Woody Creek Distillers’ potato vodka grabs attention at competition

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Woody Creek Distillers operating partner Mark Kleckner stands among the stills at the company's Basalt facility. The company's vodka won a double gold medal at a prestigious spirits competition March 21-22.
Staff Photo | Woody Creek Distillery/Courtesy

The spuds growing in Woody Creek are capturing attention.

The Woody Creek Colorado 100 percent Potato Vodka made by Woody Creek Distillers of Basalt grabbed a double gold medal at a top spirits competition this spring. It set the gold standard for best vodka and also grabbed the equivalent of the best in show award for being the best of all the spirits in the competition.

Woody Creek’s vodka took top honors at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition on March 21-22. Operating partner Mark Kleckner said the 2½-year-old distillery has won regional craft competitions, but it didn’t expect to win an international competition so soon — and certainly not the double gold at the San Francisco competition.

“It’s like the Grammy or Oscar for booze,” Kleckner said.

“It’s like the Grammy or Oscar for booze.”Mark KlecknerWoody Creek Distillers

The distillery grows its own potatoes on Woody Creek ranchland owned or rented by Pat and Mary Scanlan, the other owners of the company. The high-altitude spuds are also grown on land the distillery leases from the Pitkin County Open Space and Trails program adjacent to the old Emma schoolhouse.

The approach that Kleckner and his team take once the potatoes reach the distillery is simple but effective. They use the alpine potatoes, local spring water and yeast to create the vodka. The potatoes are washed and mashed. The mash goes through a special separation process and is distilled only once to produce 80-proof vodka. Kleckner shuns the flavored vodkas and those made with mass-produced ethanol. He calls his company’s offering “real vodka.” Winning the San Francisco competition helps the small company’s credibility.

“It just helps us across the board,” Kleckner said. “It’s a completely blind taste test. The people on the tasting panel are the who’s who in the spirits industry.”

Since opening in late 2012, Woody Creek Distillers has been growing “as fast as we’re capable,” Kleckner said. They have been careful not make promises they cannot keep. They refuse to expand distribution if they cannot keep the area supplied.

They only produce vodka during the potato harvest, so roughly Labor Day to early November. They anticipate using 1.5 million pounds of locally grown potatoes in 2015.

They are distributing to 14 states right now. The next big push will be to expand into Texas and Louisiana. Texas is a “monster market” so Kleckner has been careful not to leap before plenty of planning. They have added two additional fermenters and one addition mash tank, doubling their capacity of spirits production in Basalt. They also make gin and whiskey.

Kleckner said his staff is looking forward to the Aspen Food and Wine Classic in June to introduce themselves to a broader audience. “Two years ago it was our coming out party,” he said.

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