Aspen Times Weekly: Changing Pace
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Tasting Room: Wed-Sat 4-8 p.m.
4600 Highway 6
IT HAPPENED during the first course, though I didn’t notice. I was too focused on picking apart a briny slab of ham-cured octopus terrine with crunchy tobacco-smoked breadcrumbs, pickled mustard seeds, and dill fronds, paired with grapefruit-pomegranate-blackberry rum shrub, sweet and light with a nostalgic whisper of fruit punch.
It probably happened again during the second course: ruby-red, extra-rare duck breast fanned into a mound of sticky coconut rice and squired by the Bitter Pirate, silver rum blended with citrus bitters and Fernet Branca that was syrupy on its own but which mellowed when sipped between bites of fowl encrusted with a dark, bitter spice.
By the time the Jamaican jerk goat meat pie with coconut Scotch bonnet pepper salsa arrived to soak up bracing, bourbon barrel-aged rum steeping mango spheres in a playful take on Japanese bubble tea — Boba Grog — I was hyperaware, despite buzzed. Still chewing on flaky pastry while forks and knives elsewhere around the table lay still on empty plates, it became clear: I was the slowest eater at our table of eight. My typical passionate appetite and speedy, methodical manner of deconstructing a dish had surrendered to a foreign sense of calm self-control.
I wasn’t eating at a snail’s pace on purpose, but I knew I should pump the brakes on booze. I explained this almost apologetically to my dining companions, including Stoneyard Distillery Master Distiller Max Vogelman seated across from me, at The Pullman in Glenwood Springs; I didn’t want to seem unenthusiastic. Au contraire. The five-course, rum-pairing dinner marked my return to real-world eating following an unexpectedly long juice cleanse, during which I starved myself of sugar, alcohol, caffeine, dairy, wheat, chocolate, and fun food of any kind for a personal record-breaking 17 days. I was ecstatic to be here.
Vogelman — a pilot and rum prodigy who turned his passion for making garage moonshine into a commercially viable operation (in Dotsero, the railroad junction 30 miles west of Edwards) — seemed to understand. As I sucked mango bits through a double-wide straw from a stemless wineglass, Vogelman reported that this Boba Grog, for one, is 15 percent alcohol.
My thoughts turned back to the food — why was everyone rushing? I could understand how folks might be famished after a long, midweek workday, and the restaurant staff may have been trained to keep the meal moving, but I could not keep up. Maybe I was experiencing a mild form of culture shock after such a long sabbatical from social functions. I was chewing purposefully, inwardly ruminating about forgotten flavors and textures — rare meat the most. Weird! I might have felt self-conscious if not for the familiar warmth of full-body rum relaxation embracing me like a long-lost lover.
A friend and Purium fanatic had explained that this would happen, but at the time I chalked it up to her characteristic exaggerating. Indeed, the green superfood cleanse really did seem to recalibrate my taste buds while my digestive system took a break to focus on flushing out toxins instead. One unlisted side effect of practicing extreme restraint for so long: My eating speed slowed dramatically.
Interestingly, Vogelman may understand this, in a roundabout way. He began making rum in his garage some seven years ago because, in the grand scheme of distilling, it’s one of the quickest and easiest liquors to produce. Weekend experiments yielded near-instant gratification.
“It seemed like a good, clean alcohol, especially for something that’s unaged,” says Vogelman, who couldn’t seem to find a rum on the market that he liked. “Just about anything you put in a barrel will be pretty good if you let it sit long enough. Most whiskey, before it goes in a barrel, is undrinkable. To sit around for two years to wait for stuff to age didn’t seem like an option. So we started with rum — we knew we could start with something that’s enjoyable right now.”
Using beet sugar trucked in from Fort Morgan in the northeast part of the state and Eagle River water, Stoneyard Colorado Rum requires a couple of weeks to ferment and just days to run through the still.
Stoneyard Distillery as a homegrown business, however, is a product of time. Almost five years ago Vogelman founded the business with partner Jim Benson, leasing property in Dotsero from an uncle who ran a successful stone masonry business there for thirty-plus years. Together they built a 2,500-square foot production facility and assembled a double-boiler kettle, “Twinkie,” by hand from parts salvaged from an old Hostess baking factory in Florida. Their first product, silver rum, hit shelves and bars in October 2014. Response has been overwhelming ever since, prompting Stoneyard to release two flavored products—Cinnamon Fire, a clean, sweet rum alternative to Fireball, and cinnamon and cocoa-infused Horchata — recently.
Stoneyard’s 18-month barrel-aged rum will be available for retail sale from the Roaring Fork Valley to Steamboat Springs, Vail Valley, and Denver, any week now. Stoneyard possesses 41 bourbon barrels sourced from Laws Whiskey House in Denver and Breckenridge Distillery; each two-barrel batch yields about 600 bottles. Apparently the state’s rocketing craft-beer industry has created a shortage of whiskey casks for reuse.
“It’s pretty much a waiting game,” Vogelman says, forced patience seeming to infuse his words. “Our first batch of barrel-aged is a barrel-and-a-half. Once that’s gone, it will be another couple of months until the next one is ready. It is definitely a finite resource. There’s a lot of demand — I think it’s gonna go pretty quickly.”
Judging from the many empty glasses at The Pullman last week, I say he’s right on point. Rum seekers will have to wait.
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