Spirit Hound noses out another fine whiskey release

Spirit Hound's latest release, a sumptious Colorado rye whiskey aged 5 years.

Like many fine things in life, making good whiskey takes patience and time. Spirit Hound Distillers’ latest release, a five-year-old Colorado rye whiskey, proudly bears the fruits of that wait. The rich, flavorful whiskey continues the distillery’s legacy of top-shelf spirits with an air of approachability.

Going into the bottle at a fiery 90-proof, the rye starts off with a rich, clean nose that is both sharp and refined. A lush mouthfeel helps carry notes of warm caramel and chocolate on the front, with the spice and pepper of rye resting on the back of the tongue. The five-year age gives the whiskey an opportunity to mellow with the American white oak, soothing the aggressive temperament of a younger whiskey.

None of this should come as a surprise from the producer that has taken Boulder Weekly’s Best Distillery several years running. As the collective alcohol by volume of Colorado booze producers continues to climb in 2022, with hundreds of breweries, distilleries, cideries, mead-makers and vintners jockeying for shelf space in liquor stores and bars, releasing whiskey with a significant barrel-age is a good sign.

Using grains grown by Alamosa-based Colorado Malting Company, Spirit Hound’s whiskeys started releasing one barrel at a time in summer 2015. In that time, the distillery added bourbon and rye barrels to the aging list. Complementing their portfolio, the Lyons distillery produces vodka, gin and rum, sambuca and a coffee liqueur, making for almost a one-stop shop for a home bar.

According to head distiller and co-founder Craig Engelhorn, Spirit Hound was issued the 32nd distilled spirits production permit in the state of Colorado, way back in 2012. August 5 of this year will mark a full decade that sweet, sweet whiskey has spilled forth from Spirit Hound’s copper stills. More than a hundred barrels later, the supply is steady and the flavors are dialed in for the Lyons staple.

Engelhorn and his staff have been increasing production steadily all the while, to the point where they are running out of space in their barrel house. Expansion plans are looming on the horizon, adding onto the existing space for production, storage and filling out the tasting room indoors and out. Feeling confident that Spirit Hound’s presence is known in Boulder County, the next goal is statewide coverage and a huge marketing push that will make it a household name, Engelhorn says.

“When you’re standing in front of the damn liquor store shelf and you’re confronted with a huge wall of Colorado craft spirits, how do you know one is any better than the others?” Engelhorn says. “Our push this year is to get in the consumers’ face.”

That includes promotions with Planet Bluegrass, and RTD buses wrapped in Spirit Hound regalia, along with print and radio ads. Spirit’s production is already growing in anticipation of the new marketing campaigns, Engelhorn says, but the distillery won’t be forgetting its roots any time soon.

With warmer weather an inevitability and the world settling into whatever new normal COVID-19 has brought, Spirit Hound is ready for full tasting rooms and patios again. To celebrate, a tasting room series called Science & Spirits―what Engelhorn describes as a college lecture with cocktails―is making a return on March 24.

After movie nights, game nights and flag football in the backyard, Engelhorn said that the educational series has been far and away its most popular event. Previous iterations of Science & Spirits have brought clever cocktail pairings to go with the educational component, including ice spheres made to look like the moon for astronomy discussions.

“Pre-COVID (the tasting) room was full with people. We’re starting it up again and we’re very excited,” Engelhorn says. “People clearly have a thirst for knowledge.”

Even if lectures on earth sciences or astronomy aren’t your jam, readers should still plan a visit to the Lyons tasting room to sample from a creative cocktail list and grab a bite to eat from upscale Americana food truck Cluck-n-Burger parked right out front.

If the past 10 years, and this latest batch of rye, are any indicator, Spirit Hound Distillers will be as well-known in Colorado as Stranahan’s. One of the next releases Engelhorn anticipates will be a bottled-in-bond rye whiskey. Aged for at least four years and released at 100 proof, a bottled-in-bond whiskey requires every aspect of the spirit to be distilled in house.  

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