The grizzled old timer has five randomly spaced teeth, he’s sitting on a bucket spewing country wisdom as he recklessly whittles at break-neck pace, wood shavings and chaw flying everywhere. He’s often featured in this reality show, Moonshiners, and the way he talks, pronouncing “tired” as “tard”, “me” as “may” and law enforcement as the “PO-lease”, makes a show like Cops seem like Downton Abbey in comparison. It’s “Hicks with Sticks”, you might say. But one thing about Moonshiner’s is serious; the business of booze.
Drive a thousand miles west and north to Colorado and you find an abundance of serious booze wizards, minus the shirtless overalls and crossed-eyes. What we have here is a prime illustration of the explosion in craft brewing, and more recently, craft micro-distilling. Boulder is home to more than twenty breweries, and at least two micro distilleries; 303 Vodka, and Roundhouse Spirits, which makes ultra-premium gins.
Park your bike* outside Roundhouse’s nondescript industrial façade at 5311 Western Avenue on a Thursday night, and you may be the only one in the vast parking lot. No matter to Ted Palmer, “El Presidente” of Roundhouse, his no-nonsense demeanor commands attention and if you’re there to learn about gin, by gum, you’re going to be schooled regardless of class size. You learn about his bottling line (four auto fill nozzles have reduced his forearm maladies from “insane carpel tunnel” to simply “mild carpel tunnel” syndrome), his array of Dr. Seuss shaped copper kettles (Why copper? It traps salts that would otherwise blend in with the sauce), and you learn about the history of gin.
For some reason, “English gin” with only juniper berries and coriander added to the alcohol became the standard here in the states. English gin is somewhat basic and harsh. The French and the Dutch add a bunch of botanicals and flowers, forming a far more refined, sophisticated broth. Inexplicably and for the longest time, Americans didn’t venture past the bland Brit version and all seemed calm, if not exciting. But Ted, for one, was not satisfied.
Ted’s been stirring cauldrons of amazing stuff for more than 20 years. In fact, while serving in the Navy in 1986 and stationed in the Persian Gulf, he was put in charge of making wine, probably in empty missile casings. Anyway, it seems the captain in charge of the minesweeper upon which he was deployed, called Ted to the bridge. Ted thought he was in for a keelhauling or at least a reprimand, but instead the commanding officer congratulated him on the wine, and ordered six cases to ship home. And so the legend began.
After earning a Brewing degree from Chicago’s Siebel Institute, then serving tours of duty at Pyramid Brewing in Seattle and a bunch of brew pubs in the PacNorthWest, Ted co-founded Roundhouse spirits in 2008. Since then, volume has climbed by 200 to 400% per year. And while Roundhouse’s gin style—referred to as New Western—combines star anise, orange and lavender making for a much more pleasing drink than English style gin, Roundhouse makes no claim to having created the revolution. They’re just glad to be making great stuff and riding the wave of interest in artisan spirits.
As you finish up the official observation and lecture portion of the tour, you belly up to the bar. These cats make more than just fine gin, as you will find out. Tasty and unusual cocktails like the Roundhouse Martini (gin, one drop of bitters, three drops orange liqueur) and the Lower Manhattan (barrel aged gin, cherry wine, cherry and cinnamon stick garnish) are whipped up, fresh as a farm hand at a beauty contest, while you wait. One unusual surprise that should intrigue you is their coffee liqueur. Ted explained that some of the famous store-bought brands, like Kahlua, use cheap, bitter coffee beans whereas Roundhouse buys top grade, organic, fair trade beans from the Unseen Bean, a local roaster proudly run by a non-sighted gentleman. You might wonder if you can taste the difference, and the answer, friend, is yes.
So, as our whittling buddy might say, unless you’re so confused that you don’t know whether to “…scratch your watch or wind your butt”, the thing to do is go take a tour of Roundhouse Spirits. It’s as fun as a sock on a rooster, and easier to accomplish.
*best to drive responsibly, ya hear?