Though Dotsero is a few thousand miles from where many believe the best rum in the world is crafted, that geographic logistic hasn’t stopped owners Jim Benson and Max Vogelman from making a super-smooth liquor. Indeed, Stoneyard Distillery is giving people a reason to get off at Exit 133 on I-70.
“It’s not in town so it’s like an adventure to go,” said Gypsum resident Kristin Anderson. Anderson visited the distillery for a Gypsum Chamber Mixer event. “It’s a really cool setup outside. They have a great fire pit and it’s really scenic; they’re right next to the river.”
Using beet sugar trucked in 40,000 pound increments from Fort Morgan, Colo., and water from the Eagle River, Stoneyard Distillery makes five varieties of rum: Silver, Barrel Aged (in barrels from Laws Whiskey House and Breckenridge Distillery), Cinnamon Fire, Lucky-Oh Horchata and the most recent addition, Colorado Coffee, added to the lineup in September.
Anderson has tried three of the five varieties and especially likes the Lucky-Oh Horchata. “They mixed it with real horchata and it was amazing,” she said. “I tried a little sample of the Cinnamon at Oktoberfest as well; I was amazed at how smooth it was.”
If you visit the distillery, you’ll see Twinkie, a 900-gallon kettle that in its former life likely mixed ingredients for the beloved Hostess snack cakes– yellow cake, cream filling or both, perhaps. Now it’s used to make something less sweet but slightly more fun, depending on your life view.
Vogelman, the company’s master distiller, purchased Twinkie in Atlanta, along with a slew of other scavenged parts that he used to build the still from the ground up. Two circa-1960s milk-cooling tanks from a dairy now serve as fermenters.
“We wound up building all of this for a tiny fraction of what it would have cost to buy a setup that was already built,” Vogelman said. “It allowed us to (start a distillery) without breaking the bank. I didn’t want to be reliant on another company if something broke or didn’t work. I know what’s going on because I put together this thing from scratch.”
It’s not the first thing Vogelman, 29, has built from the ground up. The lifelong Eagle County resident spent three years building a Vans RV-7A kit plane at the Eagle Airport. That’s where he met Benson, Stoneyard’s president, back in 2010. “He was doing the same thing; he had a home- built airplane at the airport,” Vogelman said. “I ran into him there and helped him finish his plane.” Soon Vogelman was working for Benson’s construction company. It was on the way to a job one day that the two started talking about the still that Vogelman had constructed in his parent’s garage using plans he found on the internet.
Intrigued, Benson started asking questions. The conversation continued for six months, “until we decided it was a good idea to turn it into a business,” Vogelman said. That was six years ago. It took four years before everything was in place. The distillery sold its first bottle in August 2014.
“When it came time to make it into a business, we really just stuck with the same exact thing I was doing back (in the garage),” Vogelman said. “I tried to refine it but in general, it’s remarkably the same.”
The distillery and the tasting room are located in Dotsero, in the middle of a stoneyard, thus the name. Vogelman’s uncle, Kurt Vogelman, owned and operated Vogelman Masonry for 30 years and used the property to store the rock “that ended up in Vail and Beaver Creek,” Vogelman said. While Twinkie is the centerpiece of the still, a Pennsylvania flagstone bar is the centerpiece of the tasting room.
“It was laying out in the yard. It was leftover from some job in Aspen where they had a big old bar just like it,” Vogelman said. Prior to the stoneyard, the property housed a sawmill operation that dates back to the mid-19th century. Old buildings with a distinctly Old West feel and leftover from that time dot the landscape; the distillery is housed in one such ramshackle abode.
“There’s a nice feel to the place and a lot of history,” said Vogelman who lives onsite and says he hopes to put “Dotsero on the map.” See where the magic happens and sip the rum—both straight and in cocktails like “The Dude,” Colorado Coffee rum and milk over ice—at the Tasting Room, open Wednesday through Saturday from 4 to 8 p.m.
The distillery is located at 4600 Highway 6, Dotsero. You can also find the rum in liquor stores in Eagle County and Denver. Visit stoneyarddistillery.com for more information.