It has taken the Leopolds three years since they began the search for a new space to open their new distillery, but the end result is stunning.
Colorado's well-known and beloved distillery, Leopold Bros. is finally unveiling its new space, a striking facility that includes a malting room, a large kiln, the barrelhouse, and a spacious tasting room dotted with history and unique elements. Brothers Todd and Scott Leopold engaged their parents and small team (9 people total, including Todd and Scott!), in creating a space that is very functional, highly conscious of the environment and conservation, as well as educational for visiting guests.
Distiller Todd Leopold calls it the Mad Men effect: All of a sudden, cocktail culture for all of the 20-somethings became cool again. And the idea of dressing up and going out for drinks became something that's fun to do.
"We've been lucky," says distiller Todd Leopold. "When we started this whole thing, we were still pulling spirits off in pails; bottling one pail at a time. And then something happened. Somebody pulled the switch and suddenly, brown spirits are cool and people understood what we were doing."
Opening the doors to this new four acre campus took three years from the time the Leopolds first decided to find a space. A big challenge was finding a lot that was large enough, free of all contamination on the dirt, and still in Denver proper. The previous location was an 8,000 square foot space where a small stark conference room no bigger than 600 square foot served as the tasting room.
The chairs in the room are nearly identical to those they had at the Michigan outpost, tying that history together further.
How things changed! The new tasting room located at 5285 Joliet Street shows the German influences on the artistic sensibilities of distiller Todd Leopold but also a keen attention to detail. An understated museum-like display case offers visitors a look into the beginning of the brothers in the world of booze-making, their brewery in Ann Arbor Michigan. Various artifacts from that era —1999 when it first opened to 2008 when the Denver natives moved back home — are displayed proudly. The chairs in the room are nearly identical to those they had at the Michigan outpost, tying that history together further. The imposing bar that dominates the room is topped with old rail car decking while the rustic floors are built from wood salvaged from an old saw mill in Ohio. The ceiling in the tasting room is made out of the same wood used on the fermentation tanks on a production floor. From that ceiling hang brass and copper light fixtures salvaged from a ship off the coast of South Carolina.
The tasting room is charming and comfortable and it will serve as a great space to explore spirits in general and the Leopold brand in particular. Those lucky enough to get a tour of the space, however, will be in for a treat in the Malting Room. At first glance, this unadorned space looks like a cold cinder block room, but once the in-house barley malting operations begin, the sight and smell will make their mark. Only a handful of places in the entire world malt their own barley in-house and of those, a majority — seven that is — are in Scotland, and their multi-step process is different than that used at this facility because of the different climates.
Only a handful of places in the entire world malt their own barley in-house
To malt their own barley, the Leopolds will buy fresh Colorado barley from the San Louis Valley and store it in their silo, which holds about 60,000 pounds. The barley goes into tanks for a bath to bring its moisture up from 8-10 % to over 40 %. The water is drained in a traditional style: custom-made wooden shovels are used. Over time, the handles of each shovel will form to each individual shoveler's hand. The barley is spread on the floor of this cinder block room set at 55 degrees with 50% humidity. The barley needs to be turned and raked over time: it is scoop up into the air and allowed to fall down wherever it lands.
Why go through this process? "The reason why we're doing this, is it puts our flavor stamp on the malted barley," explained Taryn Kapronica. Each small move and seemly small element makes a difference in the final product here. "I've been called crazy by more than a couple people. But it's so fun! We genuinely enjoy what it is we're doing. We truly enjoy making things. It's so much fun to watch," says Todd Leopold.
Outside the cinder block room stands the imposing kiln. It was designed based off similar structures built in 19th century by Doig, a Scottish architect. The barley is moved to the kiln to stop the malting process by "freezing" it with heat." Hot air is pumped in through the floor in a tall circular room where the temperature can get up to 220 degrees.
Over time — 30, 40, 50 years — as alcohol evaporates, not all of it goes up into the atmosphere. Some of it returns into the ground
Inside the barrelhouse, a visitor can notice a few things: the earthen floors, part of the reason the Leopolds wanted to make sure there was no contamination in the soil, the lack of climate control and electrical lights, and room for up to 2000 barrels. Over time — 30, 40, 50 years — as alcohol evaporates, not all of it goes up into the atmosphere. Some of it returns into the ground where it can develop into elements that will add another dimension to the flavors of the spirits.
And then there is the distilling space, a large room that smells mesmerizing and different depending on what is being processed that day. There are seven stills lining the room in which the bottling and labeling also takes place. There are fermenters and spices and a window next to them that opens into the landscaping where different aromatics from lavender to fragrant flowers are planted. The wind can bring new flavors through the air and into the fermenters, goes the theory behind the positioning next to the large vats of spirits.
From that distilling room, one can also peek into the stunning vodka still, a tall and slender tower-like structure that sits behind a glass enclosure.
What does this new facility mean for the company? Production can be increased ten-fold. Efficiency is at an all time high with systems that produce very little waste, recycle even water, and use natural light to the maximum. "Right now, we are just mashing once a day, but can mash four times a day," says Todd Leopold. "The constraints are in the way we choose to operate, one spirit at a time. When we're making vodka, we're not making whiskey."
From a guest perspective, however, this space is a shrine to all the things that this distillery does right, from ingredient selection to the care that goes into every step of every process to the modesty with which it approaches the crft of spirit-making. "We try to make sure that we don't have any delusions of grandeur. We're not interested in being the next Jim Beam or Jack Daniels, or being huge. We're really enjoying what it is we're doing. If our sales go up, great, if our sales don't go up, it's not the end of the world," Todd Leopold shares.
Leopold Bros. is distributed in and in Europe, including countries like the UK and Russia. The spirits it produces are varied from vodka and gin to cordials, liqueurs, and whiskey. Keep an eye out for new hours of operation for the tasting room once the distillery opens to the public in the next couple of weeks.