Leopold Bros.

Putting the Spirits Back into Craft Distilling

 

When I first arrived at the Leopold Bros. distillery, it was reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s factory – but instead of chocolate they’re producing artisanal spirits from start to finish. Twenty-two different kinds to be exact.

As the name implies, this local, award-winning distillery is family owned and operated. Originally, Leopold Bros. started in Anne Arbor, Michigan, when Todd and Scott Leopold first opened a brewpub back in 1999. They eventually moved their operation back to their home state of Colorado, and settled on just producing small-batch spirits. Something the craft state of Colorado was missing.

“First of all, there are plenty of world-class breweries in Colorado. I wouldn’t have added much to the conversation. Second of all, I fell in love with distilling, and wanted to focus on just one trade,” says Todd.

The brothers have now been in business for the past 15 years.

“I handle all the distillation, and Scott handles everything else. It keeps us focused on our responsibilities and out of each other’s hair,” says Todd.

Todd is a professionally trained brewer and distiller. He wound up at Doemens Academy and eventually received a degree in malting and brewing from Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago. He has also interned in Bavarian regions of Europe, which has influenced his pre-prohibition methods.

“A brewer by the name of Eric Warner, who had opened up a brewery in my home state of Colorado, graduated from Weihenstephan, a world renowned brewing university in Germany,” says Todd. “When I read about his formal education when I was in my early 20s, I thought it was amazing…that you could actually attend university to learn how to make world-class beer. That drew me into my formal studies in malting and brewing.”

A Different Kind of Distillery

One aspect of Leopold Bros. that makes them so unique are their eco-brewing techniques that have been implemented since they first opened, well before the environmental trend.

“For one thing, Scott received his master’s degree in environmental engineering in the early 90s, so that put us ahead of the curve in terms of thinking about energy use, material use and pollution prevention,” says Todd.

To this day, their operation uses organic and natural ingredients, effective waste byproduct management, recycled water techniques and many local products that support farmers.

“When we put our sustainability section in our business plans, it sounded like pretty good business practice. But when we showed the bankers when we were first starting out they thought we were crazy,” says Todd.

Despite bankers concerns, their green methods have worked and the results are clearly visible as I walked around the distillery. They have a total of two garbage cans (the same amount as most of our own living accommodations), all of the handmade machinery is meticulously placed for the best conservation techniques and only 3-4 bottles of water can’t be recycled, compared to most distilleries where one bottle of whiskey results in 20 bottles of wasted water. Their goal is to get the ratio down 1:1.

One of the products that they receive from local farmers is barley from San Luis Valley. Barley is a super grain and is used in 21 of the 22 spirits they barrel and bottle by hand. They use local barley to create their own malt using a malt floor. This is a practice that hardly any of the distilleries around the world use, but there is a huge advantage of this vintage technique.

“Well, the biggest thing is that I have control of the quality of the malt. I’m able to make the type of malt that you would see at British malt houses in the 1800s. What’s important is the process to make it dryer which is why older style of malt has less moisture. More heat for longer develops more flavor. I can make the grain 100 percent Colorado, and I’m able to control 100 percent of the process,” says Todd.

The Spirit of Family and Friends

Leopold Bros. spirits can be found in various places across the United States and Europe, which is why I was surprised to find out that there are only a total of seven full-time employees. If you want an in with the Leopold Brothers, it’s best to start out as friends first.

“We make spirits because we enjoy working together. I whistle while on my way to work every morning, and I look forward to seeing all my friends and family,” says Todd.

“We make spirits because we enjoy working together. I whistle while on my way to work every morning, and I look forward to seeing all my friends and family,” says Todd.

The Leopold Brother’s mom, Joanne, does part-time bookkeeping for the business, and their dad, Bob has designed their beautiful, well-manicured garden. The mash tanks are intentionally next to the windows so there’s spontaneous fermentation from the pollen of lavender and shrub roses right against the windows.

Todd hopes that by the time his daughter is 21, she will also want to be part of the family business.

“We have 20 years to figure out how to talk her into becoming a distiller. If she chooses something else, that’s okay. We’re certainly not going to say you have to do this. I just have to figure out a way to talk her into it,” says Todd.

In 21 years when his daughter can finally try her special rye whiskey, Todd can’t imagine Leopold Bros. becoming a lot larger and wants to remain a small-batch distiller. He just wants to enjoy art of making fine spirits.

“We all look at each other and can’t believe we get to do this for a living. We are so lucky,” says Todd.

Leopold Bros.

5285 Joliet Street

Denver

LeopoldBros.com