P.T. Wood of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery is busy making magic just below the Rockies
If you asked P.T. Wood what he does for a living, he’d tell you he’s an alchemist. He runs the day-to-day production at Wood’s High Mountain Distillery. He’s also their lifestyle guru.
Oh, and he’s the mayor of Salida, Colorado.
A town that, even at an elevation of 7,000 feet, sits in the shadows of mountain peaks that reach twice that height.
“Those peaks collect snow all winter long,” P.T. Wood starts to explain, “and provide us with some of the freshest, tastiest water in the world.”
“Just over Poncha Pass to our south is the San Luis Valley,” P.T. continues. “Where some of the best malting barley, wheat and rye in the world are grown.”
Another founding partner of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery, “Ashley”, the antique German pot still.
With access to an abundance of raw ingredients like those, P.T. and his brother Lee, along with an antique German pot still named “Ashley”, opened the doors to Wood’s High Mountain Distillery in 2012.
They haven’t stopped moving forward since.
High Mountain inspiration in the Grand Canyon
It’s hard to imagine a more meditative setting.
Endless red walls. Miles of water. When you’re sipping whiskey and slowly boating along the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, your mind can take you to curious places.
The mighty Colorado River; birthplace of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery.
For P.T. Wood, drifting down the Colorado with a crew of good buddies and a couple bottles of premium whiskey resulted in a very special epiphany.
The future suddenly became clear. Plans for a particular kind of independent distillery started coming together.
“All we need is time, equipment, a building and know how.” That was P.T.’s thought in that moment.
So, he waited.
Then he acquired a pot still that was originally built in Germany during the 1880s. Not long after, the perfect building became available. P.T. and his brother swept in and got it. The planets were aligning.
That far away distillery dream that felt like a fantasy floating across the Colorado
River was suddenly within arms reach.
More than a warm reception
The challenges for P.T. and Wood’s High Mountain Distillery didn’t go away when their tasting room and distillery opened to the public in December of 2012.
According to P.T., they faced an endless list of hurdles almost daily.
“From rebuilding equipment, trying to control fermentation and processes, incoming and outgoing logistics, unexpected power days - we are only 20 minutes from our local ski hill - barrel stacking in tight spaces, you name it.”
Even as the near a decade of business, everyday is a surprise at Wood’s High Mountain Distillery.
“Everyday is a surprise. Even in our eighth year.”
But for P.T., the surprises are worth it because he understands the value and importance of independent distilleries.
“They push the styles, drive innovation and revitalize neighborhoods,” says P.T.
To say Wood’s High Mountain Distillery has been well received in the Salida community would be something of an understatement.
After all, P.T. has already begun his second term as the city’s mayor.
“There has been overwhelming support for our tasting room from local friends. And people from Salida love to share our spirits with their friends from all over the world.”
“The locals are super proud of us, and love to show us off to visitors.”
As for his personal favorite craft spirit in the range, it’s hard to get P.T. to choose just one.
“I love all the kids!” he declares.
Meet the Wood’s High Mountain Distillery family
The tasting room at Wood’s High Mountain Distillery features one the best cocktail programs in the country.
“We have our take on the smoked Old Fashion that is pretty mind blowing,” beams P.T. He’s not lying.
Their version is made by mixing Wood’s High Mountain Distillery Tenderfoot Whiskey with maple syrup, molasses, house orange bitters, thyme and oak smoke.
There’s a craft spirit for every palate in Wood’s High Mountain Distillery’s range.
But maybe you’re more of a gin fan. If so, you’re in luck. There’s more than just Wood’s Tenderfoot Whiskey. The Wood’s High Mountain collection has three gins.
Created in a traditional style, their Treeline Gin is made with a proprietary blend of nine botanicals and spices. You’ll experience a clear, juniper nose, and the taste of peppery spices with hints of licorice and earthy tones.
Aging that same gin in new American White Oak barrels, Wood’s High Mountain Distillery adds notes of vanilla, oak, and caramel to Barrel Rested Treeline Gin.
The Mountain Hopped Gin uses a different botanical recipe. One that includes more exotic ingredients like Rocky Mountain Juniper, Colorado-grown Cascade hops and elderflowers.
The end result is a mellow, floral craft spirit with the perfect amount of sweetness.
Wood’s High Mountain Distillery breaks out the elderflowers again to distill their Fleur de Sureau Elderflower Liqueur.
This Colorado wine-based craft spirit is made with local elderflower and finished with local honey. Served neat, it’s delicious. But it’s a wonderful way to add complexity to cocktails too.
P.T. Wood’s secret ingredient of success
According to P.T., the secret to producing exceptional craft spirits comes down to a few things.
What makes Wood’s High Mountain Distillery special?
“Pretty much everything we do. From our custom stills, to our singular mash bills, long fermentations and selective yeast types.”
“We look at spirits through a different lens, looking to highlight interesting and maybe unexpected flavor profiles.”
Ingredients are crucial, and P.T. has an interesting perspective on working with them.
Singular mash bills that consist of fresh ingredients result in fine craft spirits, like Wood’s Tenderfoot Whiskey.
“I’m not sure it is so much about unique ingredients, as much as local ingredients used in unique ways, that set us apart.”
“Our take on how raw ingredients being used in different ways can drive some pretty unique flavor profiles. While staying somewhat true to the style of the spirit.”
“From our use of specialty malts to build the base flavor profiles of our whiskey, to things like hops in our gin.” P.T. understands the importance of blending local flavors, creativity and attention to detail."
The enduring legacy of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery
P.T. Wood has built houses and owned a pizza parlor.
He’s sold kayaks and worked as a river guide.
He’s rallied a community around the artistry going on at Wood’s High Mountain Distillery.
And he became mayor of the town he fell in love with 30 years ago.
For all his complexity, P.T. Wood is a man who keeps things simple. His ambitions are earnest. His intentions, noble.
P.T. enjoys the fruits of his labor near the place where plans for Wood’s High Mountain Distillery were first hatched.
“I want a good life and rewarding employment for the folks we work with. I want to be a good neighbor. And a businessman that makes our community better.
“And to distill some super tasty spirits for our friends around the world.”
We’d vote for another term.