Feasting Fort Collins

Dancing Pines Distillery

Written on December 6, 2011 by in Dancing Pines Distillery, five stars, Spirits

Winter has slowly stretched its long icy fingers across the frozen landscape, enveloping the Rocky Mountains in a cold, icy embrace. The earth is covered in a crisp blanket of snow that is spotted with speckles of graceful Canadian geese. The air is bitter cold, quickly biting bare skin and leaving it pink with sting. There are moments of quiet isolation that hang in this season, when animals are hibernating and you feel like the only warm soul in an arctic terrain.

This is the time of year that influenced the title “Dancing Pines” for the Loveland distillery. It was a blustery blizzard of a night in a halfway renovated mountain cabin that, for a brief surreal moment, unveiled the serenity of  pine trees rhythmically swaying in the wind. They seemed to dance in time with the music playing within the cabin. It was a magical winter moment that inspired the creation of a song from wife to husband, and then the name of one of Northern Colorado’s first micro-distilleries.

Dancing Pines Distillery began in August of 2010, when husband and wife duo, Kristian and Kimberly Naslund, and Kristian’s father, Christopher McNay, followed their dreams of creating craft spirits. Kristian began trying his hand at home brewing, and then ventured into home distillery. We love our craft beer here in Colorado, and we’re beginning to see that our craft distilleries are just as loveable. After only being open for 6 months, Dancing Pines had to expand their tasting room, and now a year and a few months into it, another expansion is in the hopper – possibly even a move to a larger building.

It’s really no surprise that this family-run distillery is experiencing such rapid growth and rabid popularity. They take great care in creating their craft spirits, bottling and labeling by hand, and making small batches using quality raw ingredients – many of them locally sourced.  They never use extracts, and when that first sip runs over your lips, you can tell. The flavors are exceptional. They won a Double Gold Medal at the 2011 San Fransisco World Spirits Competition for their Chai Liqueur, and their Brûlée Liqueur received a Silver Medal at the 2011 New York World Spirits Competition.

Jessica and I made a trip to the distillery this weekend for a tour, a tasting flight, and a cocktail. We pulled up into an industrial warehouse business-park area. It seemed like an unusual place for distilling. The minute we opened the door, we were warmed over by the intense aroma of caramel. They had just spent the morning burning sugar for their Brûlée Liqueur, and the scent was heavenly.

We learned a great deal about the distilling process and got an intimate behind-the-scenes look at how Dancing Pines operates. It was amazing to see what this family produces. We gazed upon their hand-hammered Spanish copper still, and had a taste of “white dog” (moonshine). After finishing up with information on the medium-charred oak barrels, we were set free for flights in the tasting room.

Jessica and I each had a flight, and between our two, we were able to taste almost every single spirit they had available.

We started with the White Rum, made with fermented sugar cane molasses. It had such a sweet delicious smoothness to it, with very clear molasses aromas. Next we sipped the Cask Rum, which had deeper molasses flavors from it being aged in charred oak barrels. Then we finished the rum line with a sip of Spice Rum – infused with whole nutmeg, vanilla beans, and cinnamon sticks. It was incredible! This had to be one of the best rums I’ve had in a very long time.

We then tried a bit of Bourbon – made with corn, rye, and malted barley, double distilled, and aged in white oak casks. I’m not much of a Bourbon and Whiskey drinker, mainly because I haven’t found a brand that loaded me up with flavor more than alcohol. But this Bourbon was fantastic. Drinking sips neat from our sample cups was a pleasant and rewarding experience.

The next samples were their Liqueurs – a large line of creative flavors. First up was Chai – their most popular liqueur. Sipping this was confirmation that the quality of ingredients truly makes any food or beverage outstanding. I’m neutral about chai in general – I could take it or leave it. It just doesn’t move me – but this certainly did. The flavors were distinct and clean, making this a great artisan concoction.

The Espresso Liqueur is made with beans roasted from Fort Collins roaster, Cafe Richesse. This is a bottle I actually have in my own cabinet at home, and it has made for some delicious libations. It’s rich with deep smoky flavors, and it mixes very well with chocolate!

The Brûlée liqueur was my favorite in this line. It had such a memorable candy sweetness that was to die for. I’ve never sipped anything like it, and I loved it.

The Cherry Liqueur is made with tart pie cherries, and really does taste similar to cherry pie. Again, because of the quality of ingredients, it had a lovely fruity freshness to it that is unlike other spirit brands .

Finally, our last taste was of their new Black Walnut Bourbon Liqueur – a deep nutty, sweet sip that was reminiscent of a dessert drink, similar to pie. It was wonderful.

Before the tasting flights and tour, we stopped into the distillery a bit early to sip on some handcrafted cocktails. Jessica had a Cranberry Spice – Chai Liqueur, cranberry juice, and a splash of orange bitters. It was a refreshing drink with whole cranberries and a cinnamon stick added to float for an extra kick of flavor.

I ordered the Caribbean Don – Spice Rum, basil and orange infused vodka, club soda, lemon and bitters. It was more of a savory drink than sweet, but still a winner of a cocktail. It was top notch with a hand-chipped ice chunk.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Dancing Pines Distillery, and I was blown away by how fabulous every spirit tasted. In Northern Colorado, we’ve been major players and supporters in the craft beer industry. I can see the same happening with our micro-distilleries that are beginning to grow. We certainly have the talent to make it happen.

As the dark nights grow colder, and the glistening ice cycles grow longer, we nestle up in our homes to keep toasty next to roaring fireplaces with Hot Toddies and Egg Nog. It’s a season that inspires deep, rich roasty flavors to keep us warm from the core. The artisan spirits at Dancing Pines are sure to make those isolated frost bitten evenings a little warmer and exceptionally flavorful.