In the heart of the rugged, stunning Rocky Mountains, Breckenridge Distillery is more than just part of the local fabric of Breckenridge, Colorado, the town just outside of Denver where it was founded in 2008. The producer of spirits makes its blended bourbon whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, and liqueurs using water from the area’s mineral-rich snowmelt—for award-winning products that are truly of the destination. We checked in with the team behind the distillery and did some exploring of our own to find out what else makes this off-the-beaten-path town worth a visit.
From hiking to fields of wildflowers and waterfalls to mountain and road biking, along with fly-fishing, kayaking, skiing, and more, Breckenridge offers an abundance of outdoor activities to enjoy year round. For the curious and creative, unexpected cultural activities, including museums, ghost tours, gold panning, and immersion in the mining history of the region, are inspiring experiences too.
Founded during the Gold Rush, the town of Breckenridge boasts charming buildings, historical sites, excellent food, shopping, and remarkable people. Jessie Unruh, the director of marketing at Breckenridge Distillery, suggests strolling the mile-long downtown to take it all in and get a sense of place. “There are various spots to stop, check out the views, grab a snack or lunch, and enjoy a bite along the river,” she says.
Breckenridge Distillery’s downtown tasting room provides a relaxed atmosphere where you can sample its award-winning spirits—all the better when following a day filled with adventures in the area. Après Summer, a house-crafted seltzer with Breckenridge Gin, is a particular favorite in the warmer months. While at the tasting room bar, you may hear guests swapping stories about afternoons on the zip line, liquid courage while whitewater rafting, or spotting a moose from the comfort of the BreckConnect Gondola.
Notably Colorado’s number-one craft distillery and the world’s highest (for more than one reason, according to Unruh), Breckenridge Distillery is a destination within a destination. Inquire with locals about what to do while in town and a seat at Breckenridge Distillery Restaurant’s bar is often at the top of the list. Regardless of the season, guests are always welcomed warmly by the staff, whether they’re dressed in bike gear, hiking clothes, or ski boots. Plus, with tours and interactive tasting sessions, Breckenridge Distillery treats visitors to learning about the intricate art of spirit making and incredible high-country views. It’s all part of what made the distillery one of Whiskey Magazine’s Visitor Attraction of the Year in 2021.
Billie Keithley, the “liquid chef” of the Cocktail Lab, calls it an experience. “From the food and cocktails, games, art on the walls, live music, amazing patio, classes, blending lab, and more, this is a place to bring friends and family, and ‘cheers’ new friends,” she says. One of the most beloved après cocktails includes the Bronco Billie, crafted with Breckenridge Bourbon Broncos Blend (Breckenridge Distillery bourbon is the official bourbon of the Denver Broncos) and distinctive ingredients such as nutmeg shell and peach tea. Founder Bryan Nolt has a sweet spot for “two fingers of Breck Bourbon topped with another finger of Breck Bourbon or Billie’s infamous Obi Wan Old Fashioned.”
Nolt found inspiration in the high country of Breckenridge following a trip to Scotland as a Scotch afficionado. In Breckenridge, the water meets high altitude, which produces special aromas and flavors and what the founder describes as a “syrupy sweetness with a little graham cracker” that fans love to drink, even at 138 proof. It’s worth the extra work it takes to distill spirits at 9,600 feet a location which Nolt chose for the water. “Our water source comes from snow melting off the continental divide and permeating through the mountains,” he says. “Its purity, high mineral content, plus low iron content pairs magically with ethanol and lends a mouthfeel that I haven’t found anywhere else.”
The abundance of snow also means ample opportunities for epic fun. “From snowshoeing to Nordic skiing, mountain biking to hiking, you can literally walk out of most lodges straight into the backcountry,” says Unruh of the convenient access to trails and mountain moments. Keithley’s cocktail lineup channels the abundant sense of adventure here too. “Seasonal ingredients, non-alcoholic cocktails, lower alcohol, light, savory, depth, layers of flavor profiles, textures, smoke, suds, bubbles, fire, and a hint of Star Wars,” is how she describes her approach to translating Breckenridge to the glass. Unruh describes distillery visits as vibrant experiences where guests can hear and smell whiskey being made, surrounded by barrels and reclaimed wood.
Like many places, the best Breckenridge tips are often word-of-mouth. “We all live here for the lifestyle,” says Unruh. “We want everyone to relish this place as much as we do because tourism is the lifeblood of this community.”
In summer, she heads to McCullough Gulch, an intermediate hike with panoramic views and rushing waterfalls. The local also enjoys mountain biking on the hundreds of miles of singletrack. “I always round off the day with a delicious hand-crafted cocktail or cold beer to celebrate the adventure,” she says. In winter, she spends days snowboarding and, on special occasions, nights settled down at 11,360 feet in Francie’s Cabin or another Summit Hut, a network of cabins in the backcountry.
Summer or winter, what defines Breckenridge defines Breckenridge spirits too. Keithley says her cocktails are inspired by the “river, mountains, and everything in between,” encapsulating the essence of Breckenridge and the distillery.
Not in Breckenridge right now? No problem. Grab a bottle at your local retailer to savor this summer.