Forever synonymous with Russia, vodka is taking on a new national image. Woody Creek Distiller’s vodka is gaining the regional and national respect of spirit critics and followers.
Long time friends Pat and Mary Scanlan and Mark Kleckner spent the early decades of their powerful careers negotiating government deals and defense contracts. Having received engineering degrees from Colorado School of Mines, Pat and Mark both ventured into the corporate and government worlds and remained close friends. In the mid 2000s, Kleckner visited the Scanlan's in their Aspen valley home, and one night they discussed venturing into the micro distilling business. Kleckner shares, “Pat and I were talking about what happened with the micro distilling beer industry before it burst onto the markets in the 80s and felt we could figure out a way to produce ultra-premium spirits.” With that evolved the conception of Woody Creek Distillers (WCD).
More than Idaho
What many Coloradans may not know is at one time more potatoes were produced in Aspen Valley than in the state of Idaho. “During the 1900s to 1930s potato crops were picked up by trains twice a day sharing loads with silver. When the mining industry crashed in the 30s, so too did farming,” describes Kleckner. WCD uses three main potato fields (40 acres) of the Scanlan family farm in the Aspen valley. Kleckner says it is a prime location for growing potatoes because of the ample amount of rain and long growing season. “We are all vodka drinkers and always felt the gold standard was potato vodka. When we started working on this distilling idea, we all knew their land was in a great agricultural environment and that to make our vodka superb we had to grow the potatoes, get superior equipment and use the natural spring water resource that is right here in the valley. We are the only potato vodka distillery to control the production from growing to bottling.” Initially, they spent a few years producing vodka from various varietals of potatoes before deciding on the optimum potato. “We started out with six or seven varietals and after the first year, we go that down to three main potatoes. Rio Grande won in the end and it is because of the characteristics that particular variety imparts to the vodka that we felt it was the clear winner,” Kleckner shares.
A Savory Character
Three parts factor into the production of spirits: the head, heart and tail. “Our vodka is batch distilled using extremely efficient CARL stills from Germany. Since we batch distill we can cut out all the bad stuff like the heads and tails so that we only grab the best of the heart ethanol for our spirits,” Kleckner relates. “Because of this we don't have to filter multiple times like the other guys. Also, the efficiency of our stills allows us to distill one time. Distilled once, unfiltered and blended using Aspen valley Rocky Mountain spring water makes it truly pure. Our vodka has a creamy, almost savory character throughout, with a touch of sweetness on the finish, and it is one of the smoothest spirits you will ever drink. I've heard it called martini-in-a-bottle; I like that,” he says. Of the processing he says, “Our vodka is like a vintage wine. “ Since we only want to use the freshest potatoes every day, we only make vodka during our harvest from September through November. We're really treating each production run as a vintage, much like wine, but we focus on consistency as well as quality,”
The manufacturing process has all of the elements of artisanally produced spirits, but their execution is on a greater scale. Kleckner says, “This is a big production. We are not a mom-and-pop operation. We produce thousands of cases a year and we do this with a hand-made passion from start to finish. Wine Enthusiast magazine designated us as the highest rated American Potato Vodka.” Visit the 2,000 square foot tasting room and sample the vodka room temperature to get full exposure to the background character, flavor and mouth feel of the spirit. Then add ice, suggests Kleckner. “For the Aspen Food and Wine festival this year, we served shots with Wellfleet Oysters from Massachusetts.” In 2015, look for the unveiling of WCD’s first whiskey.
Woody Creek Distillers
60 Sunset Dr., Basalt, CO
BIO Kathy Smith is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to the New West Publishing family of magazines. She has a keen interest in writing about architecture and interior design, profiles, food, restaurants and anything Colorado. She is a chef, mother of four and a fitness enthusiast.