Although Colorado is well known for its craft breweries, Colorado craft distilleries have flown under the radar for some time. Living in Fort Collins, I’ve had the privilege of exploring some of the local breweries and brewpubs, but little did I know there was an awesome craft distillery just a few minutes away in Loveland!
Dancing Pines Distillery opened for business in 2010, and within its first year, it has already released ten new products, much to the delight of craft spirits fans everywhere. Although it may not be a household name yet, the distillery is certainly well on its way, offering everything from rum to bourbon and several kinds of liqueurs, including their award winning Chai liqueur which won the Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2011.
Along with keeping up with the high demand for their spirits, Dancing Pines recently hosted the first annual Liquid Arts Fest in south Loveland. The event was a hit even before it occurred, as the limited number of tickets available sold out almost as quickly as word got out.
Before heading over to the fest, the Go Colorado crew was invited for a tour at the distillery, and I got the chance to learn what makes craft distilling so worthwhile.
What amazed me most about the tour of Dancing Pines was that they manage to complete the entire process, from start to finish, in a building that only has about three separate rooms to it!
Although the tour was a shorter distance to walk than say, that of the New Belgium Brewery, you learn plenty about distilling along the way.
When you first walk into Dancing Pines, you find yourself in their tasting room. A cozy place to sit down and enjoy a quiet conversation as you savor your spirit of choice, it reminded me of a mountain cabin or small backcountry ski lodge. After hearing the story behind the name of the distillery, the atmosphere in the tasting room seems just right.
Prior to opening the distillery, the owners, Kristian and Kimberly Naslund, were renovating their own cabin in Palmer Lake. After a strong dose of severe winter weather, one evening the storm calmed, and there was just a light breeze, causing the snow-covered pine trees to sway gently.
That image of the dancing pines in the winter night gave rise to the name for their company, and with all the delightful spirits that they produce, it is not such a stretch to imagine yourself sitting in your own mountain cabin, enjoying a nightcap from a Dancing Pines bottle as you watch the trees outside your own window.
We spent some time at the bar before the tour began, and what a selection! With so many different options, it was difficult to pick just one, but after hearing about their Chai Liqueur, and recalling my affinity for chai tea whenever I visit an Indian restaurant, I had to sample some of that first.
I was blown away at how much it tasted like a cup of my favorite tea; it was easy to see why this distinct and delicious liqueur won the award at the San Francisco competition earlier this year.
After we had a few tasters, we moved on to the tour. Despite my limited prior knowledge of distilling, I was able to follow Kristian’s explanation of each step of the process pretty well.
The highlight of the tour in my mind was the custom, handmade still where the main distilling takes place, heating up to refine what few impurities may remain in each batch. The still is not only unique because it was custom-made for Dancing Pines, but because it is a still from the same artisans who crafted the original still that started it all.
Before opening Dancing Pines, the Naslunds were distilling at home using a small still that you can find sitting on a shelf at the entrance to the tasting room. This still was hand-crafted in Spain by another family-owned small business, and after several years of using it to distill spirits at home, the Naslunds returned to the same place to get a larger still for Dancing Pines.
Following several hours of running the liquid through the still to refine it, the final product is moved to the bottling room where it may be allowed to “rest” before reaching its almost final destination in the bottles—the ultimate destination being a customer’s liquor cabinet at home.
It is at this point that many large distilleries also run their product through a filtration system, Kristian explained, but Dancing Pines does not, as he feels that it ends up removing some of the naturally occurring flavors. In total, the entire distilling and production process can take as long as several weeks or even months, as some of the spirits are aged in barrels for a period of time as well.
Though the bottling is not entirely automated, a few handy pieces of technology have sped up the process. A label press that adheres the labels to the bottles, as well as a machine that allows several bottles to be filled at the same time, saves some production time for the distillery.
However, despite some mechanization, Dancing Pines still maintains the local, craft business feel in continuing to write the batch and bottle number on each bottle they produce.
From start to finish, I marveled at how far Dancing Pines has come in just over a year from opening, and I admired their dedication to their principles regarding the right way to make quality spirits.
It is this dedication, along with the delicious finished products they produce, that have led them to the amount of success they have had in such a short time, and it is this that I believe will bring them success as they continue to grow.
If You Go
If you are interested in a tour, the Dancing Pines Distillery is located in Loveland at 1527 Taurus Ct. #110. You can reserve a spot online at their website: http://www.dancingpinesdistillery.com/. Their tasting room is open Wednesday through Saturday, from noon until 7pm on weekdays and until 8pm on weekends. Call 970-635-3426 or email [email protected] for more information.
Thanks again to Kristian and Kimberly Naslund for inviting the Go Colorado crew to tour the distillery and enjoy the Liquid Arts Fest!