Contributed by Kim Nicoletti
Breckenridge Distillery isn’t just the highest distillery in the world; it’s a destination that provides a multidimensional experience. And, it all began with a busy doctor who left his successful medical career to bottle spirits.
Ten years ago, Bryan Nolt poured his life savings into his true calling: whiskey. “Breckenridge Distillery is my obsession and was born by combining an unbridled passion to create, along with maniacal love of whiskey,” Nolt says.
The outcome: a booming business filled with passionate “associates” (most companies call them “employees”) who generate award-winning spirits and innovative cocktails and cuisine. The industrial-chic distillery and restaurant sits at the base of Breckenridge’s snowy-peaked Ten Mile Range, at 9,600 feet. It’s Breckenridge’s unique water that adds to the fine spirits. The hardness, high mineral content and low iron of the mountain-town’s water allows Nolt and associates to create products that would otherwise fall short.
“Color, density, nose, mouthfeel, flavor, and finish. If I can’t win you over based upon those factors, then it shouldn’t be in our portfolio,” he says.
Colorado-sourced fruits and other ingredients make the distillery’s flavored vodkas memorable; The 2018 Powder Hound Whiskey blends the oldest barrels in the distillery’s library; Breckenridge Bourbon is one of the most highly awarded craft bourbons; and in 2018, the establishment garnered the renowned 2018 Icons of Whisky award for Brand Innovator of the Year, which celebrates all the years of hard work and associates’ craftsmanship it takes to produce quality spirits. While some bottles, like the Powder Hound Whiskey, are only available at the distillery, most are distributed in 48 states.
“When guests go back home and see Breckenridge on the bottle, it takes them back to their experience at the distillery, or to an epic ski run,” says Jessie Unruh, marketing coordinator. “They’re able to bring the mountains home.”
Every associate at Breckenridge Distillery shares Nolt’s passion for quality and service: Friendly staff provide free tastings through the retail store, which also offers apparel, unique barware, fun lifestyle goods and zingy edibles like bourbon truffles from Éclat Chocolate and CBD Bitters from Strongwater.
Free tours on the half hour, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., usher guests into a behind-the-scenes journey, which includes immersion in the Grand Barrel Room, where wall-to-wall barrels reach up to five pallets high. “You can almost see and smell our passion, just in the barrel room,” Unruh says.
The open-air bar and restaurant delivers yet another dimension of the distillery’s unforgettable experience. Nolt had the rare opportunity to work with Chef David Burke when they met while filming a television episode for Bloomberg Network called “The Mentor.” Now, Burke — the only American to earn the Meilleur Ouvriers de France honor — features his signature, modern-American cuisine at Breckenridge Distillery. “I’ve never met anyone more creative than Chef Burke,” Nolt says.
Whether it’s a gathering of two or 200, Liquid Chef Billie Keithley prides herself on keeping the party going — in a uniquely flavorful way. Every season, she coordinates with chefs to pair perfect cocktails using local ingredients to complement the food and spirits. Her philosophy: If it’s edible, she can make a cocktail out of it.
‘A Passion Project’
Through all of its awards and expansions, the Breckenridge Distillery has remained the only independent player within the nation’s top 15 distilleries. From the beginning, Nolt made it clear to potential investors that Breckenridge Distillery is “a passion project” that works smart, with its eye on quality products and experiences. While corporations spend massive amounts of money on marketing campaigns, Nolt and associates keep it simple.
“For better or worse, we operate inside a bubble,” Nolt says. “It’s probably counterintuitive to ignore what your competitors are doing, but I’ve always had a clear vision on what we want to accomplish and the methods to make it happen. We’re focused on quality, quality, quality.”
From spirits to cuisine, tours to retail products, it’s clear everyone at Breckenridge Distillery not only loves their job but also stays true to an uncompromising vision. “The sense of place you experience as a guest here in Breckenridge creates memories,” he says. “That’s something that doesn’t happen while drinking a mass-produced profit-first product from a big box company. Our philosophy is to offer our guests a positive and rewarding experience during their visit, and to us, that’s just as important as the products we make.”