We all know that Kentucky makes 95% of America’s Bourbon, but Colorado hasn’t been immune to the Bourbon boom. Over 80 distilleries are now open in the state, and spirits festivals like Still on the Hill and Bourbon and Bacon Fest drawing thousands of guests. Colorado is surely embracing the Bourbon lifestyle, but in a sea of new distillers, Distillery 291 in Colorado Springs has a back story that sets them apart.
291 takes its name from owner and master distiller Michael Myers first address in an art school dorm room. A BFA in photography from Savannah College of Art and Design may not be the traditional route to the world of Bourbon, but Myers has found more than one way to marry the two.
Myers began his professional life as a high end beauty and fashion photographer, shooting for brands like Estée Lauder and Ralph Lauren. He lived in NYC for 27 years, and held photography shows in Tribeca with series of copper photogravure plates between shoots for Tiffany and Co. After watching the events of 9/11 unfold, he moved his family to Colorado. He continued the commute to NYC, and didn’t consider leaving the photography world until reading an article in the New York Times about the distillers behind Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry Rum. Always on the hunt for a creative outlet, Myers thought – “Hey, I can do that.”
Within six weeks, Michael acquired his distiller’s license, rented a 339 square foot space, and built a copper still out of his photogravure plates. He says the distilling process reminds him of the darkroom, and the imprints of the photos are visible in the still to this day. It wasn’t all smooth sailing – Myers was trading product shots of beer for rent and working 18 hour days 7 days a week to make sure the whiskey got made.
Production has greatly increased since their opening in 2011 – with 1500 gallon fermenter tanks and a new 300 gallon still (a larger replica of the original), 291 now sells over 2000 cases of their whiskeys a year. 8 employees now distill five days a week, giving Myers a chance to hike in the mornings and focus on the big picture.
While their Colorado Bourbon Whiskey has a mashbill that conforms to traditional Bourbon standards (80% corn, 19% malt rye, and 1% malt barley), they add a Colorado twist with an Aspen Stave Finish. Their Colorado Rye has a mashbill of 61% malt rye and 39% corn. Currently, the spirits are only available in Colorado and California, but will expand to more markets in 2018.
For those who’d like to see the distillery for themselves, they are open Wednesday to Saturday, 5-11 pm. Tours can be booked through the website and are held Saturdays at 2pm or 3pm.