Located in historic downtown Montrose on Colorado's Western Slope, Storm King Distilling may have been named after an imposing peak, but its philosophy is preeminently welcoming.
"Our unofficial motto is 'craftsmanship without pretense,'" says David Fishering. "We are dedicated to the craft of distilling, but we don't want to do it in a way that makes us seem like snobs. Our goal is to be a place where everybody feels like a part of the family, from the multi-millionaire who comes in and buys 25 cases to the blue-collar miner who comes in for a shot before he goes home."
Founded by the father-and-son team in 2017, the distillery is primarily staffed by family members -- including the operators of the food truck that sits outside. "The food truck is run by my sister, my brother in law, and his brother," Fishering explains. "It's all family, and I think in a small town, that means a lot. People can feel it. We're not a big corporation or a purely business venture, we're building a family legacy here."
It's a legacy inspired by a passion for whiskey, though fans will have to wait another two to five years to get a taste of what is slated to become the distillery's flagship product. "I love everything about whiskey, from the history behind it to drinking it," Fishering says. "We just don't have it out yet because it is sitting in barrels and aging."
Once the whiskey is ready, Storm King customers will get to enjoy traditional bourbon and malt whiskey in addition to single-grain varieties. "We're aging a 100 percent rye whiskey and a 100 percent wheat whiskey," Fishering explains. "We're doing it as an educational tool for our customers so that they can understand what each grain tastes like when converted into a spirit."
In the meantime, visitors to the distillery's tasting room can savor Storm King Agave Blanco and Agave Especial (aged like an anejo tequila) as well as Storm King Gin and Barrel Rested Gin. Additionally, the Fishering's have distilled a vodka and will soon launch Storm King Silver Rum. Barrel-aged rum should be available by early 2020.
"We're making all these different spirits right now because our current business model is sort of a cocktail bar," says Fishering. "To do that, you have to have all these spirits available. We're also one of the only distillers within a 60-mile radius. Not everyone likes whiskey, or vodka, or gin or agave. To please the majority of the market, we felt it was necessary to make numerous types of spirits."
Raw materials include 100 percent Blue Agave nectar from Mexico, evaporated sugar can juice from Columbia, and Colorado grain from Whiskey Sisters Supply. "Whenever possible, we want to use raw products from Colorado and transform them into their highest and best purpose, which is spirits," Fishering says. "We're taking all this Colorado grain and turning it into something that has a ton of value add from an economic standpoint."
Fishering predicts Storm King Distilling's production will increase substantially in 2019. "We started producing in February of 2018 but spent the first three months basically learning what we were doing. It took us almost three months to make our first batch of agave. Without that, and with fermentation tanks and staff the same, I think it's reasonable to say that we can increase by 30 percent."
Challenges: The time required to age whiskey is a big challenge. "We're investing a ton of money in this product that has to sit around for two years," Fishering says. "We want it to be our flagship product, but don't even know how it's going to taste. We just hope that it's good. That's really tough."
Fishering says that it has also been challenging to learn the regulatory ropes in an industry that is tightly controlled by state and federal governments. "Trying to navigate that has been a pretty big hurdle," he adds. "But it's one of those things that once you figure out, it starts to get easier."
Opportunities: Until recently, Storm King Distilling's products have only been available in the distillery's tasting room. But Fishering says that as of December 2018, customers can purchase bottles in Montrose liquor stores as well. "We will probably start distributing down to Telluride and around the area in the new year," he adds. "The wholesale side of our business is going to be a huge opportunity. It's going to take a lot of pressure off of our tasting room to be the only revenue generator. And it will get our name out there. That's basically how we expect to grow."
Needs: "Money," Fishering laughs. "But really, having more capital would be ideal. Then I could keep ordering barrels and grain every two weeks without having to think about it. Right now, we're open to the public Thursday to Sunday and when each Thursday comes around, we're like, 'Okay, we have to make as much money as possible in the next four days because I need to order grain next week.' So far, it hasn't been an issue. We make enough and we're good to go."