Drinking and skiing have been long time pals ever since the French first uttered the phrase apres-ski many many years ago. Forever linked, these two past times work exceptionally well together with the cocktails providing a welcoming social activity to unwind and share your stories of the day.
Now, with ski season all but over our focus is shifting to more springtime activities like hiking and biking, but the notion of enjoying a cocktail or two, post anything, has not. The work hard, play hard mantra has always been an important part of mountain culture, providing the perfect balance in life.
For a long time, beer has been the drink of choice, dominating this illustrious partnership with its sudsy goodness. In fact, it is not hard to find craft breweries in many mountain towns across the country elevating this incredible alliance to another level. However, despite beer being the king of the apres-everything beverages, the craft brewery scene is beginning to have some company at the top of the mountain in the form of craft distilleries. That’s right, craft spirits and creative cocktails are on the rise and distilleries are pouncing on the opportunity to establish themselves in the high country.
Boutique facilities have been popping up recently in and around many ski resort towns and although small and, in many cases, family owned, they are pumping out some seriously good, award winning spirits. From whiskey, to rum, to vodka, here our some of my favorite mountain town distilleries that you need to give a try no matter what the season.
High West Distillery & Saloon
Park City, Utah
Located just steps away from Park City’s town lift, High West Distillery has made a name for itself as a renowned gastro-distillery and one of the best apres-ski spots in the world. Housed in an old livery stable dating back to the mining town era of Park City, the ambience of this distillery is very much that of an old western saloon. When you visit, be sure to take the tour of the facility, it is worth it just to check out the copper still. Then head into the saloon and order up a sampler of their core four and get a feel for what High West Whiskeys are all about.
Must Try: If you are at High West during the late winter into the spring months, you must try the Bourye. Rare, like the jackalope on its label, this blend of premium bourbon and rye has sweet honey and caramel notes that will have you craving more.
Crested Butte, Colorado
Montanya is another distillery that doubles as an epically fun apres-ski hot spot with a lively crowd and really tasty food. The stills are not only aesthetically pleasing but also heat the room , an added bonus during the winter when you are looking to warm up after a cold day on the slopes. There you can order up some chef-driven farm-to-table dishes that are not only delicious but a rare find in a distillery. Most importantly, Montanya also happens to distill some seriously good rum. I know what you are thinking, rum…in Colorado? That’s right, although a rum bar in the mountains is highly uncommon, Montanya can easily make you forget about those Caribbean cocktails. Founders Karen Hoskin and her husband Brice distill four types of award-winning rums using Colorado spring water and snowmelt. You just can’t get more local than that and it shows in the love that they put into their spirits.
Must Try: Hands down, Montanya’s Exclusiva Rum is a must! You cannot get it outside of Colorado. Try the Winter Manhattan with Exclusiva, Kola Nut and house Vermouth…it is to die for.
Mad River Distillers
Located in the heart of the Mad River Valley and with a tasting room in Vermont’s famous ski town, Burlington, Mad River Distillers is not far from many of the state’s best ski resorts. What originally was an idea to plant a vineyard, Mauro and her husband John along with their friend Brett Little decided that climate was far more conducive to growing apples rather than grapes. Thus, Cold Springs Farm was born and they now use the apples that they grow in their Wicked Vermont Apple Brandy. The distillery itself is housed in an old horse barn that dates back to the mid-1800’s and provides a unique setting for the distillery. The Burlington Tasting Room, on the other hand, is not nearly as bucolic but worth a visit to sample MRD’s core offerings as well as some of their craft cocktails.
Must Try: You must get your hands on some of their Hopscotch. Vermont’s first single malt whiskey is distilled each year in collaboration with a local brewery. The brewery of choice brews the wash then hands it over to Mad River Distillers for distillation. Batch 1 was done with Stone Corral, Batch 2 with Lawson’s Finest Liquids and this year’s version is with 14th Star Brewing and their tasty DIPA named Tribute.
Marble Distilling Company
To say Marble Distilling company has some distinct qualities for a distillery would be quite an understatement. Where else can you find a distillery where you can actually sleep with the stills? That’s right, the distillery offers five contemporary rooms and is the only one in the world that doubles as an inn. While enjoying your stay, you can see how co-founder and head distiller Connie Baker makes her award winning spirits using one-of-a-kind sustainable practices and many locally sourced ingredients. They also have a unique natural filtration process that uses crushed Yule marble, from the nearby mines in Marble, Colorado. That is the exact same marble that was used to make the Lincoln Memorial and quite an interesting part of the local history. The ultimate result is a variety of award winning spirits including their vodka – which is really tasty on the rocks.
Must Try: Be sure to visit the new Marble Bar tasting room in the heart of Aspen. Order up an espresso martini (the unofficial drink of Aspen) made with their EXpresso and keep the party going all night long.
New World Distillery
Surrounded by three major ski resorts (Snowbasin, Powder Mountain and Nordic Valley) the old rail town of Ogden and its neighboring valley is on the rise. New World Distillery is very much a part of this renaissance with its appealing views of the mountains, homey vibe and, of course, top shelf spirits. You can really feel the love that Chris and Ashley Cross put into running New World. Built to look like an old barn, you are instantly welcomed by its incredible atmosphere and caring owners who are onsite daily. Definitely take the tour when you visit. It is highly informative, thanks to the one on one time you experience with the Crosses as they educate you on the distillation process and more. They even offer advanced distilling courses that are attended by visitors from all over the world. Most importantly, their spirits are as good as they come. From their Oomaw Gin, to their variety of agave spirits and their Uncharted Series, they have garnered multiple awards worldwide and when combined with New World’s incredible atmosphere, it is truly a destination distillery that is well worth the trip.
Must Try: When you are there try the Wasatch Cherry Blossom Liquor. Crafted from local tart cherries it is one of two farm-to-glass products that they offer and the perfect mixer for a Champagne cocktail. By all means, take some home as well and make a sauce to pour over vanilla ice cream on a cherry pie, you won’t be disappointed.
Your missing another fantastic distillering in Fraser, CO near Winter Park Resort called Fraser River Distilling. We make vodka, gins, whiskeys and whisgave which is barrel aged agave. We also have a scratch kitchen. Come check it out sometime. #fraservalleydistilling
Next time I hope you would consider Park Distillery in Banff Canada for your list. They distill their spirits from Triticale (a hybrid of wheat and rye). Their vodka has a smooth buttery taste. Their gin has prominent spruce notes that will remind you of a walk in the woods. They offer distillery tours daily.