By Aron Johnson | Oct 11, 2015
Fort Collins, Colorado
When Monahan sold Sprig Toys to Wham-O in 2010, he was looking to do something a little different. Living in Fort Collins, an obvious option was opening a brewery, but that wasn't on his radar.
"I don't like beer, so that's not my thing," says Monahan. Instead, he opened Feisty Spirits, Fort Collins' first distillery. It was a natural fit. "I come from Appalachia where there's a lot of moonshining," he says.
With over 30 different products, Feisty Spirits produces a little something for everyone, although the focus is whiskey. "I'm a whiskey guy -- 90 percent of our products are whiskey," he says. These include flavored whiskeys, clear whiskeys, and brandy, and he has plans to distill agave later this year.
Feisty Spirits also produce a line of schnapps distilled from beer. "It's a nice juncture between beers and whiskey, but technically I can't call it whiskey," Monahan says. It's not the sickly sweet beverage most people think of when they think of schnapps. he explains. "Distilled beer tends to act and taste like whiskey. It concentrates the flavors. Aging concentrates the flavors as well."
Feisty Spirits has a bit of a unique approach to the craft. Monahan has a Ph.D in engineering and enjoys the science of distilling. "Because I didn't come out of the brewing world, I have a different process," he says. Monahan likes trying new recipes and different grains, and there's always something interesting available in the tasting room.
He also doesn't favor the traditional whiskey approach of leaving it in the barrel as long as possible. "We use a lot of unique and tasty grains," he says. "I don't want to taste the barrel. We go down the alternative path. Let those big guys have that market. We're about trying things differently."
Feisty Spirits sources most of its ingredients locally. "We use all organic ingredients," he says. "We try to go as local as we can. We get our yellow corn 10 miles down the road." One exception is rye, but Monahan notes there's a good reason for that: "Cold-weather rye gives you the most flavor so we get ours from Minnesota."
"We're really into the reduce-reuse thing," Monahan says. That attitude manifests in the many collaborations with local breweries. "Milling creates dust," Monahan says. "Fort Collins Brewery delivers a couple hundred pounds of it a month. We turn that into whiskey."
They also recently distilled several hundred gallons of New Belgium's Portage Porter. "We're always doing collaborations with breweries," says Monahan.
Challenges: Regulation. "We've had to deal with eight different government organizations. The fire department was a big issue for us," Monahan says. While he'd also like to see lower taxes on the federal level, he adds, "Colorado's a great place to get involved in the alcohol business."
Opportunities: Monahan would like to expand distribution. "We'd like to finally start moving out of state but we're production limited," Monahan says.
Needs: Feisty Spirits is looking to revamp its marketing and distribution. "We'll redo our website and labels in the next couple of months," Monahan says. The distillery currently self distributes, but that will likely change soon.
Finances also come into play. "Ultimately," he notes, "we'll run into a money crunch."