500 gallon, 20 plate pot and column still and five Cyprus wood open top fermentation vats; although Ashley will be retained for experimental work.
Distilling from flour (pre milled grain), fermentation is allowed to run for up to nine days (large distillers usually run for three days) until the beer (wash) starts to sour, allowing for more esters and resulting in greater complexity in the final spirit.
Whiskey in the US cannot stay in new barrels for long compared to whisky made in Scotland, so as the barrel is responsible for imparting a considerable amount of the final flavor, the Woods try to hold on to as much flavor as possible through the fermentation and distillation process. “It’s a fine line,” says PT “as your typically taking a wider cut with some of the higher proof spirit.”
As the still is so small, it takes about three batches (distillates) to fill one 53 gallon barrel. The whiskies are left to mature for 14+ months and the period will gradually extend as stocks build. According to PT “while you can speed up the extraction from the barrel, certain things just take time.” Since, each barrel is made up of a unique distillate, PT has become very intimate with each one to monitor how they are maturing and interacting with the cask and to avoid over-oaking.
Three gins inc a traditional but not big on the junipers. An aged version (6-24 months depending on how many times the casks have been used) and a new cascade gin that uses fresh hops which is very flavorsome.
The rye whiskey is made from 70%+ malted rye plus two barley malts, and is 18-20 months old. The Malt whiskey is made using 5 different malts, including 3 barley malts, a rye malt and a wheat malt. It is currently released at 14-16 months but the goal is to make this a six-year-old release. I tasted a 27 months old malt whiskey drawn straight from a 53 gallon cask, which I found to be honey sweet with a developing fruitiness – delicious!
Wood’s are continually experimenting and currently maturing a single malt from barley smoked over Cherry wood that will be finished in a used Port cask. Sadly that’s not due to be released until 2022! Although maturing in a warehouse that can be anything from 40 – 100° and with minimum humidity means anticipating the best time to bottle any cask is not easy.
Wood’s Tenderfoot Whiskey (single malt)
Wood’s Alpine Rye Whiskey
Wood’s Treeline Gin
Wood’s Barrel Rested Gin