The New York Apple Whiskey from Leopold Bros. is a cold weather favorite behind bars across Denver. This spirit, modeled after a pre-World War II recipe for Southern Comfort, features one of the country's best source for apples, New York State. Eater discovered how some local bartenders like to utilize this apple whiskey and where head distiller Todd Leopold gets his inspiration from.
The Leopold Brothers, Todd and Scott, began their operation in 1999 in Ann Arbor, Michigan where they owned and operated the distillery as well as a full service restaurant and bar. The Denver natives brought their business home in 2008 and decided to focus their efforts on distilling. The brothers plan to move their operation next year. Their new digs will triple their production ability featuring a floor malting room, a garden, and an expanded tasting room. The city of Denver is reviewing their designs and they hope to break ground in the next couple of months.
For the New York Apple Whiskey, the Leopold brothers tap into the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and utilize many varieties of heirloom apples for this spirit. The process begins with the Leopold Bros. small batch whiskey, a corn and rye blend, to which fresh apple juice is added followed by a small amount of sugar according to the varying brix- the sugar content - of each batch. The spirit ages in bourbon barrels and, according to Todd Leopold, this is how the apples really shine. "What's great is that the apples oxidize in the barrel, yielding more complex dried fruit, apricot, and raisin flavors that really make the spirit work." That's something that beer geeks can also raise a glass to, Leopold explained, "When we're finished with these barrels, both Crooked Stave in Denver, and New Belgium Brewery in Fort Collins will age their sour beers in them. These beers meld perfectly with the mix of apples and whiskey, making incredibly complex and subtle beers that sour beer fans just love."
The inspiration behind the apple whiskey came from an old whiskey blender's manual. "They were adding everything from peaches, fig juice, plum juice, and black tea to bourbon and rye. This morphed into whiskies with stronger flavors of fruit, which is what Southern Comfort used to be, a peach bourbon-as in real peach juice and bourbon. The formula changed after World War II, and is now made with peach flavoring," Todd Leopold recounted. Peach whiskey was the first fruit whiskey Leopold Bros. made, as a homage to the old fruit whiskies of the 1800's. The apple whiskey and a blackberry whiskey were soon added to the lineup.
Leopold Bros. make over fifteen spirits including absinthe, liquers, gin, and vodka and Todd Leopold declines to pick a favorite. He does confide, however, that he enjoys the New York apple whiskey on the rocks with a dash of bitters and recommends drinking it at his favorite places in Denver, Beatrice and Woodsley and Z Cuisine.
Eli Kerlim of Z Cuisine shared his recipe for the Mile High Manhattan, a customer favorite: 3oz. of Stranhan's Whiskey, 1/3 oz Lillet Rouge, 1/2 oz.Leopold Bros. New York Apple Whiskey, and a dash of Peychaud's. Stir with ice and serve up garnished with house-brandied cherries.
Sean Kenyon of Williams & Graham and The Squeaky Bean is a huge fan of Leopold Bros. products, "Todd Leopold simply does things right. I love the apple whiskey and, of course, it is perfect for fall. It works well with so many flavors and lends itself to more spiritous cocktails like manhattans while still being perfect for brighter drinks and sours." Kenyon highlighted a fall-inspired cocktail, the Orchard Sour, made with Leopold Bros New York Apple Whiskey, honey syrup, fresh lemon juice, and Angostura bitters. Kenyon serves this up topped with chai tea foam (not afraid to break out the whipped cream canister) and garnished with an apple slice.
Bryan Dayton of Oak at Fourteenth, loves making fall cocktails with it. Especially with allspice dram, a Jamaican rum-based spirit infused with allspice. Brittany Henze, formerly of Star Bar and The Kitchen, has recently joined the team at TIACO. She offers this balanced sweet and savory cocktail, Todd's Thyme Out, featuring Stranahan's whiskey, caramel simple syrup, fresh apple juice, thyme, and Leopold Bros. New York Apple Whiskey served up with a flamed lemon.
Leopold Bros New York Apple Whiskey [Photo: Courtesy of Leopold Bros.]