Spirits and bitters
When Palmer started Vapor Distillery in 2007, it was called Roundhouse Spirits and focused on gin. "He's a gin guy," says Brogan. "He has made some phenomenal gins."
Palmer and Brogan's passion for fine spirits is matched with a desire for experimentation. "Our Rhok gin is very low in juniper, as low as you can legally make it, and then we add organic botanicals which gives a really good blend and balance," says Brogan. "It's not your London dry gin with two parts juniper, one part coriander."
While Palmer's focus is gin, Brogan is a whiskey guy. He grew up in Scotland and spent 10 years in the Royal Air Force. After moving to Boulder with a desire to make single-malt whiskey, he met Palmer, and they joined forces and got to work on whiskey.
"We're doing a bourbon that's incredibly unique," says Brogan. "All bourbons in the U.S. are going to be 51 percent corn. Corn gives it sweetness and rye gives it spiciness, so what you find with a lot of the bourbons in the U.S. is they're very sweet. We're doing something different. We put malted barley in, which is a more complex grain. It will give a unique taste. We're keeping it in the barrel a wee bit longer because we want it to mature well." The bourbon will debut in October 2017, followed by an American single-malt whiskey in October 2018.
In addition to Vapor's gins and whiskeys, they produce a vodka, a pumpkin cordial made with local pumpkins, and a coffee liqueur that utilizes locally roasted coffee from The Unseen Bean. And they've recently launched Cocktailpunk, a line of bitters that relies on locally sourced ingredients. "For our Cocktail Punk we get Palisade peaches, Colorado cherries," Brogan says. "We're just about to do a lavender one and it's coming from the Botanical Gardens in Denver."
Vapor's products are currently distributed in 10 states and internationally. "We export to France, Denmark, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Italy, though not in large quantities," says Brogan. Once the bourbon and single-malt whiskey are ready, Vapor will push for wider distribution, with capacity to expand.
Production of gin hit 15,000 bottles in 2016, as pumpkin cordial topped 10,000 bottles. Brogan expects a big bump in sales after the distillery starts bottling its 1,000 barrels of whiskey in late 2017.
Challenges: Shelf space. Support from local liquor stores is crucial, says Brogan. "They're under huge pressure by the majors to not have us on the shelves, to undercut us. The big guys have millions to spend on sales and marketing. We need the support of Colorado people to at least taste our stuff."
Another hurdle: Craft distilleries don't share the same tax breaks that craft wineries and breweries do. Brogan supports an initiative to change that. "We have huge support for a tax initiative for a reduction of 50 percent in small distilleries which will revolution craft distilleries in the U.S.," Brogan says. "We will literally save two dollars a bottle in tax."
And that's not just good for craft distilleries, he says, but for the broader economy: As demand for craft spirits grows, the need for raw materials grows as well. "What craft distilling has done with American jobs, American farmers, American products," Brogan explains, "The shift to craft distilling is going to have a large impact on the American economy as it drives forward."
Opportunities: Dynamic growth. "We want to carry on being able to create new and interesting products and put them on the market," Brogan says. "We've got a good following here now and that's only going to accelerate. If we can sell one bottle at a time, one customer at a time, it will take care of itself."
Needs: Exposure. "When you've got interesting, creative products, customer education is key," Brogan says. "We go to 200 events a year, presenting our products in front of the consumer and then that consumer makes that informed decision in buying our products."