Sipping one-of-a-kind “beer schnapps” in a copper-and-wood paneled tasting room that distillers John Abbot Young and Howard “H.K.” Wallace of Longtucky Spirits designed and built themselves, Young tells me: “it all started with our family.”
The two men, now in their mid-30s, laugh often and easily as they tell me a story of brewers turned distillers, Floridians turned Coloradans, memories turned spirits. For a distillery predicated on stories, it’s no surprise they describe their spirits as “stories in a bottle,” capturing the commingling of past, future, and fantasy contained in each.
One story begins with the passing of Wallace’s father in 2010 and Young’s mother in 2013. The two long-time best friends decided, after reckoning with the shortness of life and seeking a way to honor their late parents, to start a distillery in Longmont, Colorado.
“It started as a means to carry on our parents’ spirits with our spirits. We made rum because it was my mother’s favorite, and whiskey because it was a favorite of [Wallace’s] father,” Young says.
This and many other “stories in a bottle” now occupy a range of glasses, cans, and mason jars strewn across the distillery and tasting room.
“It’s all botany,” Wallace tells me, regarding the copper potstills he welded himself with pride. The distilling room has the air of a chemistry lab, and Wallace’s giddiness is tangible as he lets me sample vanilla beans soaking in rum, Palisade peach pits marinating in brandy, and a mason jar full of Fernet he and his bartenders have been creating. It’s the natural curiosity apparent in both distillers that has lead them to create an incomparable range of spirits. Longtucky’s gin, which boasts lavender undertones, is their most medaled; they’ve made beer schnapps and canned cocktails; Amaro and moonshine; cinnamon whiskey and sugar beet rum. Bartenders at the distillery’s tasting room are encouraged to experiment with their own concoctions, too, and have produced bartenders’ series along with complex canned cocktails.
“We wanted [the distillery] to be about this community, not just about us. We have a great origin story, but these products are a reflection of the land and this is a celebration of Longmont,” Young says.
Pouring me a sample of “The Last Waltz” at the hand-crafted copper bar, Wallace tells me another “story in a bottle”: when Black Canyon spirits was about to go out of business last year, its head distiller offered Wallace and Young the chance to buy his remaining 30 barrels of bourbon (each hand-carved with whimsical illustrations ranging from tall ships to hot air balloons to fanciful creatures). Determined not to let the barrels go to waste but strapped for cash, Wallace and Young rallied their contingent of 30 community supporters and convinced each one to sponsor a barrel. Those remaining barrels are now bottled as “The Last Waltz,” Longtucky’s first bourbon (their in-house bourbon, along with their rye, comes out next month).
It turns out that Longtucky’s origin story has been distilled into a simultaneous celebration of heritage and innovation, old home and new home, traditional spirits and creative interpretations. At its heart, Longtucky is an homage to both its distillers’ families and adopted community. They manage to unify disparate interests, like how the oranges in their Amaro come from the distillers’ home state of Florida, while the sugar beets in their rum-interpretation come from just five miles down the road. Most importantly, they’ve created a space that strives to be unpretentious and welcoming, accessible to everyone from whiskey aficionados to cocktail newbies.
“Hospitality is engrained in our Southern families, and this space is supposed to be a celebration of that,” says Young.
“This is where we come from,” Wallace adds. “We’re just a couple of Florida boys who moved out here and decided to stay.