|Photos by Spirit Hound|
Read how Spirit Hound got started and their rich history linked to starting Oskar Blues!
Right off the bat, I want to let you know that the story behind Lyons, Colorado’s Spirit Hound—the city’s first distillery—is quite fascinating and fits way too perfectly with my ongoing series on fusing spirits with beer. Why? Because two of their execs—Craig Engelhorn and Wayne Anderson [above]—were greatly responsible for the existence of the king of canned craft brews, Oskar Blues.
The Hound crew makes an award-winning Spirit Hound Gin, a delicious coffee liqueur called Richardo's, the Mountain Bum Rum, and a kickass Spirit Hound Whisky. Even timelier is the fact they are bringing their roster of liquid bliss to different parts of the country including Georgia’s capital. Hence, it only makes sense to interview Wayne, one of the four original partners at Spirit Hound Distillers.
Read on as Wayne tells us how Craig was the original brewer and father of Dale’s Pale Ale, and how he sold the first Dale’s Pale Ale six-pack! Yep! And now, thanks to Wayne’s ability to sell ice to an Eskimo, he is the head of sales and marketing for Spirit Hound. Evidently, Colorado is more than just a great state for brewing excellence. Here’s my main man Wayne to tell us how it’s done. Enjoy!
Ale Sharpton: So I did a little research on you and noticed you got your start in the craft beer world. Specifically, Oskar Blues. How did you go from there to distilling?
Wayne Anderson: For me the decision to jump into the microdistillery world was the desire to facilitate my friend Craig Engelhorn’s passion and desire to open his own distillery. Craig is easily one of the most talented people I’ve ever had the opportunity to know. He’s technically as good as it gets. He has an electrical engineering degree and worked for a long time at AT&Ts Lucent Labs before he began a second career at OB [Oskar Blues] as a commercial brewer. He’s also one of those crazy artisan craftsman type guys who can do all kinds of amazing things with wood and metal.
I can remember Craig making the comment years ago at OB that he thought if he could distill his Scottish ale, it would make a great whisky. So my thinking was that Craig is the smartest guy I know and distilling spirits was the thing that he was most passionate about doing next. I knew that the microdistilling thing was starting to come on the radar, and I thought with my connections in the beverage distribution world that we might have a good formula for success in a growing new area.
Beer brings good people together. I dig this story. So after the Scottish ale revelation, you still went with gin before the whisky. Talk about your decision on this.
For all of the Spirit Hound partners, the desire to make the Straight Colorado Whisky was the catalyst to join together and make the distillery a reality. For whisky to be proper whisky, it has to age in new American oak barrels for at least two years, though. As a young company, we couldn’t afford the luxury of just distilling whisky and waiting for the two years before we had revenue coming in. With clear spirits, you can sell them right after you distill them since there is no aging process involved.
The reason we selected gin as our first signature product is because one of the primary flavoring ingredients historically is juniper berries. Well, juniper grows like a weed all around the valley where Lyons is located. We use a combination of all fresh botanicals, but the juniper berries themselves are just wild-foraged from around the valley. Our staff picks them, but we’ve also got a deal with the Lyons locals: When you bring us a bag of juniper berries, we’ll give you the cocktail or bottle of your choice depending on the size of the bag.
Microdistilling historically has been about taking advantage of what comes from your backyard. Most farms back in the early years of America had distilleries onsite. George Washington was a distiller. It’s always been about using what is in your backyard; that’s why there are different types of spirits developed in different parts of the country and different parts of the world. Our decision to start with gin was partly based on that desire to be local with what we were producing. That and Craig’s gin recipe tastes really good.
It is! We need to talk more about your Oskar Blues connection. They are one of my favorite brewing companies.
Absolutely. Craig was the original brewer for Oskar Blues. By 1996, he had already retired from AT&T. One of his many hobbies was brewing beer at home. As a resident of Lyons and thus a patron of OB, he would pester Dale about brewing his own beer since his place was called Oskar Blues Grill and Brew. Dale agreed and Craig found a used 7-barrel system from Santa Clarita Brewing, out in California. They went out and brought it back and put it in the basement of the original OB. Craig’s first beer is now popularly known as Dale’s Pale Ale.
Yep! Well, living in Lyons, I was naturally one of the original customers and fell in love with the beer and also got to know Craig. I started working at OB back in 2000. I was part of the decision to purchase that first little two-head can filler from Cask Brewing Systems up in Canada. My deal with Dale was that if he would brew it and can it, then I would go sell it since my background up until that point had all been in outside sales. So I sold the very first case of canned Dale’s Pale Ale in September of 2002, and was the head of sales there until 2009. During that time, I was able to learn the beverage distribution business from the inside, out.
For the first two-plus years, I personally schlepped the brewery’s products around Colorado out of the back of a little refrigerated box truck. We ended up moving into real distribution and I was able to work with some of the best distributors in Colorado and around the country. I learned a lot and made a lot of really great friends. That is how we ended up back here in Georgia and with Savannah Distributing.
Well Savannah’s roster of craft brews is gangster and their legion of spirits are equally impressive, so congrats! So now you are coming to the A-Town to show off Spirit Hound. Talk about my city—and yours, right?
You got it! I’m super excited to be coming back to Atlanta. This is the city of my childhood; this is where I grew up. I’ve got some of my best life-long friends who are here. As a distillery, we don’t have any visions of taking the city by storm or anything like that. It’s gratifying to me to be a part of a movement that is so quality oriented. I love the idea of an old world art rearing its head again as people yearn to get back to knowing where their food and drink come from. The idea of microdistilling and injecting the level of artisanal craftsmanship into the distilling world—which craft beer has already done—is exciting. Atlanta has a very passionate, burgeoning cocktail scene and we’re just hoping to be a part of it as it evolves around the city. And I really just want my friends and family to be able to enjoy something that I had a hand in creating.
Discussing both beer and distilling, this leads to my next question: What are your thoughts on beer cocktails?
My original thought was beer is beer, booze is booze, and never should the two meet. Although after having a Left Hand Milk Stout infused with a shot of Richardo’s, my mind has been opened in new ways again.
Ha! I was the same way. That mix sounds awesome. Plus, the last three mixologists of Cocktails With Ale made me a believer! Tell us about the man behind the Richardo’s Coffee Liqueur, which is off the chain! This is a cool story too.
Rick England is a local legend here around Lyons. He married a gal who was born here and they raised their two daughters. Lyons is a small town anyway, but Rick has been the local land surveyor for many years, so he’s visited just about everybody’s property when they were buying it. Rick is the ultimate good guy, he’s involved in all the local charities, and has a huge heart so everybody loves him.
Anyway, he and his wife Linda [pictured left] have had this home Kahlua maker hobby going for the last 25 years. They’ve been making Richardo’s in their kitchen for literally 20 years. If you were a friend, you could count on a bottle on your birthday and at the holidays. So of course, when we were buying this building, Rick was the surveyor of record and the conversation began there that maybe we should take his product and produce it in our licensed facility so he could have a legitimate offering for the rest of the world. We entered into a licensing agreement with Rick to make Richardo’s and that has evolved into him having an ownership stake in the Distillery itself.
You guys are full of some heart string-tugging stories, man! Okay, to close this interview and toast on your continued success, tell my readers what’s next for Spirit Hound.
What’s next is the Straight Colorado Whisky. Ours is a 100 percent Colorado product and 100 percent malted barley from Alamosa [Colorado]. Some roasted malts and smoked malts give it a very Scotch-type character. Our oldest barrels are about 16 months old now. Anything labeled as ‘Straight’ has to have a 24-months minimum in a new barrel, so we’re looking at next summer for our first batches to be bottled.
Sold! Now let’s get ready for your official Atlanta launch!
Let’s do it! Cheers Ale. This is awesome!
Stay tuned as I challenge gangster mixologist Ian Cox (formerly of Wrecking Bar and soon-to-be bar chief at Luminary) to make a beer cocktail with the Spirit Hound Gin and a craft brew. Also, Spirit Hound is launching officially tonight (Wednesday) from 5 p.m., on at Smoke Belly in Atlanta! See you there I hope.