If you're hunkering down at home this New Year's Eve, create your own party by getting a little crafty with craft cocktails from craft spirits made by Colorado Springs-area distilleries.
Four local distillers - Black Bear Distillery, Distillery 291, Lee Spirits and Axe and The Oak Distillery - gave the lowdown on their craft.
Black Bear Distillery
10375 Ute Pass Ave., Green Mountain Falls
"When you look at cocktail history in old books, it's evident that the bartenders who crafted these drinks understood the value of quality spirits, fresh juices and good ice," says Victor Matthews, who transformed his Black Bear Restaurant into a distillery in 2013. "You make everything from scratch. the spirit, sweet vermouth, bitters, infusions, good ice, and squeeze fresh juices."This sounds daunting and scary, but it isn't."
Dedicated to using non-GMO ingredients from small Colorado farms, Matthews said, he gets his corn from the Ute Mountain Tribe in Towaoc and his grains and honey from the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers Coop. The result is award-winning spirits, which you can find at most local liquor stores, including Coaltrain Fine Wine Craft Beer Spirits, Veterans Wine and Liquor and Powers Liquor Mart. His labels include Black Bear Irish Style Whiskey, Black Bear Distillery Mountainshine, Black Bear Distillery Reserve Shine, Black Bear Distillery Rum and Black Bear Distillery Vodka.
While he's all for making everything from scratch, he also recommends some store-bought ingredients to use in his "Celebration in the City: The Ultimate Manhattan" recipe that follows. And if you want to craft your own sweet red vermouth, you'll need a half bottle of red wine and a clear spirit such as vodka, Everclear or gin.
"Of course, we recommend the Mountainshine from Black Bear," he said.
Then you need to assemble some herbs and spices, such as orange zest, lavender, cardamom, thyme, black pepper and star anise.
"I sometimes put in some fresh ginger and cinnamon as well," he said.
Pour the wine into a stainless steel pot, add herbs, cover and simmer for five minutes. Add 1 cup of sugar to mix and dissolve fully. Let the mixture sit at room temperature about two hours or until cool. Filter into a clean, empty wine bottle and fill with clear liquor to fortify. Shake and cork.
"You now have homemade sweet red vermouth," he said. "Keeps in the fridge indefinitely."
Free tours and tastings for four or more by appointment. Details: 684-9648, blackbeardistillery.com.
1647 S. Tejon St.
Former New York fashion and advertising photographer Michael Myers moved to Colorado Springs in 2004. After researching how to make whiskey, he set to work. But first he created a unique still. With the help of Colorado Springs craftspeople, he had his still welded and formed out of copper photogravure plates that he had used to print photography for an art show in 2001, shortly after 911. Some of those etchings face inward to add character to the spirits during distillation; others face outward so images can be enjoyed.
He fired up his first run on the still in September 2011 and now produces five whiskeys and one liqueur. He has earned national and international recognition for his spirits' unique character and flavor, earning bushels of awards.
You can book one-hour tours of the distillery for $20 on Saturdays. Details: 323-8010, distillery291.com.
Axe and the Oak Distillery
1604 S. Cascade Ave., in the Ivywild School
Distiller Jason Jackson and partners Casey Ross, Eric Baldini, Sky Young and Scott White are making aged bourbon that is carefully blended and bottled. The corn and rye come from Ravencamp Farms in Hugo. They distill slow and low to keep the maximum flavor in the whiskey. Right from the get-go, their spirits have taken top honors in competitions.
While the distillery is at 4665 Town Center Drive, the tasting room and bar are at the Ivywild School, open 5 to 11 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Details: 651-2737, axeandtheoak.com.
110 E. Boulder St.
Cousins Ian and Nick Lee opened Lee Spirits in 2013.
"My cousin and I discovered that no one was making pre-Prohibition American dry gin, the gin that was commonly used in cocktails before Prohibition," Ian said. "We both love cocktails, so when we discovered that we couldn't make classic cocktails correctly with the ingredients at our disposal, we decided to make the gin that we were missing."
Their gin is getting noticed in part by the way it's distilled.
"What sets our gin apart from others is that we do a distillation technique called single shot," said Ian. "This is the technique Americans used to create gin prior to 1920."
How good is the gin?
"The award that put us on the map in a big way was us tying Hendrick's in the gin category at the New York International Competition in 2015," he said. "Nearly all of our products have won awards at a handful of different major competitions."
Their gin lineup: dry gin, lavender gin, strawberry ginger gin and ginfuego (infused with peppers and spices). Liqueurs include forbidden fruit, creme de rose, creme de violette, creme de cocoa and alpine liqueur.
Their speakeasy tasting room, Brooklyn's on Boulder, is open from 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays, and 5 p.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays. Visit leespirits.com.