Let’s set the stage: A small stone top bar, wild murals on the opposite wall and tree branches glimmering in the rafter of the ceiling. You haven’t wandered into a magical forest bar, just the home of DV8 Distillery.
Finding DV8 is a small adventure in itself, hidden in east Boulder behind car dealerships and auto repair shops, but the adventure is worth the effort. Co-founded by Johnathan Tilley (JT) and Rawley Gunnels in 2015, the distillery continues to grow its offerings of off-the-beaten path spirits and events.
The big draw is a Celiac-friendly approach to vodka, gin and whiskey with DV8’s unique rice-based spirits. The spirits are mashed, fermented and distilled in-house with a focus on quality and character. The gin is a stand out, what Gunnels describes as a “wet gin,” as opposed to a classic dry gin. Juniper berries are present but not prevailing, instead making way for floral layers of lavender and cardamom carried by a potent blood orange note.
DV8’s vodkas are also noteworthy—the base spirit is distilled from rice as well, with a clean taste, while the Earl Grey vodka packs in bergamot and black tea from Boulder’s Dushanbe Tea House. In the tasting room, the vodka gets a little stranger. Fruit and coffee infusions liven up the distillery’s cocktail portfolio, along with a Thai-inspired vodka packed with herbs like basil, mint and cilantro, along with ginger, lime and the spicy hint of Thai chile.
Whiskey drinkers aren’t left out to dry. DV8 boasts Colorado’s only 100% rice-based, single-barrel whiskey, aged for at least a year on American oak. Filling out the bottle shelf is a five-grain bourbon blended from a combination of DV8’s rice whiskey and sourced bourbons from larger producers.
Bringing it all together is DV8’s charming tasting room, under the guidance of bar manager Andrew Larsen and mixologist Alex Ballas.
“Alex and I put together this menu and we really tried to go through and highlight elevated cocktails that put the emphasis on our spirits,” Larsen says.
Distilleries have to get creative with their cocktail menus and Larsen’s rises to the challenge with libations for almost any taste. Even without spirits like rum and tequila in the portfolio, there’s no shortage of clever takes.
Larsen developed the “Thaigerita” after countless requests for a margarita. Orange liqueur, lime and agave syrup mellow out and elevate the complex flavors of the Thai infusion, giving the illusion of a spicy margarita.
The “Deviant Daiquiri” crosses the threshold between the simplicity of a Hemingway daiquiri and a classic gimlet. A hint of sweetness cuts the tartness of the lime, backed by a sweet, rich maraschino cordial that lifts out the floral qualities of gin, making for an easy summer sipper.
Leaning into something just a little weird, Larsen recently added a twist on a Manhattan utilizing DV8’s new peanut butter bourbon. Though the classic Manhattan components—whiskey, vermouth and cherry—are present, the choice of bourbon gives the cocktail the idea of a liquified peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Delicious and well worth a taste if you’re willing to dispel any preconceived notions of what a Manhattan should be before you sit down with it.
Visits to DV8’s tasting room, which is currently expanding to welcome more bodies, are more than just a chance to cozy up to the bar and sip spirits. The distillery has leaned into their motto of deviating from the norm, inviting the queer and kink communities to party down as well. With warmer weather in the not-too-distant future and COVID-19 hopefully settling down into an endemic state, DV8’s bigger parties will return and expand into their parking lot.
“I really feel like DV8 is a hidden gem of Boulder,” Larsen says, “The people that want to come here because of the environment that not only JT and Rawley but all of our bar staff have tried to foster where you can come and be yourself.”