This week YPOD could be found enjoying especially fine cocktails before a behind-the-scenes tour of Durango Craft Spirits.
Durango Craft Spirits is a family operation run by the McCardell’s. It holds the title of Durango’s first legal grain-to-glass distillery since Prohibition. A local business in the truest sense, all DCS spirits are handcrafted, distilled, and bottled in Durango, using exclusively local grains from farms that also are family-run.
Michael McCardell, our hospitable guide, led us to the distilling room. All American country music piped overhead a giant copper still sitting centerstage. Michael explained the many steps and hours required in the lengthy process of distilling their three offerings: whiskey, vodka, and moonshine.
Different spirits require different processes. The moonshine and vodka don’t need aging but are more labor-intensive as they require multiple distilling cycles. The bourbon, on the other hand, takes just one processing pass but then requires two years of aging.
The names of the spirits and bottle designs pay tribute to Durango’s founding in 1881.
Soiled Doves Vodka - A nickname for the prostitutes of early Durango. Think what you will about these ladies of the night, but the fines collected from brothels in addition to attracting business from nearby towns provided funding for Durango’s earliest schools and police department.
Mayday Moonshine - Mayday Mine in the La Plata mountains is a place people made bootleg moonshine during Prohibition, when the crashing silver market made the mines less attended.
Cinder Dick Bourbon - Slang for railroad detective, honoring our town’s steam engine history. No Sophie’s choice about it: this is owner Michael’s clear favorite.
There is some definite buzz about “Tinhorn Whiskey” too, a special new spirit made from blue corn, coming May 2022.
Because bourbon barrels can only be used once for ageing bourbon, wine, beer, and cider-makers purchase Michael’s used barrels to infuse their own brews with flavor. Try for yourself: the Imperial Stout over at Carver’s!
Every month, Michael harvests a barrel or two of whiskey, getting about 300 bottles per barrel. He bottles by hand while listening to music, a process he describes as therapeutic. Michael appears a bit monastic about the whole distilling process, in fact, often relying on his nose to guide the next step. It is undeniably a labor of love.
In a cozy, windowless den of whiskey barrels Michael poured out samples of Cinder Dick. It was perfectly balanced and honey-gold in hue.
“It’s not rocket surgery,” Michael said with a smirk.
I asked Michael what’s the most impactful difference between what he does versus mass-produced spirits.
“The larger distilleries are running continuous stills, so not doing real clean cuts on the heads, hearts and tails. That’s the biggest difference. Plus I’d have to say the quality of my grains are much better, so I use really good grains...and I do the cuts by myself, with my nose, so I know those cuts are good.”
Spoken like a true craftsman. Don’t miss out on our next YPOD business tour! Discover Durango’s hidden gems and get to know the faces behind local brands you know and love.