Gin and art in RiNo

The award-winning spirits of Denver's Ironton Distillery

Ironton Distillery, RiNo, Denver, CO

What goes into an award-winning gin? Juniper, ponderosa pine and a lot of passion, according to Ironton Distillery’s head distiller, Laura Walters.

“The Ponderosa Gin is definitely our flagship spirit,” Walters explains. “It’s actually the first spirit I made.” 

The gin stands out with strong flavors that evoke Colorado’s mountain forests, full of sage, ponderosa pine, lavender and rosemary grown in the distillery garden. Supported by botanicals like citrus and coriander, the result is a delicate balance of earthy and floral qualities that refresh but don’t overwhelm the palate.

“It’s very floral but also still a dry gin,” Walters says. “There’s a lot of cinnamon, more than I remember to mention, but that’s where the sweetness and earthiness comes in.”

After a taste or three, Ironton’s Ponderosa Gin definitely earns its latest accolades—a trifecta of Double Gold, Best in Class and Best Signature Botanical Spirit from the 2022 American Distilling Institute Awards.

Though the Ponderosa Gin may be the spirit garnering attention for Ironton right now, it’s certainly not the only artful libation in its portfolio. A pair of Genievre spirits—both aged and unaged—offer alternative gins, accompanied by botanical cousins like the rye-based and carraway-forward aquavit and a pleasantly potent absinthe show the love of herbaceous spirits Walters and her crew at Ironton hold dear.

A trio of whiskeys—American straight malt, Colorado straight rye malt and a Colorado bourbon—offer some alternatives to botanical spirits. To celebrate Ironton’s fourth anniversary, the distillery is releasing a new batch of the bourbon aged four years on Aug. 13.

DETAILS: Ironton’s 4th Anniversary and Straight Bourbon Whiskey release. Saturday, Aug. 13, Ironton Distillery and Crafthouse.
3636 Chestnut Place, Denver

Each of the whiskeys are made with grains grown and malted in Colorado, partnering with local stalwarts The Whiskey Sisters Supply and Troubadour Malting. Though I admit to being partial to rye whiskey in general, the straight rye is a standout in the category. Pale and chocolate malted rye offer a robust body and spicy finish balanced out by the smoothness of the two-row barley.

Walters joined Ironton when the distillery was just starting out, bringing years of experience to Ironton, from studying wine and fermentation in college to spending a few years working at Stranahan’s Whiskey in Denver.

“(Stranahan’s) looks really shiny on paper, but when you get back there it’s all scrubbing floors, scrubbing tanks,” she says with a laugh.

The experience at Stranahan’s was a positive one for Walters though. Beyond the hands-on experience gained in Colorado’s first and largest distillery, Walters says the people she’s met through the distillery and surrounding industry have been a boon.

“Even after I left Stranahan’s, I kept a close-knit group of people that worked together and are now off doing their own things,” Walters says. “We’re all so supportive of each other and come to each other for help all the time. It’s the best thing to have in my back pocket.”

There is a patience required in distillation that often starts before the first barrels get stored or a bottle hits the shelf. Walters joined the distillery early on, but it took around three years to start seeing the fruits of labor. With the help of the all women-led staff, Ironton germinated for years before opening its doors to the public in 2018. Ironton took over a series of warehouses that were part of an art collective called Ironton Studios, located in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood next to the Blue Moon Brewery. Walters honed the recipes for gin and whiskey while the space was built out from an art studio to a tasting room and functional distillery. 

Part of the property includes Ironton’s impressive 10,000-square-foot patio space, which also hosts the gardens that grow gin botanicals. According to Kelsey Bigelow, Ironton’s marketing director, the idea was to turn it into a space that didn’t seem as close to I-70 as it actually is.

“We wanted it to be somewhere people could come and relax, have a good cocktail and be outside,” Bigelow says. “We want to be an approachable distillery.”

Keeping in line with RiNo’s art district and its roots as an art studio, Ironton’s patio features sculptures from artists who previously used the space to create. The distillery also keeps one space open to showcase the works of local artists, Bigelow adds. The artist even gets to collaborate with Ironton’s bar staff to develop a cocktail featured for the month.

“Every month there is a different local artist and they can do the show however they want,” Bigelow says. “A lot of them are artists that have never shown before or it’s their first solo show.”

Ironton’s spirits can be found in liquor stores throughout Colorado, but the distillery is definitely worth the visit. Scope out some art, order a tasty cocktail or three and round it off with some pizza made from spent whiskey mash. 



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