BLACK BEAR DISTILLERY
Ultra Artisan A New Definition of “Craft”
There has been a lot of discussion lately about the idea of Craft or Artisan Spirits. The world and the authorities are struggling to determine what these words mean in light of companies that are called “craft” and yet produce millions of cases per year. There have even been various lawsuits over the purchase and re-bottling of certain spirits. I know how hard business is and how difficult it is to develop a brand and slowly rise and then to respond to large demand, so I am not about to judge anyone. I feel deeply for anyone who is in business, it is never easy, and some people have to take shortcuts to survive. If what is in the bottle is good I am never mad at them, even if they are called “artisan” and are in fact mass production (I have drunk my fair share of Jim Beam and Jameson and cannot bring myself to be that hypocritical). Did not all craft producers first fall in love with their spirits through mass production companies? Why not emulate them? But, as you will see, we are not going to have that problem.
What you are about to read is going to be hard to believe. It is counter-intuitive as a business plan, but this makes it all the more powerful. I cannot take credit for any of this. The many “coincidences” and hundreds of years of strange occurrences that lined up to bring us to this moment, well, that can only be the work of one person, and it sure isn’t me. So, before I continue, thanks and glory be to my loving and faithful Father, the God of the Universe. I am merely his earthly manager on this project (I realize these statements are not politically correct and I just lost customers, but, the truth is the truth, sorry).
We did not set out to re-define craft. I actually did not even think about those words when I first began plans for a distillery back in 2013. I considered just buying products and flavoring and bottling them for fun. I even started by calling the organization a bottling company in case I never ever ran a still. Hilarious to think back to that now, but honestly, I was not planning to be a contender, much less a model or example of anything. I am laughing even as I write that, it is so far from my original puny human plans. Luckily, a bigger plan was working behind the scenes, a plan that would blossom into something truly special; unique in the modern world, and a new definition of “craft”. Perhaps you too are struggling with defining these words. Well, if craft means handmade with care by a craftsman; and artisan means a unique small production idea with an artistic creative edge, well, we might just provide your definition. You be the judge.
It all starts with the seed....the farm. Now, the vast majority of the grains used in the distilling industry are purchased from large producers. It is a common practice and so it is very easy to get really high quality materials, especially corn and malted barley in any number of styles. So, our journey really should have just ended there. Besides, if you buy your own grains you will need a grinder, and that is expensive, so just get the stuff ready to go. Now, if you were to try to malt your own, that is, to wet and sprout it creating the necessary enzymes to break the starches into sugars for your yeast to eat, well, you would be crazy. So, that is where we started. We visit local farms and feed suppliers and we hand pick our organic non-GMO whole grains from as close as possible. The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe does grind for us, but the malted barley and other grains are whole. Using barley as an example, we bring them home in 50 lb. burlap bags (or bag it ourselves, even burlap is rare these days) and soak it in water from beside the distillery. We soak it, pull it out, and soak it again. Then we spread it out on our floor in front of our petrified wood fireplace and let it germinate, turning by hand with sterile snow shovels. After we see a bunch of chitting and malting and it looks good, we light the fireplace and turn on the fans and dry it ourselves, in an ancient peat free fire and smoke using local wood. We know that this is virtually unheard of in the modern world, but we also know that it adds incredibly unique flavors from the Colorado creek water to the pine and aspen fires. We limit the smoke (this is Irish-ish, not Scottish-ish…hmmm…coming soon?) and use the dry air and heat to do the work. When we are done we have house malted and dried barley, and very few distilleries could claim to be that craft (especially in America). Add in our local water and the aspen smoke and NO ONE could ever be exactly the same. We like that, but that is the easy part, buckle up for what’s next!
Once the barley malt is dried it has to be ground into a rough meal for the mash cooker. This is done by a piece of electrical machinery with a hopper and crushing rollers. Well, at least everywhere else it is. We have what amounts to an archeological site. Our thousand pound antique millstones were discovered on the river flats near Conifer, Colorado and were probably original to the Old Mill which has been gone over a hundred years. Our team of researchers and what can only be called Anthropological Carpenters are reverse engineering the pieces and building supports and frameworks until we have a mill similar to what would have been run when whiskey was first invented. We are unaware of anywhere else that still uses an ancient stone mill house, so we hope to have that up and running soon. To this antiquated insanity introduce the Donkey Rescue. We are hoping to one day be able to rescue donkeys and do brief historical demonstrations of how grain was ground in ancient Ireland, but for now, we use solar power to run the grinder and pumps in an effort to be as green and sustainable as possible.
So, local Colorado products, sustainably produced....some of them house-malted, fireplace-dried and ground by solar powered grinders. Some say insane. I say: you want “craft”? You got it. But that is just the grain! Add to that local honey from wild caught bees as part of some of the mash recipes and a Green Mountain cultivated wild yeast that we captured and grew ourselves...and well....we are unaware of anyone else in the world that can claim this level of absolute commitment to ancient artisan techniques. Unique and amazing. No product could ever taste like it. Would you believe we are still not done? We distill in a hand-hammered 400 gallon old style pot still built by a genius in Maine name Jesse (Trident Stills) then altered in house with additional copper contact. Many of our products then rest in charred American Oak casks before being bottled by hand. Please sip and savor our ultra-artisan product responsibly. Close your eyes and dream of the Smoky Mountains or ancient Ireland.
Welcome to the Black Bear Distillery Green Mountain Falls, Colorado