There's A Spirit Here

Looking for authentic, Colorado liquor? Fred and Susan Lesnick of Black Canyon Distillery have the secret recipe: hard work and help from community.

Finding the right liquor that everyone likes is challenging. Whether you’re a dark, whiskey drinker or a light, vodka drinker, everyone has a unique taste and preference for their drink of choice. But Fred and Susan Lesnick of Black Canyon Distillery in Longmont, Colorado, have figured out the magic recipe. Their whiskey and vodka have such an authentic, creative flavor that people begin to question their own taste buds. It’s no surprise that their Black Canyon Winter won Gold in the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival in 2015 and the Black Canyon Colada won People’s Choice Award for the best cocktail at the Boulder County Fair.

Every step of the distilling process is done with care, consciousness and innovation. From labeling their bottles to building the taproom bar, this duo is not afraid of a little hard work with their make-it-yourself approach to business-owning. And what makes their business shine even brighter? Their ingredients are locally sourced, and the leftover mash is given to local ranchers to feed to livestock–because cows deserve to let loose every now and then too!

Samantha: What was it like starting a distilling company?
Fred: Since I already knew how to ferment, it was just the distilling process that I had to figure out–and that was very interesting. I built those stills, and it took me three months to figure out how to run them right. It wasn’t a quick process…the real truth is when you start something like this, your first whiskey isn’t all that great. It needs improvement. We did probably 12-15 experimental ones to try and get it narrowed down to really focus on what we wanted to do. And at that point, you think you have it, and you put it in the barrel and sweat for two years, [thinking] ‘is this gonna be any good?’. We tasted it every six months, and we were very encouraged.

Samantha: Where did the name come from?
Fred: We wanted something that was Colorado. We like to stay as ‘Colorado’ as we can. It took about a year-and-a-half to come up with the name. Every time we came up with something, we’d say, ‘Oh, that’s it! That’s great!’ and then two weeks later we’d pick something else. So we finally ended up with The Black Canyon. We started here instead of starting over [in Black Canyon] because I was still working. So here we are–Black Canyon north of Denver!

Samantha: What sets your whiskey apart from others?
Susan:  We [hand] make it.
Fred: I think our taste does. A lot of people do a pepper vodka, but they use dried peppers.
Susan: –Or artificial flavors. We don’t have any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.

Samantha: What’s the hardest part of being a small business?
Susan: Fred and I didn’t have millions of dollars, but because he had the ability to make a lot of our stuff–that’s kept us alive. He’s got that good ole’ American ingenuity that his dad taught him. And I can’t speak enough for Colorado people supporting small business and local business.
Fred: If you get a decent cause, the community will turn out for it. They’ve been great family.
Susan: We don’t have a lot of money or anything, but we really have a rich life with people that come in and we meet.