Vapor Distillery of Boulder, Colorado, USA is at the forefront of the American Craft Spirits movement. Fresh from their success at the World Gin Awards, where they won World's Best Cask Aged Gin, Vapor Distillery is looking to expand its distribution network. “Our current range of five spirits has over 30 awards from domestic and international competitions,” remarks Alastair Brogan, co-owner, distiller, and Glaswegian. “We are currently in seven US States as well as Hong Kong, Italy and Denmark. I am always looking for distribution partners who support the craft folks. I would love to see our spirits in more of Europe, especially the U.K., where there is a place for artisan drinks.
Colorado has one of the highest concentrations of Craft Distilleries and Breweries in the US.” explains Alastair. “There is a big swing from the Budweisers and Gordons brands to the smaller guys who are extremely passionate about what they put out to the world. Americans are beginning to want something different, something handmade, something small batch, not mass produced by a factory and then handed over to the marketing department. They don’t want to pay for branding, they want to pay for what’s in the bottle, quality and craftsmanship.”
Vapor Distillery was the first distillery in Boulder County since prohibition ended in the 30s. Originally named Roundhouse Spirits, in 2014 it changed its trading name to Vapor due to potential trademark issues. “Trademark protection is a big issue at the moment amongst the craft spirits and beer community. You absolutely have to have it right from day one. There are countless stories of people going to court over names, not doing their due diligence first. For us, we changed our name before there was an issue, and it was a great excuse to revamp our labels.”
Alastair, who hails from Glasgow, Scotland, moved to Boulder four years ago with his American wife and two young sons. He spent 10 years in the RAF, then 15 years growing a family business, which finally was sold to it largest competitor. It was then that Alastair started to think seriously about making whiskey.
“I was brought up in a country where there was a distillery around every corner and I have memories of my dad taking me on distillery tours. I was always fascinated. It has always seemed like an ancient art, and I appreciate the creativity of the process,” explains Alastair. “Whiskey has always been in the family. I grew up with stories of my grandfather Bernard working in a steel works in Upstate New York making Scottish whisky for his Irish co-workers and the Irish workers making Irish whisky for their Scottish co-workers. Bernard eventually returned to Scotland, and still made small batches, which I helped to bury in the back garden to hide from my grandmother.
“Initially I wanted to distill in Scotland, but during one exceptionally rainy winter I threw around the idea of moving to the United States with my wife. Boulder was the final choice. Other than the fact that Colorado has 300 days of sunshine a year, 299 more than Scotland, it also has some of the best water in the world, snow melt from the Rocky Mountains. Perfect for making whisky. Lucky for me Colorado is also the center of the Craft Spirits movement in the US.”
Alastair hit the ground running and ordered a traditional copper pot still from famed Forsyths of Rothes in Scotland, at the time without a place to actually put it. He then started his research which lasted over a year. “I literally visited every distillery in Colorado, tasted everything, talked to everyone. I then decided to go back to my roots, quite literally, and spent my Whisky apprenticeship at Arran Distillery, a traditional single malt whiskey company on the Isle of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland.
“On my return, I was lucky enough to come across hands down one of the most innovative Distillers in the US, Coloradoan Ted Palmer. He was already making outstanding and award winning gins and I was blown away with his passion, knowledge and vision for what he could achieve with aged spirits. What impressed me the most was Ted’s extreme patience, which to me is at the very core of making whisky. So, over a 12 year old Dalmore Single Malt, we decided to partner up and I moved my Pot Still within days”
That was two years ago… Now, Vapor Distillery has just invested US$1.5m into its production capacity, allowing it to run full brewing equipment alongside its still. It currently produces a Western Style gin, a barrel aged gin, a coffee liqueur, a pumpkin liqueur and a vodka. After much research and experimentation in their tasting room, 2016 will see the launch of a Genever gin, a Navy Strength Gin, a Dry Gin and one or two gin based fruit liqueurs.
In the next few months, Alastair’s pipe dream will finally become a reality. Vapor will begin to produce 15 barrels of Bourbon and American single malt whisky ‘with an American accent’ per week. When asked how long the whisky will mature for, Alastair’s answer is both considered and emphatic, “until it’s ready.”
9 June 2015 - Rebecca Sterritt Paragraph Publishing, content manager