The outdoors and cocktailing – they go together like peanut butter and jelly, peas and carrots, Colorado and beards. I’ve been working on this as an outdoor adventure drinking guide for Fresh Air Fort Collins. But, you know, plans unexpectedly changed and here we are with me writing restaurant reviews again. Now Feasting Fort Collins readers get to enjoy a review on these spirits instead. Lucky you!
I completely understand that many readers here feel like Feasting Fort Collins had been pretty heavy on the alcohol coverage. Rest assured I’m working on some good old tried and true restaurant reviews (see what’s coming up on Instagram). But, for those that appreciate spirits, I think you’ll be interested in reading up on this.
So, Dry Town, Nooku, Old Elk Distillery… who, what, where?
Old Elk Distillery, founded by Curt and Nancy Richardson of Otterbox and Blue Ocean Enterprises, has been on the coming soon list on the Sunday Table Talk newsletter for quite some time. It’s going to be there for quite a bit longer. There are plans for Old Elk Distillery to open a distilling facility and tasting room in Fort Collins sometime in the future. 2017 seems to be the year it happens, but we all know how opening dates go in this town. Places open when they open. There isn’t an estimated opening date for Old Elk yet. And the location? It’s still a secret, I suppose. Old Elk Distillery doesn’t have a website or any social media accounts yet to stay on top of these details. If and when they do is all dependent on the growth of their products.
But, surprise! They are operating a production-only facility in Fort Collins, and they have been for the last three years (where, I have no idea. I asked an Old Elk representative and was told “Fort Collins”). Under this cloak of mystery, they’ve already been named Colorado Distillery of the Year at the New York International Spirits Competition. Here in their production facility is where Old Elk Distillery produces Dry Town Gin and Dry Town Vodka.
So, before I get too far into the review, there’s some explaining to do because operations and branding can get a tad confusing here…
Most of us local-loving cocktail connoisseurs know distilleries by their name and their products are branded as such. So, we know that Feisty Spirits whiskey is all branded as Feisty Spirits, Dancing Pines products are all branded as Dancing Pines, Spring 44 is all branded as Spring 44, and CopperMuse is all branded as CopperMuse… you get the idea.
Not the case with Old Elk Distillery! You won’t find Old Elk Distillery branded products on the shelves at the liquor store or at your favorite bar. What you will find are the different brands they produce, each selling and marketing as if it were its own company. This is where Dry Town and Nooku come from. Both Dry Town and Nooku have their individual websites and accompanying social media assets. It’s similar to how our network of community websites is structured – Feasting Fort Collins, Fresh Air Fort Collins, Forgotten Fort Collins, etc. all operating individually, but under the umbrella of the Scoop Blog Network.
A better example is possibly Sazerac. While they distill in multiple facilities, they own 33 different brands, like Fireball Whiskey, Buffalo Trace, Southern Comfort, and Fleischmann’s Vodka, just to name a few. But each one of those brands is sold and marketed as if they were individual companies. Liquor reps and bar managers no doubt know this information inside and out, but the average cocktail consumer may not know who owns/makes what. Until writing this review, I had no idea that Fireball and Buffalo Trace were actually under the same parent company. So, today I learned, too!
Anyway, that’s how it’s working in Fort Collins right now with Old Elk Distillery, Dry Town, and Nooku. So, now that has been cleared up, let’s get to the spirits.
Dry Town produces Dry Town Vodka and Dry Town Gin here in Fort Collins. As explained on their website and marketing material, “Dry Town Vodka is crafted using a four grain mash and left unfiltered to heighten the expression of the grains and maintain its distinctive finish. Each grain provides unprecedented taste: the earthy spice from the rye and silky soft texture from the wheat creates an elegant mouthfeel, while the corn provides sweetness and the hearty bread notes from the barley round out the flavors, resulting in a distinctive, martini-worthy vodka.”
Now, we’re regular vodka consumers here at our house. Well, not that regular in frequency, but we jokingly call vodka the weekday cocktail. Vodka generally lacks a distinctive taste, with higher-quality brands offering a smoother finish more than a particular flavor. This is why vodka is an excellent spirit to mix with, and why we don’t splurge on top-shelf brands.
Dry Town Vodka is noticeably smooth, and quite frankly, it packs quite a sneaky punch because of it. It’s so easy to drink that you may underestimate your consumption. I certainly did! And I feel like I’m a drinking pro (as terrible as that may sound). I would recommend this vodka to those who are looking for an elevated spirit for their martinis. We low-key it at our house and just mix with lovely mixers or infuse with fruits. If that’s your style too, stick with what you’re drinking. Dry Town Vodka is best for those who drink it neat or on the rocks.
Now, Dry Town Gin on the other hand, that’s a totally different experience.
As explained much like the vodka, “Dry Town Gin starts with finished Dry Town Vodka, which is then distilled with fresh botanicals through a soak and vapor extraction. Juniper, orris root, orange, lime, angelica root, black pepper, ginger, lemongrass, French verveine, and sage come together to give Dry Town Gin a smooth and refreshing herbal, piney, citrus-forward flavor. The craft distillation process allows for the extraction of each flavor in a way that best speaks to each botanical’s true character. For its distinct taste and superb quality, Dry Town Gin won Double Gold at the 2016 New York International Spirits Competition.”
OK, now this really is a stand-out gin loaded with unique flavor. Again, at the expense of sounding like a functioning alcoholic (which I promise I’m not), we appreciate a great gin and tonic. In fact, my favorite gin and tonic in Fort Collins is at Social. They use Spring 44 Gin which is exceptionally refreshing. However, Dry Town Gin is in a league of its own. I’m not sure I’ve had a gin with this much botanical flavor before. It was a bit too much for Bill, but I absolutely loved it. The juniper really comes out as a prominent flavor, but so does the citrus and sage. It’s definitely unique. Gin is a spirit that I’d splurge on for a top-shelf experience, and I’d drink Dry Town Gin again in a heartbeat because of it’s distinct flavor profile.
Nooku is a completely separate brand than Dry Town, but still under the production of Old Elk Distillery. Nooku is the first bourbon cream, made with Old Elk’s bourbon whiskey and dairy cream. However, it is not distilled here in Fort Collins like Dry Town is. They’ve partnered with Woody Creek on their bourbons, and the Old Elk bourbon used in Nooku bourbon cream is currently housed at their facility as they continue to grow their own capabilities. The bourbon and cream are blended and bottled near their creamery partner in New York.
As described on their website and marketing materials, “Nooku is the first bourbon cream made using only bourbon whiskey with fresh dairy cream. Because Nooku, a distilled spirit specialty from Old Elk Distillery in Fort Collins, Colo., is made with only two ingredients and without artificial coloring, flavoring or added sugar, it is the only spirit of its kind. Nooku is a Native American name for the white snowshoe rabbit – a fast and bold, yet soft and smooth animal known for its lush coat and lightning speed. The same juxtaposition exists in Nooku bourbon cream – all the strength of bourbon with the qualities of decadent cream. Nooku’s spicy vanilla and toffee aromas, caramel flavor and hearty burst of bourbon finish are perfect to indulge in over ice, in cocktails or savored in delicious recipes.”
Sadly to say, I did not find the strength of bourbon in this brand. I added it to my coffee over the holidays while doing Christmas vacation things. I might as well have added coffee creamer. Maybe it’s because I enjoy a stiff drink? Maybe it’s because it didn’t have enough teeth to deal with the holidays? Either way, St. Brendan’s ended up going in my mug instead. Not the best flavor, but at least it tasted like alcohol in my mug.
So, while I feel like Nooku was far too mild for my preferences, there are cocktail-loving people out there who prefer a more toned down breakfast or dessert beverage. If this is you, then you’d probably enjoy Nooku more than I did. Honestly, there’s something for everyone out there.
If you’re looking to sip on Dry Town and Nooku while you’re out on the town, you can find them in these fabulous bars and restaurants:
- Uncle’s Tratoria & Pizzeria
- Black Bottle Brewery
- Tony’s Restaurant & Lounge
- Armstrong Hotel
If you’re looking to pick up a bottle of Dry Town or Nooku to enjoy at home, you can find them at these liquor stores around Fort Collins:
- Wilbur’s Total Beverage
- Super Market Liquors
- Fish’s Liquor Mart
- Campus West Liquors
- RJ’s Wine & Spirits
And for those who don’t drink but like to bake with alcohol, here’s a recipe for you, courtesy of Old Elk Distillery:
Coffee and Donuts Bread Pudding Nooku
Yield: 12 servings
6 cups ( about 8 donuts) day old Glazed donuts
1 whole egg
4 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
2 ¼ cups ½ and ½
¾ cup Nooku
¼ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons Instant Espresso
Method: Cut donuts into ½ inch cubes, place into a lightly greased 3 quart casserole dish.
In a bowl combine eggs, yolks, sugar, ½ and ½ , Nooku, salt and espresso. Whisk thoroughly.
Once the custard is combined, slowly pour over the donuts. Lightly press the donuts into the custard to make sure everything is covered. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-45 minutes.
When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 300 degree. Remove plastic wrap from dish and bake for 1 hour, until set.
Let rest for 1 hour before serving, maybe with coffee gelato!
*a full star review will be given when the tasting room/physical location is open to the public