Black Canyon Distillery
Grain to Glass
Black Canyon Distillery Craft Spirits – From Grain to Glass
Hand crafting is a way of life at Black Canyon Distillery. Our Black Canyon Bourbon, Corn Whiskey, Whiskey Rita, Winter, Mayhem Creek Pepper Vodka, and Black Canyon Vodka spirits reflect our passion for using locally-sourced grains and pure Colorado water to create unique artisan spirits. This make-it-yourself approach permeates everything we do: From hand-built mash tuns to our Wackyjack #1 and Wackyjack #2 100-gal column stills, to our tasting room bar and tables. If we need it, we usually can build it. Whether using beetle-kill pine from a local sawmill, or stainless steel salvaged from old dairy farms, we tend to look in our own back yard for the raw materials to turn what we imagine into reality.
At Black Canyon Distillery, we also take pride in minimizing our impact on the environment: we recycle cooling water to reduce our water consumption, and our spent mash is used by local ranchers to feed their livestock. We like to think our mash makes the cows in Colorado just a little bit happier.
We are members of Colorado Proud and Made in Colorado.
Making Black Canyon Corn Whiskey
Black Canyon Corn Whiskey starts in corn fields just a few miles from the distillery. We use Fred’s old F150 pickup to haul corn to the distillery. Good thing that the silo is nearby; Fred is hauling a lot of corn these days to keep up with demand! The freshly-ground corn is loaded into one of our eight hand-build 100 gal mash tuns, and boiling water and sour mash (sometime called backset) from the last still run soon follows. The hot water cooks the corn and the backset provides many of the subtle flavors in our whiskey. Once the mash cools a bit, the enzymes that convert the corn starch to sugar are added. After cooling overnight, we pitch the yeast, and the mash tun serves double-duty as the fermentation tank.
Once the yeast is added, fermentation starts quickly. Soon the sharp odor of the sour mash gives way to a tart green-apple aroma. After five or six days, the fermentation is finished, and the distiller’s beer is drained from the tank in preparation for distilling. A local rancher picks up the spent grain to feed his cattle.
Early the next morning, the beer is transferred into Wackyjack #2, one of our two 100-gallon, hand-built stills. Fred brags that he can precisely set the Wackyjacks to produce spirits anywhere between 80 to 180 proof; this level of control is unequaled by the most expensive commercial stills, and allows us to make very tight cuts to the distillate. These cuts, made by hand and based on taste, smell, and proof, ensure our whiskey carries very little of the headache-causing heads, or the off-flavored tails.
By late afternoon, the run is finished. The high-octane “white dog” whiskey is diluted with pure water to 100 proof, then transferred to an aging tank; the spent beer, still boiling hot, is added to the next mash as backset, and the process starts anew.
We age our corn whiskey on furniture-grade white oak staves. We don’t use toasting or charring – only kiln-dried white oak. This process gives a distinctive taste that beautifully balances the sweetness of the all-corn mash. We don’t let the whiskey linger too long on oak; after a few months it is ready to drink. Fred personally makes the decision on when we start bottling each batch.
Like every other step in the process, bottling is done by hand. First the labels are applied to the bottle using a hand-made wooden jig, and then the whiskey is filtered and poured into the top of the bottle filler. Each bottle is placed on the filler by hand, and in a less than a minute, another bottle of Black Canyon Corn Whiskey is ready for enjoying.
Making Black Canyon Bourbon
Bourbon is an exciting new venture for us; we are barreling now, and (impatiently) waiting for time and charred oak to transform our white whiskey into straight bourbon. The distilling process is very similar to how we make Black Canyon Corn Whiskey; in fact, corn is the predominant ingredient in our bourbon, with malted barley and a small percentage of other grains rounding out the mash bill.
Black Canyon Bourbon starts with locally grown corn. We add boiling-hot water and sour mash or “backset” from the previous still run, and cook the mash for several hours. Once the mash cools to around 140-degrees, we add the malted grains. After cooling overnight, we pitch the yeast. The beer ferments on the grain, and after four to five days, the finished beer is ready to distill. Fred uses Wackyjack #1 for bourbon distillation, and the 100-gal hand-built still is carefully adjusted to produce the desired proof spirit, with cuts carefully made by taste and smell. The high-octane “white dog” whiskey is diluted to barreling proof, and the boiling hot sour mash that remains in the still is added to the next mash as backset. It takes several 100-gal still runs to fill a 53-gallon barrel.
Once in the barrel, our straight bourbon whiskey will age a minimum of two years. Luckily, Fred has the needed patience for this integral step in the bourbon-making process; Susan is far too eager to start bottling, and Dave is far too eager to start sipping!
The first bottles of Black Canyon Bourbon will be available at the distillery in August 2016.
Making Black Canyon Rita
Our Black Canyon Rita is a delicious, unique blend of Black Canyon Corn Whiskey, fresh squeezed oranges and limes, infused with mint, and mixed with a kiss of pure cane sugar. On days when we’re making Ritas, Susan is busy squeezing oranges and limes. The fresh-squeezed juice is mixed with Black Canyon Corn Whiskey, and then infused with fresh mint leaves. To balance the tartness of the limes, we add a simple syrup from pure cane sugar, then add pure water to bring the mixture to bottling proof. The exact blend is a “family secret” that Susan created on a hot summer afternoon, and Rita, in a tall glass with ice, is the perfect refreshment for summer parties. Of course, a glass of Rita in the dead of Winter is a great way to slip into summertime for a few moments!
Making Black Canyon Vodka
What happens when you double-distill Black Canyon Corn Whiskey? You get the clean, sweet taste of Black Canyon Vodka. The remarkable precision of our Wackyjack stills allows us to produce a very clean spirit that is nearly pure ethanol. This elixir is then carefully mixed with crystal-clear Colorado water to 80 proof for bottling. We’ll put our corn vodka against any vodka at any price range – our careful cuts and meticulous attention to detail, combined with the natural sweetness of the all-corn mash, results in a world-class spirit that is only available at Black Canyon Distillery.
Making Black Canyon “Mayhem Creek” Pepper Vodka
Mayhem creek winds south through Boulder County, and empties into Clear Creek just west of Golden. Though normally a dry creek bed, it can be a real handful during Spring run-off, when cascades of ice-cold water, freshly melted from the snowfields above the timberline, drain into the South Platte River. Our Mayhem Creek Pepper Vodka can be a real handful, too! We start with our amazing Vodka, and infuse a blend of fresh jalapeno, Fresno and other peppers. The mixture is a potent blend of the fresh taste and powerful heat of the peppers. Mayhem Creek Pepper Vodka is delicious in a Bloody Mary, and invigorating neat or on the rocks for the more adventuresome!
Maple Syrup and Cinnamon Infused Whiskey
Meet Black Canyon Distillery’s newest adventure: Winter. A warming blend of corn whiskey, organic maple syrup, and hand-selected Indonesian cinnamon. Susan starts with five gallons of Black Canyon Corn Whiskey at 80 proof, and adds pure Michigan maple syrup until the maple sweetness peeks through on the finish. She lets the whiskey steep with freshly cracked cinnamon until the balance of whiskey, maple and spice is perfect. The cinnamon is carefully filtered out, and we then hand-bottle and hand-label the whiskey. Winter is a perfect compliment to a cozy cabin fireplace – refreshing on ice, and a great mixer any time of year!