The world at their door – Artisan Colorado distiller gains national attention
REDLANDS MESA – The mid-March sun streams into the south-facing windows, spreading warmth and light into the spacious interior of Anna and Lance Hanson’s hardwood-floored home.
A fireplace is sunk into a wall of hand-dug rock and just outside the wall of glass, among the rows of grape vines awaiting the return of spring, wanders a small flock of sheep, carefully monitored by Stella and Luna, the Hanson’s twin Great Pyrenees guard dogs.
This multi-story house, perched like a sentinel overlooking the Hanson’s 72-acre farm on a south-sloping shoulder of Grand Mesa, not only is their home but also, as Lance points, “the world headquarters” for their Jack Rabbit Hill Winery and Peak Spirits distillery.
Although the Hanson’s Demeter-approve biodynamic farm and vineyards on Redlands Mesa initially may seem a bit isolated, the discriminating world of food and drink has found its way to their doorstep.
Last year, their CapRock Organic Gin was a semifinalist for the prestigious James Beard Award in the Outstanding Wine & Spirits – Professional category.
Also, both CapRock gin and vodka were the 2012 Good Food Awards winners in their respective categories. The awards recognize outstanding artisan food products and producers in different categories, including cheese, cured meats, beer and spirits.
“That was a complete surprise to us,” said Lance in a rare quiet moment not devoted to managing a biodynamic winery, distillery, and hops farm.
“Awards like that are great, and we’re immensely proud and appreciative,” he said. “But what awards like that really tell us is we’re on the right path.”
The right path includes using local, organically grown Jonathon and Braeburn apples for their gin and their estate-grown biodynamic Chambourcin grapes for their vodka.
There’s also the water used to reduce the 170-proof base spirit to around 40 percent (80-proof) in the final product. Peak Spirits uses unfiltered spring water issuing from beneath the volcanic cap of Grand Mesa.
“We can’t take you there,” said Lance when asked about the source. “I mean, we really can’t because the road is snowed in.”
“Besides, it isn’t very glamorous,” offers Anna.
Glamorous or not, that naturally filtered spring water is key to the gin’s pure flavor, Lance said.
“We would argue water has lot to do with it,” said Lance, watching sunbeams dance in a small glass of his gin. “You have to sell what you have and the bottom line is we think this water definitely is contributing to the quality of our product.”
Using that pure mountain water allows the pure expression of fruit, herbs and other botanicals used in their gin, vodkas and brandies.
“Things get more complicated when you put it in the bottle,” Lance said, suggesting the hardest thing to get right (as if there were only one) is retaining the desirable mouth feel, a dimensional roundness giving a pleasing depth to the drink.
“I think the water has something to do with it plus we’re using distilled fruit rather than grain,” Lance said.
Also worth trying are the Peak Spirits brandies – an organic pear eau de vie and biodynamic grappa, both made in limited quantities.
“Our European visitors love eau de vie, they say it’s like capturing summer in a bottle,” Lance said.
Maybe it’s because Americans are traveling more and being exposed to European ways, but in recent years there has been a small uptick in domestic appreciation of these European-style brandies.
“There’s a definite upward trend,” said Anna, ruefully recalling how soon they’ll sell out of the current limited bottling of eau de vie (French for “water of life”) and grappa. “We should have made more.”
The Hanson’s Jack Rabbit Hill Winery offers organic and biodynamic estate-grown and single vineyard wines. We’ll get to those on our next visit.