SWEET SUCCESS of HONEY HOUSE DISTILLERY the
WRITTEN & PHOTOGRAPHED BY CARRIE DOW
urrounded by the rugged red cliffs and bucolic cattle fields of the Animas River Valley, the Honeyville store has been a solid business in southern Colorado for exactly 100 years. Manufacturing honey and honey products such as whips, jams, sauces, and body lotion using Rocky Mountain wildflower honey, Honeyville is a treasured establishment about 10 miles north of the mountain town of Durango. A varied tourism industry brings multitudes of visitors to the small factory and retail store during the tourist season. Those visitors, along with wholesale customers around the world, remain loyal to Honeyville through the company’s online store year-round. One would think that after 100 years, the company had made everything possible out of honey. Yet one evening over drinks, Kevin Culhane, third generation Honeyville owner, and his friend Adam Bergal had a thought. “Totally random idea,” laughs Brett Rosenbaugh, Honeyville Brand Manager. “They thought it would be awesome to start a distillery.” Who wouldn’t think that was good idea? According to Rosenbaugh, Kevin’s parents and Honeyville co-owners Danny and Sheree Culhane weren’t convinced, though they were intrigued enough to send Kevin to some ADI conferences to learn about the industry. Realizing Honeyville already had the vendors and a devoted clientele, the family went for it. In 2012 the Culhanes and Bergal founded Honey House Distillery as La Plata County’s first legal distillery since Prohibition. (Because of an existing agreement with Honeyville Grain of Utah, Honeyville Colorado cannot use the name on corn-based products.) Honey House’s flagship product, Colorado Honey Whiskey, is an amber-colored whiskey that actually looks like bottled honey. As most distillers know, starting off with whiskey can come with its own set of risks. WWW.ARTISANSPIRITMAG.COM
“Kevin started going to all these conferences and learning what to do to set you apart, like starting with aged spirits versus clear spirits,” says Rosenbaugh. The company purchased a 250-gallon custom Vendome still nicknamed The Queen Bee (it’s shaped like a beehive and etched with honeycombs) and began making and barreling their own whiskey. However, Culhane and Bergal also worked with existing distilleries to develop a whiskey blend they could use while waiting for their product to mature. Using a blend of four- and six-year whiskeys, they mixed it with Honeyville wildflower honey to make their Colorado Honey Bourbon Whiskey. “What we did was kind of different,” says Rosenbaugh. “Instead of getting your license, coming in and doing vodka or gin, we worked with other companies, so our honey whiskey was actually our first product. Over that period of time, we’ve been stashing away barrels to get our supply up.” Rosenbaugh expects Honey House to begin using its own product in the coming year.
HONEYVILLE HISTORY The company’s roots began in the 1920s when Vernon Culhane, Kevin’s grandfather, was removing beehives from his property’s trees. After sampling the honey found inside, which was the best he had ever tasted,Vernon began selling it in downtown Durango from the back of a pickup truck. He was so enamored with his bees, he received special military privileges that allowed him to bring his hive with him no matter where he was stationed, including Europe. Through the years, Vernon sold much of his honey to the Honeyville Company, founded in 1918 by the Mayer family. Danny took over for his father in 1974, and in 1986, the Culhanes
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