At first, the group is quiet. A few people arrive together, but the majority are strangers. They sit at a high-top community table where there is water, popcorn, glassware and recipes for the class at Leopold Bros. Small Batch Distillers of Fine Spirits. Divided into small groups, they take turns behind the bar to make their assigned cocktail under the expert tutelage of Alec Ropes, senior market specialist at Leopold. Soon, the strangers are talking and laughing and the noise level rises, filling the high ceiling of the tasting room that opened to the public in November 2014. It’s another “spirited” evening at Leopold Bros.
The distillery, which produces 22 spirits distributed in 20 states and most major European countries, got its start in 1999 in Ann Arbor, Mich., although the two Leopold brothers, Todd and Scott, are from Colorado. Todd studied malting and brewing and apprenticed in Europe. Scott studied economics and industrial engineering and worked creating sustainable manufacturing processes that would come in handy when they opened their brewery and distillery. After finding success in the college town, the brothers decided to move their operations to their home state in 2008, first in an industrial location on Nome Street and then four blocks away to their new location on Joliet that they built from the ground up.
Everything is done on-site, or as Ropes puts it, “from grain to glass.” The staff is small, just seven full-time employees, four of whom run things on the production floor. The brothers’ parents, Bob and Joanne Leopold, are also involved. Bob and his sons have planted a variety of flowers, trees and plants outside the distillery windows that will eventually inoculate the entire distillery, but primarily the large, wooden fermenters. “We’re propagating pollens and wild yeast strains that can only occur in our garden,” says Ropes. It’s an investment that will create “terroir,” unique flavors that will be specific to Leopold Bros.’ aged spirits. The premise is described in detail by Ropes on his tours, as is the overall process for distilling the spirits that Leopold does from milling the grain to fermenting the “mash” of grains, to distilling and bottling. The entire production process can take as little as two weeks and as long as two and a half years.
Leopold Bros. does not use any artificial ingredients in their spirits, which are gluten-free. Their operations are also sustainable. “Water and waste usage are greatly reduced compared to modern standards,” explains Ropes. “For example, for every bottle of spirit produced, there is only one bottle of wastewater. In the business, I’ve heard that for every bottle produced it is common to have six to even as high as 25 bottles of wastewater at other distilleries.”
Tours, which include samples of the spirits, run Friday through Sunday. Leopold Bros. donates 50 percent of the $15 cost of the tour to the visitor’s choice of the Dumb Friends League, Colorado Symphony, Food Bank of the Rockies or Children’s Hospital of Colorado Foundation.
Ropes calls his classes “The Cocktail Hour with Alec,” held twice a week for $20. Class topics include Libations Using Fruit Whiskies; Martine or Martini; The Manhattan; and Herbal Madness. Each class is augmented by Ropes’ enthusiastic and animated explanations of the history behind certain spirits and some of the stories behind the cocktails. A fan of Mike Myers’ “Linda Richman” character, Ropes periodically throws a spirit-oriented fact out to the group, telling them to “talk amongst yourselves” while he quickly washes the barware for the next cocktail to be taught. Ropes makes sure to point out that although he is providing recipes, the participants should experiment and create their own variations.
Tours and classes must be scheduled in advance on their website and are popular for dates, friends, family and even corporate events, but they are restricted to people age 21 and over. For more information, visit the Leopold Bros. website at www.leopoldbros.com and see below tips for a perfect martini and a recipe for “The Martinez,” a drink by Alec Rope.
Tips for the Perfect Martini
The trick to a great martini is both preparation and execution:
1. Always stir your martini instead of shaking.
2. Use a generous amount of ice. The colder and denser ice will require more time, and the smaller and more watery ice will require less time. Cocktails are all about ice. Use the densest, coldest and best-quality ice possible at home.
3. If you think you are done stirring, you’re still not there yet! Stir times can last between 20–30 seconds depending on your ice quality. A properly stirred martini will create a pleasant silky texture on your palate.
1 ½ oz. Leopold’s Navy Strength Gin
¾ oz. Leopold’s Aperitivo
¾ oz. Leopold’s Cherry Liqueur
¼ oz. Maraschino Liqueur
3 Dashes Angostura Bitters
Combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir with ice until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass using a julep strainer and serve over a large rock with an orange peel.
**All recipes developed by Alec Ropes in conjunction with Leopold Bros.