Experiencing something unique, something original, is a rarely seen occurrence in a variety of industries. Franchises, series, and brands rule the majority of any entertainment or consumer market share. And while those pillars may seem important to ensuring an industry’s longevity, finding a new, unexpected gem is far more gratifying.
Journey to Fort Collins, CO, the home of craft beer, Colorado State University, and a distillery I hadn’t yet heard of, Old Elk Distillery. It was founded back in 2013, and the company recently opened a new Old Town location this past August. This new place sports a taproom-style atmosphere and is one that promises to fit perfectly with the town’s vibrant culture.
To get a better picture of where Old Elk is headed in the future, We Write Things reviewed its excellent bourbon, Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey, and had the chance to speak with Master Distiller Greg Metze. He took the time to talk about Old Elk Distillery and its stunning spirit. First, Greg discussed how he joined the company as well as the inspiration that went into creating the bourbon.
“Old Elk Distillery approached me about five years ago to develop a custom mash bill for their bourbon. When I asked what they were looking for, they only gave me two words: ‘smooth’ and ‘easy.’ From there, I had a blank slate to create the Old Elk custom mash bill from scratch.
“By law, bourbon has to be 51% corn, so I started there when creating the mash bill. I knew that a higher percentage of malted barley would impart smoothness and a sweet character to the bourbon, so I ended up using 34% malted barley. The industry norm is 5%-10%. For the remaining 15%, I used rye to give just a signature spicy bourbon kick,” Metze told We Write Things.
Old Elk Blended Straight Bourbon Whiskey is a personal favorite for its friendly, balanced sweetness. It provides enough of a balance to not over-exaggerate the sweet notes. Additional hints are strong wood characteristics as well as a friendly spice, which provides a warm amount of heat, but not too much spice. This is a classic bourbon, one which is highly drinkable while still possessing great sophistication.
In an industry where competition is around every corner, whether you’re talking about large, global brands or local distilleries, distinguishing yourself among the rest is essential to success. Metze opened up the bottle behind what makes Old Elk stand out from its competition.
“Old Elk Distillery was founded on tradition, quality, craftsmanship and innovation. One of the ways that manifests itself is in the Old Elk Bourbon mash bill, which is unique to the bourbon industry. There’s nothing like it on the market when it comes to the high malted barley content.
“Also, Old Elk Bourbon distinguishes itself by using a ‘slow cutting’ process when it reduces the bourbon from barrel proof to bottle proof. Almost all other distillers will do this process in a day or less. We take two weeks to finish this cutting process, which leads to a smoother bourbon in the glass,” Metze said.
The bourbon certainly possesses plenty of smoothness, all of which provides a nice coating with outstanding flavor long after having a sip. The ideal way to enjoy this delicious spirit is by a neat pour, and periodic sipping, maximizing each drop of bourbon.
It is one thing for a brand to step forward and gain recognition among consumers. However, it is quite another to nurture that popularity and grow it, both in a way that’s healthy for the brand and in a way that still satisfies loyal customers. Metze expressed what is important for Old Elk this year and over the next half decade.
“Our top priority right now is using our flagship Old Elk Bourbon to grow exposure for the brand. We have experienced a lot of growth in terms of product availability this year, expanding from two to 21 states. By this time next year, we hope to be in all 50 states with Old Elk Bourbon as our lead product.
“Additionally, we’re in the midst of building a new distillery that should open next year. We already have 13,000 barrels in inventory with other mash bills, so this new facility and inventory will gives us flexibility to expand our portfolio of spirits in the next five years. Ultimately, we want Old Elk Distillery to be a major player that’s recognized for crafting world-class spirits,” Metze said.
Anyone who has stepped foot inside the wonderful town of Fort Collins, CO immediately knows how prolific and present the craft beer industry is there. It is home to respected breweries like Odell Brewery, New Belgium, Funkwerks, and others. Metze spoke about the industry as well as some recent work Old Elk did with local brewer Odell Brewery.
“We love our craft brewery neighbors in Fort Collins, and Old Elk Distillery fits well into the local scene. We drew inspiration from our neighbors and recently created a ‘tap-room’ environment to showcase our portfolio of products called The Reserve by Old Elk Distillery. We just opened in Old Town Fort Collins in August.
“There are a lot more similarities than differences between us and local craft brewers, and we share many of the same core values and aspirations. Many of these brewers are obsessed with quality and tradition, just like we are. In fact, Old Elk Distillery recently collaborated with Odell Brewing Company to produce Bull Proof, a bourbon barrel imperial stout. Odell aged the beer in freshly emptied Old Elk bourbon casks so the beer takes on hints of sweet vanilla, soft oak, and deep molasses that complement the full body of rich roasted malts,” Metze said.
While growing key products is a constant effort that’ll always require great attention, developing new and interesting ones remains just as valuable. While Metze didn’t give a full look behind the kimono, he did provide insight into what might be next for Old Elk.
“I can’t talk about our future products in too much detail, but we are definitely working on additional products like a rye whiskey, wheated bourbon and other nice additions to the portfolio. Stay tuned. You won’t be disappointed!” Metze said.