Take award-winning distiller Todd Leopold and his brother Scott. Add Mom and Dad. Mix in some tunes from Hall and Oates. The result: some of America’s finest whiskey, gin, absinthe and fruit brandy.
“I can’t believe I’m making whiskey,” says one of America’s best distillers, Todd Leopold of Leopold Bros. Located in Denver, Colorado. Leopold Bros. makes a range of spirits from small batch whiskey to vodka, gin, absinthe, and fruit brandy called eau-de-vie (pronounced oh-de-VEE). Every time I’ve seen Todd, he’s wearing a huge smile and coveralls. And there’s his signature beard “to hide my babyface features,” says Todd. “When we first started, people in meetings kept asking if I was old enough, and finally I got sick of it,” he laments. But beyond his gorgeous ginger beard, kind demeanor, and witty sense of humor, there is a core of humility and family.
Family brought the Leopold brothers back to Denver after they sold their Ann Arbor, Michigan brewpub. Born-and-raised kids of the Denver suburbs, Todd and his brother, Scott, returned to be with family. “We won’t be leaving Denver. Our family is here.”
And family was there the day of our tour. We met Mr. Leopold, Todd’s dad, as he fixed doors and not-so-slyly poked his head in to listen to his son talk about his work. Forty-five minutes later, Todd’s mom walked in to help with the bookkeeping. Leopold Bros. is truly a family operation.
Scott, the business side of Leopold Bros., is also a humble one. With a Masters degree in Environmental Engineering from Stanford, Scott makes sure the distillery operates efficiently without breaking the bank. Scott also curtails some his brother’s wild dreams. Todd’s solution? “I just don’t tell Scott what I’m up to.”
No matter the small games and jibes, the brothers are great business partners. Together, they have made high-quality spirits with 100% natural ingredients and honor a strong commitment to environmental sustainability. Leopold Bros. works closely with local farmers (some of the original producers of eaux-de-vie), sending spent grain to the farmers, who use it to feed their livestock. In return, the farmers send fresh eggs every few weeks, and an entire pig once a year.
Before Todd was a distiller, he was a brewer. Not just any brewer, but a brewer of obscure, geeky German beers. He also studied under the three-time Distiller of the Year of Destillata (think the Great American Beer Festival except for eaux-du-vie in both Europe and Asia). Those two things translate to knowledge of yeast strains and a knack for working with temperatures, which yields incredible results — you can taste it the hint of raspberry flavor in the small batch whiskey.
When they first started in 2008, a distributor told Leopold Bros. they’d only be able to sell a few barrels a year of the craft liquor. Now, production and sales are exploding. Like a proud father, Todd is excited to see the fruits of his labor. “I enjoy doing something different everyday…When I’m working on those new things, it makes me a better distiller.”
It didn’t hurt that Hall and Oates crooned through the speakers overhead. Todd would stop every so often, point to the ceiling, and chuckle at the radio’s selection. Later, as we tasted his liqueurs, gin, whiskeys, and his new fernet (a digestif), Todd shared that gin makes him “dance-y.”
Whenever I think of Leopold’s, I picture Todd “quality controlling” his gin, dancing a little dance to The Brothers Johnson, grinning from ear to ear, loving his job. We love your job, too, Todd.
Spirits from Leopold Bros. Distillery:
American Small Batch Whiskey
Silver Tree American Small Batch Vodka
American Small Batch Gin
New York Apple Whiskey
Rocky Mountain Blackberry Whiskey
Rocky Mountain Peach Wiskey
Georgia Peach Whiskey
Rocky Mountain Blackberry Liqueur
Michigan Tart Cherry Liqueur
American Orange Liqueur
French Press Style American Coffee Liqueur
Three Pins Alpine Herbal Liqueur