Spirited Startups: Colorado’s Microdistilleries Follow an All-American Path

on 19/02/11 at 8:57 pm


Reinvention is something Americans are known for, and in this current economic climate, lots of us are trying to reinvent our careers and our lives.

Colorado ‘s new governor, John Hickenlooper, was a laid-off geologist who opened the state’s first brewpub back in the 1980s. As he says in his official biography, “I didn’t know anything about starting a business. I didn’t even know what a pro forma was.”

But Hickenlooper’s efforts helped revitalize Denver’s run-down downtown district, pioneered the region’s booming microbrewery industry and in turn launched his political career.

Discovering a Family Recipe

That entrepreneurial spirit is thriving in some of Colorado’s newly minted microdistilleries – most of which have been up and running for less than three years. For Steve Viezbicke, founder of the Boulder Distillery and Clear Spirit Co., Hickenlooper is a role model. “He started from nothing, just like I did,” says Viezbicke – whose Polish-style potato vodka has a loyal customer base along the Front Range.A Boulder native, Viezbicke’s adventure into microdistilling reads like a movie screenplay. Several years ago, while working as a design engineer in the audio industry, he found a family secret — a recipe for vodka hidden in the lining of his grandfather’s steamer trunk. The senior Viezbicke was a teenager when he emigrated to the U.S. from Poland just before World War I. No one in his family ever talked about the recipe, he says, “but there were some hints of my father and my uncles up in northern Minnesota playing with some distilled spirits.”

Viezbicke also played with the recipe, which got raves from his friends. And after he was laid-off, he says, “everybody was going, ‘why don’t you start a company? [This vodka] is blowing what’s on the market out of the water, we don’t care what it costs, it’s so much better than what is out there, and it’s hand-made, it’s local, it’s real, you can see it being made.'”

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