As the 4x winner of Colorado Distillery of the Year by the New York International Spirits Competition, it’s no secret that Breckenridge can produce some pretty good dram. It’s also no secret that Breckenridge Distillery is the World’s Highest Distillery. Being one of the top destinations in Breckenridge, it’s always been asked how distilling at altitude can have its perks and as well as its drawbacks. Once these challenges are combatted, Breckenridge Distillery has been able to produce award-winning hooch since 2008.
Similar to New York bagel production, the water up here is incredibly different! Our water comes right off the top of the mountains, which means it’s high in minerals and nutrients with almost no iron. (Hint: this is why our bottles say “Made with Rocky Mountain Snowmelt!”)
But how does this water and thin air affect the whiskey? Keep reading to see how Breckenridge Distillery Founder Bryan Nolt has perfected the process to produce award-winning hooch at 9,600 feet!
1. So, at 9,600 ft Breckenridge is certainly practicing “high altitude” distilling. That means water boils at 194F (and ethanol at 160.2), an 18 degree drop from sea level boiling point. How do you feel this affects the distillation and character of the spirit?
From a physics perspective distillation at this altitude is much more efficient due to lower atmospheric pressure, so evaporation occurs at lower energy input. In our case we use less steam to distill which saves energy and uses less natural gas. Given the differences in cut timing and energy inputs, our high wines have a unique nose and flavor profile that pleasantly surprises everyone who tries them from the spirit safe during distillation. Best we can tell, the difference is syrupy sweetness with a little graham cracker that you actually want to drink even at 138 proof.
Additionally, our water source is very cold, so we use much less water in the condensation process.
2. Similarly, how do you think the high elevation affects the maturation of your bourbon in cask?
We’ve found the Bourbon ages faster at our elevation and we have a few honey holes that concentrate the super coveted butterscotch notes.
3. Was distilling at high elevation (and the effects it can have on the whiskey) an intentional part of the plan from the very beginning?
I chose Breckenridge for the water source. Very hard water without iron, Sulphur or other unpleasant minerals is perfect for mashing and proofing. It’s an unfair advantage due to instant mouthfeel and enhanced finish with every product we make. We had to figure out the tweaks required to distill at this elevation.
4. Have you experimented at all with maturing some of your whiskey at lower elevations? If so, did you notice a difference?
Definitely, we’ve noticed barrels don’t reach their peak as quickly at lower elevation and we’re unable to reproduce some of the tasting notes we covet the most, especially butterscotch.
5. Finally, do you feel that the effects of high altitude on your processes and bourbon are intrinsically linked to the character of Breckenridge’s products?
Almost everything is more difficult at our location, as we’re a little off the beaten path, deal with ~350″ of snow each year, and it can be bitterly cold. Things are rugged and have been since the mining days in Breckenridge. I understood early on that that all of that struggle is integral to our DNA, and you experience that phenomenon when you enjoy our products.
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