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Small Distillery, Big Flavors, and Big Accolades

Small Distillery, Big Flavors, and Big Accolades


Sprit Hound Distillers maintains international recognition

We’ve all been there. An email arrives in our inbox and our spamdar immediately engages. Who is this person? Why are they reaching out to me? Do I dare click? That’s what happened to Craig Engelhorn, founder, owner, and head distiller of Spirit Hound Distillers in Lyons, Colorado.

In 2022 Engelhorn sat at his computer in his office and noticed an email from a journalist in the United Kingdom asking for an interview. Why would someone in the UK be reaching out to a small distillery in the foothills of Colorado? This can’t be real, can it? Do I dare click?

Engelhorn came to Colorado in 1995 and he quickly became an early fan of Oskar Blues Grill and Brew. Having made friends with the owner, Dale Katechis, Engelhornproceeded to tease him about the lack of original Brew at Oskar’s. “I basically teased him into buying me some equipment,” the former software writer tells me with a chuckle.

With his newly purchased equipment, homebrewer Engelhorn set out to make his first big batch of beer. He took a homebrew recipe and “bigged it” in the basement of his home with help from his friend Brian Lutz. He added some grain, things boiled over, the fermenter lost product, and the endeavor yielded about 50% of the expected amount of beer. But it was delicious. This was 1998 and you may now recognize this test beer by the name Dale’s Pale Ale. and he became Oskar’s brewer.

Engelhorn beer success morphed into whiskey success. In 2012, he found business partners who trusted him to pick the ingredients he wanted to use. Engelhorn got to work on his whiskey recipe. To this day Spirit Hound uses the same recipe, the same supplier, in the same location, and in the same stills — which Engelhorn built himself — and it’s all Colorado.

Eleanor and Craig. Photo provided by Spirit Hound.

Whiskey, however, takes time. Working towards having the best product possible, Engelhorn insisted his first batch of straight malt whiskey be aged at least two years. You can’t have a distillery sitting idle for that amount of time, however, so he sets his sights on gin. The first batch did not meet his standards. Batch two did. And, true to form, the nine botanicals recipe stands to this day… and he’s never bought juniper.

That’s right. All the juniper, the core ingredient, comes hand-picked from the Rocky Mountain Juniper that grows outside of Lyons. Customers bring it in, exchange it for cocktails, and, if the bag is big enough, a whole bottle of gin! Eleanor, 90 years young, is the most consistent supplier of hand-picked, perfectly clean juniper berries. To honor her dedication, the Spirit Hound Whiskey Wenches made a bit more floral gin with botanicals known for supporting women’s health, and released it on Mother’s Day. Appropriately dubbed Eleanor Gin it is a testament not only to an incredible woman, but the commitment to community Engelhornexudes through all he does with Spirit Hound.

In  2015  the whiskey was finally ready. Barrel three of six became a favorite of Engelhornso he sent a bottle of it to Jim Murray, author of “The Whiskey Bible. It earned an impressive 93 rating, which is at the top of the “brilliant” scale. “I wanted to keep that 93, so I wasn’t going to change anything,” Engelhorn exclaimed. Keep in mind, this was only the third barrel of whiskey he had made… ever! Over the years, he continued to send bottles to Murray and they continued to earn high marks. Spirit Hound’s reputation grew, both at home and abroad.

Fast forward to 2022. Engelhorn clicked that suspicious email. Come to find out, a bottle from barrel 138, shipped via FedEx to London, won the London Spirits Whiskey of the Year award. Engelhornhad no idea they had won. On top of that accolade, the bottle also won Best in Show-Americas, which means it beat all of the varieties of spirits and was the highest rated whiskey of the region. Taken by surprise, retail stores sold out, and the Spirit Hound crew, while ecstatic, were left scrambling over the increased demand for Spirit Hound whiskey.


Now, in 2024, Engelhorn and Spirit Hound find themselves, once again, receiving international attention. The American Single Malt Honey Whiskey, barrel aged with Berthoud Honey, won Whiskey of the Year in that category as well as Best in Show-Americas. It also received an unheard of rating from Murray: 95. This time the contest organizers sent an email. This time Engelhorn and his crew, still a bit incredulous, held a scheduled press release so they could “get their shit together.” Sales spiked.

Englhorn’s story is about a man who discovered he has a talent. The recipes he crafts stand the test of time and are, clearly, of the highest caliber. He is a man who loves his community of Lyons and gives back as much as possible. In our time together, he regaled me with other stories that just can’t be told in the space that I have. I would encourage you, however, to visit their newly renovated tasting room as well as their new location in Denver because nothing beats experiencing a story first hand while sipping an award winning whiskey.

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