Co-founder-Head Distiller Craig Engelhorn and new CEO Brad Stevenson see major expansion ahead for their award-winning spirits brand.
Engelhorn and the other co-founders of Spirit Hound Distillers are so keen on getting their brand of spirits into the hands of more people that they brought on new CEO Brad Stevenson in February 2022.
Previously, Stevenson helped lead Michigan’s Founders Brewing Co. to distribution in all 50 states and numerous international markets. Likewise, Stevenson wants to expand the reach of another “budding brand” to “a wider audience,” telling CompanyWeek, “We have a similar track before us for Spirit Hound.”
“My business partners and I acknowledged we’re busy, and we don’t know all the things we need to do,” says Engelhorn about bringing Stevenson on to helm the business. “We don’t even know what some of them are!”
What Engelhorn does know how to do is craft award-winning spirits. The distillery’s Classic Gin — flavored with juniper berries, as well as coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, lemon and lime zest, clove, anise, and fennel — won gold at the Denver International Spirits Competition. Its Colorado Sambuca has been named best herbal liqueur by the American Distilling Institute in 2015. And its Straight Malt Whisky rated 93 in the 2017 edition of Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. It was only the third barrel of whisky the distillery had ever produced and the partners were “over the moon” about the positive feedback from Murray, says Engelhorn.
More recently, a four-year-old bottled in bond version of that same spirit was named “Whisky of the Year” at the London Spirits Competition in April. Since then, the distillery’s whisky has been “flying off the shelf” at stores in Colorado (with close to 400 accounts, it’s the only state which Spirit Hound distributes in, presently). “We expected some upturn, but I don’t think we expected the upturn that we got,” says Engelhorn. “We’re bottling whisky as fast as we can.”
Engelhorn describes the Straight Malt Whisky as possessing “toffee, caramel notes, up front.” 18 percent of the grain is peat smoked malt, sourced from the Colorado Malting Company, which adds an “earthiness” to the flavor. (The rest of the grain comes from Proximity Malt, also in Colorado’s San Luis Valley.)
Another key component is water from the St. Vrain Creek Watershed — with no treatment taking place on it at the distillery. “We’re lucky having it come into our facility with the flavor profile we want,” says Engelhorn.
Locals come to the distillery’s tasting room, sometimes bartering a bag of locally foraged juniper berries, which will go into future gin batches, for a gin drink — or even a bottle if they bring in a big enough bag. “We love the town of Lyons,” says Engelhorn. “We really want to stay here.”
That’s going to entail expanding the present 4,000-square-foot facility by an order of “5X — or more,” says Stevenson. And matching the spirits’ already existing flavor profile, even as they add new contract-made stills. Engelhorn designed and built three they use presently, inspired by the design of Scottish stills.
Stevenson says Engelhorn, who started off at Oskar Blues Brewery, has “a brewer’s perspective” in “how he selects malts and how he processes them.” It’s a “secret ingredient” to the distillery’s success, he adds.
Engelhorn and Stevenson met during the distillery’s recent fundraising drive, which secured more than $1.5 million. In addition to the planned expansion, the money will be used to produce more whisky, hire more people, and engage in more marketing activities to get the brand’s name out there further.
For his part, Engelhorn reflects on the distillery’s moniker. “The hound dog is very relentless when they’re put on the trail,” he says. “You give a hound dog a scent and they go for it without bounds, almost — and we are Spirit Hounds.”
Challenges: In addition to supply chain issues facing many businesses, Stevenson says it’s brand awareness and “how we’re going to bring our brand to a wider audience.”
Opportunities: Wider distribution, says Stevenson. But that’s going to entail going “to the right places at the right time” in terms of additional states. “Where do we go and when?” For now, the distillery produces about 3,500 cases of spirits per year.
Needs: Engelhorn says it’s “more storage space.” Presently, there are over 300 barrels aging at Spirit Hound’s facility. But more room is going to be needed to meet the demand for the distillery’s aged whisky three to five years down the road.