The Story of the Black Bear

Master Distiller Victor Matthews, PhD, WMC



What happens when a fifth-generation distiller also happens to be a Master Chef?  Each product has very specific qualities in the realms of both Tradition and Innovation.  This concept has become our guiding vision.  We want to respect and represent our wonderful history and the depth of the past while pushing the world of distillation forward through deeply creative products with groundbreaking flavor profiles.

1889 Rye Vodka.  Archaeology, a Nation Historic Register report from 1988, family records, and educated trial and error were used to re-create a 130 year old recipe powered by malted rye.  So unusual that the government did not know what to call it and decided on Rye Vodka due to the smooth clean quality.  A premium vodka that still maintains some grain flavors?  Rare.  Special.  Tradition and Innovation.

Colorado Craft Gold Rum.  Using pure crushed cane juice in the traditional style of a cachaca, then fusing it with some brown sugar rum and a touch of barrel age gives you a light fresh product never seen before.  Whether you call it the first aged cachaca or premium light gold rum, you have a winner.

Irish Style Bourbon.  “The only one in the world” has become our rally cry, and no one has ever even heard of Irish Style Bourbon.  But it works.  51% corn and new oak barrels plus two years of age make it a bourbon; but a lot of barley including raw and sherry barrel finishing make it Irish Style.  No matter what, it is creamy and delicious.  Tradition and Innovation.

Some Simple Introductions

Short Summaries for Press Releases

Black Bear Distillery
[in less than 200 words]

 The Black Bear Distillery is a family owned craft distillery at 7800 feet in the beautiful little town of Green Mountain Falls, CO.  Run by a fifth-generation master distiller (the first to be legal) who also happens to be a master chef; this combination of chef and distiller creates unique flavorful products unlike anything else on the market.  The twenty-foot tall 100% pot still run in a low and slow fashion adds depth and character to all the products, each of which have a different philosophy.  The three tiers of our main line consist of an historic 130th anniversary artisan Rye Vodka ($35), a lightly aged Gold Colorado Rum that is based on raw cane juice, making it lighter and fresher than normal rum, but with bourbon barrel age and a level of complexity and sophistication ($45); and our flagship, a rich, sherry-finished Irish Style Bourbon made to honor the founder’s family history, stretching back to 444AD Ireland ($55).

Master Distiller Victor Matthews, PhD
[in 200 words]

The Black Bear Distillery’s founder and Master Distiller, Dr. Victor Matthews is unique in the Spirits world.  Not only is he a fifth-generation moonshiner, but he is the only Master Chef and Master Distiller combination in America; in fact, he is also a certified Dining Room Service Master, so as a TRIPLE MASTER (Culinary, Service, and Spirits) with a PhD he is in fact the only one in the world.  Perhaps this is due to his palate, perhaps his family work ethic, or maybe he simply loves to learn, but the customers benefit from such expertise as some of the most creative and unique spirits in the world are created.  Dr. Matthews lives in the house behind the distillery in beautiful Green Mountain Falls, Colorado with his family of six and several rescue dogs.  He is active in his local church and runs the Theology Dept of a British College as well.  Dr. Matthews is also the author of five books, including books on Bourbon and Italian Wine as well as cooking and theology.  To date he has received a combined total of 30 medals in both culinary and distillery competitions, including 12 gold and several state and national championships.


Where it all started 130 years ago.

Brinegar Cabin on the Blue Ridge Parkway, now a National Park

A Brief History

As a family enterprise, although very modern and innovative, it is always a good idea to understand the past.  It is a tad complicated, but we will do our best to summarize here.  This all started with some Irish guys and Appalachian Germans.  Much like the history of the Boehm family that became Beam, the Brinegar’s of Wilkes county came through Ellis Island and fled the early colonies into the mountains.  The name Matthews has been traced to 444 AD at the rock of Cashel in Munster.  On Saint Patrick’s second trip to Ireland he baptized the King of Munster and as warriors and servants of that king our founder’s ancient forefathers converted to Christianity, taking the name of the first gospel as their new family name.  After the turn of the 20th century Joseph Benjamin Matthews immigrated to America.  His son was Benjamin Matthews, and his son Victor W. Matthews the First, father of our founder.  Joseph’s plan was to raise sheep in the mountains of North Carolina as he had in Tipperary County Ireland, but that did not work out and the family ended up in the furniture factories of Thomasville.  This is where Victor the first met Darlene Pharis, whose family was also made up of Irish and English immigrants.  Victor the First was an Army Drill Instructor when they became the parents of Victor the second, born in Fort Knox in 1967.  This Victor Matthews would be our founder.  Unfortunately for the happy couple, they were soon divorced, and Darlene married a Brinegar from the mountains of North Carolina, where all this began.  This step-family was all that the young Victor knew, and he learned how to cook and distill in those mountains.  The story is significantly longer and more dense, perhaps the subject of a future biography, but this is how all the pieces came together.  Much like the Beam family, the Brinegars had held onto that tradition and knowledge, distilling since 1889.  That deep history combined with the palate of a Master Chef has resulted in the magical elixir you have before you.

11 Gold, 3 Silver, 10 Bronze, 4 Best of Category Awards

The Black Bear Line

A Brief Summary of the Three Products

The idea behind the spirits of Black Bear Distillery in Green Mountain Falls is a uniqueness and depth of flavor that relates directly to the fact that it is one of the few (probably the only) chef owned distilleries in Colorado.  Just as chefs pride themselves on farm to table ideas and creative dishes, so the distillery follows that model, working closely with farmers and small local companies; striving to be an innovative industry leader and exciting game-changer.  According to the national societies there is not another Master Chef/Master Distiller combination in America, so originality is our primary goal.  The three main products fit into this master plan in perfect harmony, running the gamut from light-hearted and fun to serious and contemplative.  This is the magnum opus of a master; this is the Black Bear Line.

Black Bear Irish Style Bourbon.  Our most complex and serious expression, with four gold medals in one year; considered our flagship.  We are the only distillery in the world with formal permission to use the description “Irish Style” on a label.  After a grueling two-year negotiation with the United States and Ireland, Black Bear was permitted to honor founder Victor Matthews’ family history with a truly Irish Style Bourbon.  The Matthews family was founded in 444 AD at Cashel Rock in Ireland.  This award-winning Small Batch Bourbon is a minimum 18 month bourbon barrel aged, sherry stave finished, corn and barley centric, deep oak and vanilla pleasure.  Recent winner of Best American Whiskey under 10 years at Los Angeles International Competition.  We are quite aware that there is no such thing as Irish Style Bourbon, and that is exactly why we made it; the perfect Colorado blend of Irish Whiskey and Kentucky Bourbon.

Black Bear Colorado Rum.  This award-winning gold rum in the distinctive royal purple and gold metallic bottle is a lot of both serious and fun, and all delicious.  The product blends some brown sugar with fresh cane juice in a double distillation process which creates a delicate sweetness with round caramel notes that is lighter than normal rum, almost like a cachaca fusion.  Brief aging in one-use bourbon barrels gives some mild wood impact.  We call the result an “Aged Craft Cachaca” and it is very special.  Not only are rums unusual in Colorado, one with some depth and complexity of such oak is even more rare; but the use of fresh cane juice is unheard of.  This has led to many medals including a 94 point gold medal in the New York International Competition and being declared best Rum in Colorado.  So, this is a bit of serious and a bit of fun.  Perfect to sip, but not too expensive to mix.  One craft bartender called it “dream rum” for its flexibility and sophistication.

Black Bear 1889 Rye Vodka.  We are not aware of a product quite like our vodka.  For starters, vodka is often a simple flavorless product designed to make some money while the real love of the distiller is aging in barrels.  But this is in many ways the opposite.  The recipe is 130 years old, dating to the grandfather of the grandfather of the master distiller.  Family records, archaeology, and experimentation were all needed to recreate this ancient and unusual recipe.  It would be called a moonshine by some due to its origin in the woods of Allegany County North Carolina.  But, the TTB only allows corn whiskey to be clear.  This product is not only based on rye, but it is generated using malted rye, a truly unique concept in the modern world.  Because it is double distilled and majority rye there is no real place for it in modern language.  The TTB decided rye vodka would be the best descriptor.  We have tasted it extensively in many committees and have come to agree.  It is smooth and clean, like a vodka, but someone with a good palate can taste the rye and grain characteristics.  So, an ultra-premium artisan vodka with some flavor?  We are extremely proud to release such a product, and although it is unusual, so are all of our other products, so it fits in perfectly.


            So, that is the Black Bear Line.  A Rye Vodka with ancient origins, a light Cachaca-esque Gold Rum, and a Sherry Barrel Finished Irish Style Bourbon that re-writes all the rule books.  History and Tradition meet creative innovation at 7800 feet.  Welcome to the Black Bear.



130th Anniversary Elite Historic Moonshine

“So Premium They Made Us Call It Vodka”

What Tha?


Here are the Bullet Point FAQs About Why This is SO SPECIAL:

  • Recipe is 130 years old and has been painstakingly reconstructed from family history, archaeology, and difficult well-documented experimentation.
  • Original Location is intact, a National Park on the Blue Ridge Parkway (mile 238.5) with an Historic Registry Number and Report (601D-503, 1988, USDI and NPS).
  • Archaeology at the site uncovered many details such as the granary and spring house, while family records uncovered the drying kiln and neighbor with a water wheel mill.
  • According to other family sources, more than likely this recipe has not been made in around 103 years.
  • At the Black Bear, during the six-month recipe recovery process, we used the technology and best practices of the time period in question.
  • That meant boiling water and mixing with grain, no cooking.
  • Stirring only, no mechanical agitation devices.
  • “Pitching on a Guess”, “finger thermometer”, no electronic devices.
  • No barley was found on site.  They were malting the rye.  Quite unusual.
  • Mash Bill driven by Malted Rye, that also contains Raw Rye, Wheat, and Corn is definitely unique.
  • Fermentation in this recovered recipe is much longer than normal.
  • More complex and often changing odors during fermentation than other recipes.
  • Mash odors of Floral Grain, Earth, Eucalyptus, Honeysuckle, Apple, IPA, and Riesling.
  • Double Distillation in a Single Pot Still with deep cuts creates a clean and crisp spirit that is only reminiscent of the post-WWII shine we all know.
  • As a Rye Based Clear product the TTB had no real description.
  • Taste analysis was so clean and clear that they decided we should call it vodka.
  • So, this is 1889 Rye Vodka, and Ultra-Premium Artisan Moonshine.
  • It does indeed taste like great vodka, with a hint of wonderful rye flavor.


The Next Few Pages contain More Details on the Products

[for Industry Insiders or Spirit Geeks]

Whether you are a salesperson, consumer, retailer, or just a fan,

here are the things you need to know about:


Black Bear’s Irish Style Bourbon

First of all, we are the only ones approved to make a product called “Irish Style”.  Some other rare distillery may make something similar, but that is unlikely, and we actually went through the process to have the concept approved by American and Irish authorities.  It was not easy due to the long history of abuse, especially during prohibition, but our dedication to honoring Irish tradition while making it clear that the product is completely from America won them over.  It cannot be trademarked since the two words are too common, but this is a labor of love and we are indeed the only “Irish Style” Whiskey in America, but, it is even more.

We base the entire process in Irish tradition which we have studied deeply (our master distiller spent time at Jameson).  We use malted barley, but just as the Irish (since 1692 when the British instituted the Malt Tax) we also use un-malted barley; which is only the beginning of the major differences.  Raw Barley is much more difficult to work with and almost no one in America uses it; it is dangerous, but results in round floral and fruity notes that are unmatched by other approaches.  We also use smokeless fuels for malting and distilling, eliminating all aspects of smokiness and peat that would be present in a Scotch, and employ corn (as the Irish learned from America in the 1700s was so efficient).  This is a truly historic product and not at all single malt or single grain.  It is as close to true Irish Whiskey as we can get.  Just as they do at all Irish Distilleries, we blend pot still and column still products to create a lighter smoother spirit.  This is absolutely imperative.  A combination of malted barley, raw barley, and corn.  This is the exact recipe of all the top Irish whiskies of the last three centuries.  We are, without a doubt, the closest thing in America to Irish Whiskey.

So, that makes us completely unique in America, but, how are we different compared other ancient Irish Pot Still Whiskies?  It’s a BOURBON!  Unlike majority barley products, here we have 51% Corn and use brand new charred American Oak Barrels, which makes, well, a fusion of two worlds.  The Irish Style Whiskey concepts honor our heritage and closely duplicates the greatest products of our ancestral home; but the Bourbon qualities honor our home and lives since 1900 as well as the founder’s birth in Kentucky and love of Bourbon.  Our two favorite things, Irish Whiskey and Bourbon, blended into something new.  In addition, being made in Colorado provide another couple minor differences.  First of all, our altitude and ambient temperature are different from Ireland and Kentucky, so the aging is more dramatic and simply different.  We also use new bourbon barrels where they employ only used in Ireland, so we get a higher impact from the wood.  It is a minor difference, but it means our product is ready faster and is certainly more “bourbony” than Irish Whiskey.  Finally, we cannot source the used Sherry Butts that they do in Ireland (for many reasons), but we do get one now and then and we add some sherry staves to our new bourbon barrels (a very expensive and difficult process that we learned from Makers), which provides a hint of the sherry wood.  Without the sherry, we would lean too far toward straight bourbon, and we want to stay lighter and more Irish, so we need those fruit notes.  This depth of research and experimentation has paid off with an amazing product that is aesthetically a fusion of classic Irish Whiskey and American Wheated Bourbon; completely traditional and recognizable, and yet creative and unique.


  • Possibly the only Distillery in America or the World with a Master Chef as Master Distiller.  This creates a focus on flavors and a pursuit of a depth and complexity not normal for distillery operations.
  • Black Bear is a family business, based on five generations of distillers (this is the first legal one), that stretches back all the way to Tipperary County Ireland (444 AD at the Rock of Cashel) and in America to 1889, which we honor with this line of three products.
  • All three products are unique but our flagship, the Irish Style Bourbon, is very special indeed.  If placed beside other Irish Whiskies or Bourbons the vast similarities can be seen, but also some subtle differences.  The two primary flavor profile differences relate to the Black Bear’s copper pot still and unusual altitude as well as one small ingredient change.  Caramel Color is legal in Ireland and Scotland, but since Black Bear is putting it down as Bourbon, they never use this coloring, meaning to achieve that rich color requires a little more wood.  In addition, their particular still and altitude add subtle citrus notes.  So, side by side they will look almost the same and taste almost the same, but Black Bear Irish Style Bourbon will hopefully have some of both worlds, the best of each, making something truly unique.
  • Recipe.  51% Non-GMO heritage Colorado Corn, 30% Pale Malted Scarlet Barley from Alamosa dried with Smokeless Fuels, 10% Raw Dried and Crushed Barley, and 9% Heirloom Red Colorado Wheat.  The idea is to fuse Irish Style Whiskey and Wheated Style Bourbon.  Barreled in New Char 3 Bourbon Barrels and Finished with Oloroso Sherry Staves.

FACEBOOK FACEBOOK FACEBOOK.  That is where the most current information can be found.  PLEASE:  Like and Follow Us on Facebook!  THANKS!