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“Wouldn’t it be great if...?” Bear Creek Distillery started the way most do, a bunch of people hanging out drinking. Those drinks were actually beer, but we’ll let that slide. Johnson says it was more about the drinking than a serious endeavor, but the next time these friends — all graduates of Bear Creek High School in Lakewood, Colorado — assembled, opening a distillery again became the topic du jour. “That turned into weekly meetings that were more focused,” says Johnson. “We said, ‘hey, you look into this and I’ll look into that.’ During our build out process Jeff Dickinson, Owner/Head Distiller, and I immersed ourselves in all things distilling.” Dickinson trained at respected distillery Koval in Chicago while Johnson took a weekend class at Denver’s Downslope Distilling. Near the end of 2012, the group purchased an 8,000 squarefoot former printing house near Overland Park. Construction took a year and production began in 2013. In November 2014, they opened a cocktail bar to the public and released their first spirit, Silver Rum. That spirit received a silver medal at the 2015 Denver International Spirits Competition. More medals followed. To date the distillery has won 15 medals, most recently gold and bronze at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition for their Rye WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM  

Vodka and Spiced Rum, respectively. Not bad for a six-year-old business. “When we won our first gold medal, that was huge,” says Johnson. “It was for our Cask Strength Rum (2016 American Craft Spirits Association). [Winning medals] is definitely a marketing tool, but at the same time it’s a good measuring stick. People were coming in here telling us it was good, but it’s nice to get a neutral viewpoint. Putting ourselves in those situations is a bit of self-validation, but it also gives you an idea of how you’re doing.”

What did you do to vodka? Bear Creek is winning these praises with slightly non-conventional spirits. The most decorated spirit is Bear Creek Rye Vodka, which has won four medals, including gold at the 2017 American Distilling Institute. The companion Wheat Vodka, made with grain from Colorado’s eastern plains, has won two medals. “Everything we’ve done has been just a bit different,” chuckles Johnson. “We wanted to focus on those flavors more. None of us is ‘classically trained’ so sometimes we try things that people haven’t thought of or they know better. Jeff wanted to try rye vodka and it’s phenomenal. The wheat is just a little bit softer. Think of a wheat

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Artisan Spirit: Summer 2018  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.

Artisan Spirit: Summer 2018  

The magazine for craft distillers and their fans.