RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Colorado is well-known for its beer. But a growing number of small distilleries want to put Colorado on the map for its stronger drinks too.
As Colorado Public Radios Megan Verlee reports, they are part of a nationwide movement.
MEGAN VERLEE: Walk into Mondo Vino, a liquor store in one of Denver's trendier neighborhoods, and you're not likely to recognize many of the bottles on the liquor shelves. Here, Jack Daniels and Absolut take a back seat to small-batch spirits.
Mr. MATTHEW BURGER (Mondo Vino): We've got whiskeys from Tuthilltown Spirits out of New York, the Whippersnapper out of Oregon...
VERLEE: Matthew Burger works here. He says that drinkers in Denver have long demanded variety in their beer, and more and more, they want it in their spirits, too.
Mr. BURGER: For us especially, our customers are already looking for those things when they walk in the door, because they want something a little more unusual, or something a little more artisanal.
VERLEE: Big companies still produce the vast majority of spirits sold in the U.S., but craft distilleries have taken off at the margins. This year, the federal government permitted 149 new distilleries thats three times the number they did just a few years ago.
One of those new permits went to Syntax distillery, in northeastern Colorado.
Mr. JEFF COPELAND (Co-owner, Class V Vodka): You take a little small sip here. Like initially, you might get a bit of a fruity essence, but then as you feel the vodka roll back...
VERLEE: Jeff Copeland and Heather Bean opened their distillery and tasting room just a few weeks ago. They have one product - a vodka - and so far Bean says it's been selling as fast as they can make it.
Ms. HEATHER BEAN (Co-owner, Class V Vodka): Right now, it looks like we have exactly seven bottles on hand, because we sold out completely last weekend, down to actually having a third of a bottle in the fridge that we were mixing drinks with.
VERLEE: For Bean and Copeland, this is a second chance to follow a long-held dream. They made beer as a hobby for years, but the microbrewery market is pretty saturated. Then they started hearing about micro-distilleries.
Ms. BEAN: So we thought that was just a cool thing - that we could get in on the ground floor of another wave of interesting craft beverages.
VERLEE: Like any dream business, craft distilling comes with its own nightmares.�In this case, it's paperwork.
Bean and Copeland spent two years filing applications before they ever tasted their first batch of vodka. Theyve been keeping count of all the various federal, state and local agencies they've had to register with to date - 13.
Mr. COPELAND: Every once and a while, a new one pops up that we weren't aware of.
Ms. BEAN: Yeah, that's always an exciting email to get: you're in violation of the whatever. And then you talk to everyone else and go, do these people regulate you? And mostly they say, oh, I've never heard of that, either.
Mr. COPELAND: And then, two weeks later they call and say, oh, they found us, too.
VERLEE: The Distilled Spirits Council is the trade group for liquor companies. It created a craft membership this year in part to help small producers navigate the regulatory labyrinth. Home distilling is a federal felony. Moonshine anyone?
And the Council's Frank Coleman says that craft spirits usually cost a good bit more than their mass-produced competition.
Mr. FRANK COLEMAN (Senior vice president, Distilled Spirits Council): They're finding niches where they're not playing against the big guys. So it's a little bit of, sort of marketing jujitsu, if you will.
VERLEE: Exhibit A in that regard may be Stranahan's Whiskey. In six years, the Denver-based spirit has almost become a Colorado institution, tapping into the local food movement and the region's Old West heritage.
But standing in the distillery's cavernous barrel room, business manager Jason Lippa says, success is relative.
Mr. JASON LIPPA (Business manager, Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey): We look around, and to you or I, this is a lot of whiskey. In about six years, we've made about 1,600 barrels. And for someone like Jim Beam, that would take about six to eight hours of production time.
VERLEE: Craft distilleries aren't any real competition to the big guys yet, but their numbers do keep growing. Lippa says he often fielding calls from people trying to figure out how to start their own distilleries.
From NPR News, I'm Megan Verlee in Denver.
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