Nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountain’s Collegiate Peaks, in downtown Buena Vista, Deerhammer Distilling Company hand-crafts award winning American single malt whiskey and other fine spirits the old fashioned way. – Deerhammer Distilling Co. website.
As a neighborhood distillery with a tasting room in the front, and pot stills, a mash tun and rooms full of whiskey barrels in the back, owner Lenny Eckstein is passionate about the production of his craft whiskey that he labels, “Simple. Honest. Colorado whiskey, grain to glass.”
Eckstein, along with his wife Amy, has been in business since 2012.
“We take great pride in playing our part within the craft distilling movement and create every single drop of booze that goes into our bottles,” he says.
A standard batch of whiskey is a time-consuming process.
Eckstein explains the processing of whiskey that he has come to love: It begins with the milling of 1,200 pounds of malted barley from the silo behind the building.
It is weighed out and crushed through a roller mill.
Inside the building, the crushed malt is mixed with 150-degree water in the mashtun, where the starch from the malt converts to sugar.
The liquid is separated from the grain, cooled down and then transferred to a fermenter. The liquid is inoculated with yeast which converts the sugar to alcohol.
This fermentation takes place in large open tanks, and over the course of 4 or 5 days, what remains is a 7 percent alcohol distillers beer.
We double-distill through two different pot stills (600 and 140 gallons) that are designed specifically for making whiskey, Eckstein explains.
The final distillation takes place in a traditional direct-fire copper pot still where only an exceptionally narrow “cut” of the whiskey is taken.
In the maturation process, the whiskey is reduced to 110 proof before being transferred to barrels. We fill a variety of new American white oak barrels ranging from 25 to 54 gallons — all custom toasted and charred to enhance the flavors of the whiskey.
Finally, we hand bottle the whiskey, two bottles at a time, and apply labels.
Eckstein enjoys the creativity in making his fine Downtime Single Malt Whiskey, Whitewater Whiskey, Buena Vista Brandy and Bullwheel Gin.
The tasting room offers a variety of cocktails and comfortable seating in a welcoming atmosphere.
Music often accompanies guests indoors in the winter and outdoors around a fire pit in the summer months.
“I enjoy giving people the whole experience. It’s a way to relax at the end of a day.” Eckstein says in the coming summer Brian and Jennifer Welsh will have a food truck, The Bearded Lady, outside of his doors with pork from what he affectionately labels the whiskey pigs.
The Welshes raise pigs on his whiskey mash, and then the pork is used for tacos, while people sip whiskey.
“So, we’ve come full circle,” Eckstein says.
Owning and operating a distillery was not Eckstein’s first job. Born in New York and raised in Philadelphia, he graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia with a BFA in photography and digital multimedia.
He worked as a graphic designer for 14 years in a variety of positions and for a variety of companies, including Comcast, design agencies, the Bio-Park in Albuquerque, N. M., and also did freelance work.
“I enjoyed the artistic expression in my work,” Eckstein says. “However, after so many hours in front of a computer, the work after a while began to lose some of its appeal.”
Eckstein says that he began brewing beer as a hobby.
“I’d wake up at 4 a.m. to brew, and then when I returned home, I’d be back to work on my beer.”
He says he eventually switched to brewing whiskey, too. “The whole notion of owning a business around this began as a seed of an idea,” he says. “I finally realized my passion lay with the brewing, and my graphic design work was a job. I had to make a career decision.”
“As my passion for brewing grew, I educated myself. I read books, I asked a lot of questions, I visited distilleries and I learned everything I could. When I realized I had 10 years of small scale brewing experience at home, I had the confidence that I could scale up.”
For now, Eckstein says they really enjoy being a neighborhood distillery even though they sell their bottled whiskey in 50 locations in Colorado.
“We keep our distribution small and tight. It keeps the balance we want in our lives,” he says. “We also love the old ways of traditional whiskey production. If we see something that has been done, we don’t want to do it; we flip conventional ways upside down.”
Eckstein says he really appreciates his staff family and customers. “We give impromptu tours whenever possible.”
Of the future, Eckstein says, “It’s a 7-year climb uphill to get where you need to be, and we are in year four and doing well. We look forward to the market of craft whiskey and continued customer satisfaction.”
He pauses and smiles. “And of course some more time off would be nice, too. We love this valley and the feeling we are home.”