I want to be in Aspen this September. Not because of the foliage or rumors of early snow, but because September is potato harvesting time in central Colorado. That’s when Woody Creek Distillers pluck their potatoes from the soil by the truckload and, just a few hours later, cook them into arguably the cleanest and smoothest vodka in production.
Famous beyond jetsetters and fur mukluks, the Aspen area also boasts a significant relationship with potatoes. As Pat Scanlan, co-founder of Woody Creek Distillers, told me, “At the turn of the 20th Century, the Aspen Valley produced more potatoes than the entire state of Idaho. The Aspen climate is ideal for this type of agriculture.”
Woody Creek cooks their potatoes into a mash and finishes the product with local Rocky Mountain spring water. Everything about this product is local: their farm to your liver. And that’s what makes Woody Creek so exceptional, they control all aspects of their process, from tilling to labeling and everything in between. Woody Creek is the first and only craft distiller doing this.
I visited Pat Scanlan and Woody Creek co-founder Mark Kleckner on a recent visit to Aspen. Incidentally, Pat and Mark met during their former lives as top security clearance engineers for the U.S. Department of Defense. They’re both funny and generous, plus they’ve got an edge to them. Craft distilling homegrown potatoes is no doubt a departure from their previous lives, but I imagine they chatted with me the same way they used to debrief with top brass at the DoD–with a deftness and calm meticulousness–and, for me, with a promise of cocktails not far on the horizon.
What I learned from Pat and Mark is that there’s no secret recipe at Woody Creek. They use the best ingredients to make their spirits—and that absolutely matters—but they also get a little help from their state-of-the-art, top-of-the-line, custom-built German distilling system, which creates the purest alcohol possible in just one pass. As Mark Kleckner told me, there are just a handful of comparable brother and sister stills in the western hemisphere. In fact, so rare are these stills that the manufacturer only supplies the system software in German, which Kleckner laughed about. “We had some challenges when we were getting up and running… but their phone support was great.”
Woody Creek offers their flagship potato vodka and an ultra-premium vodka made from internationally sourced Polish Stobrawa potato seeds. These vodkas have mellow flavors and are delicious. There are mild earthy tones, and the potato is present too, which might sound strange, except that a perfectly ripe potato straight from the ground is actually sweet and even delicate. These vodkas are best enjoyed neat or with an ice cube. And, Woody Creek vodka is such a pure product that the feeling you get after a few fingers is somehow cleaner and clearer than when you drink a lesser premium spirit–that’s miraculously apparent when you wake up the next morning, too.