After witnessing tragedy up close, former photographer Michael Myers changed his life’s vision and founded the rugged, refined, and rebellious Distillery 291.

On September 11, 2001, photographer Michael Myers, his wife, and their two small children were on the corner of Duane and Greenwich streets as they watched the terrorist-hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 crash into the World Trade Center’s North Tower in New York. Myers had been walking his kids to school in that neighborhood, but now their plans would change. Everything would change for the Myers family.

Soon after the attacks, the photographer drove his family to Gary, Indiana, where a relative met them and drove Myers’ wife and children to Colorado Springs, Colorado. Myers himself needed to return to New York for work. He commuted between the city and Colorado for years until, during a trip home from a photo shoot, he picked up The New York Times.

“I read an article about the guy who created Hendrick’s Gin and Sailor Jerry, Steven Grasse,” Myers says. “And I thought — because I was looking for something creative to do — I thought, I could do that. And I went back to Colorado and started talking to Mike Bristol, who makes Bristol beer in Colorado Springs, who said, ‘Get your license and I will try and help.’ I had literally never brewed beer or distilled in my life.” So, after emerging from one of America’s darkest periods, Myers opened up a brighter chapter in his own family’s life: Distillery 291, named for pioneering photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s New York photography gallery, 291. Myers also designed and built his first still from his very own copper photogravure plates.

Right off the bat, there were accolades for the flagship Colorado Whiskey, a rye whiskey aged for one year in charred American white oak and finished with toasted aspen staves (not the traditional oak) for a Rocky Mountain kick that results in whiskey Myers refers to as “Handmade the Colorado Way.” It received high marks from Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible and at Whisky Magazine’s World Whiskies Awards and the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival for living up to its claims of ruggedness, refinement, and rebelliousness. Since then, the operation has produced award-winning spirit after award-winning spirit, each of them with an eye toward Colorado and the West.

The same is true for Distillery 291’s signature summer cocktails — even with a spicy, maple-forward spirit like Colorado Whiskey in the role of lead player. Because, as Myers says, “I like to taste my whiskey in a cocktail.” (Heaven knows we like our spice in the West.) Start with the 291 Whiskarita, hailed as Myers’ original cocktail. Here we find that whiskey is a crackerjack replacement for tequila. The citrus rounds out the sweetness of corn in 291’s Fresh Colorado Whiskey. Go classic porch swing with a twist by stirring up the All American Sweet Tea. Or try another of the following recipes. However you mix it, with these summer sippers courtesy Distillery 291, you’ll certainly get a taste of whiskey handmade the Colorado way.

Colorado Fresh Gimlet

1½ ounces Fresh Colorado Whiskey
2 basil leaves
½ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce fresh lime juice

Place ingredients, save one basil leaf, into a cocktail shaker with ice. Cover and shake. Strain into a chilled rocks glass. Garnish with remaining basil leaf.

291 Buck

2 ounces Colorado
Bourbon or Colorado Rye Whiskey
6 ounces ginger beer
(the spicier, the better)
Lime wedge, for garnish
Candied ginger, for garnish

Pour ingredients over ice and mix. Garnish with lime wedge and piece of candied ginger.

291 White Manhattan

1½ ounces White Dog Rye Whiskey
¾ ounce lillet blanc
¼ ounce maraschino liqueur
Dash absinthe
Dash orange bitters
Lemon peel
Luxardo cherry, for garnish

Pour all ingredients, save the lemon peel, into a cocktail shaker with ice, cover, and stir. Strain into a chilled rocks glass. Twist lemon peel over cocktail and discard. Garnish with Luxardo cherry.

291 Whiskarita

1½ ounces Fresh Colorado Whiskey
¾ ounce triple sec
1¼ ounces lime juice
¾ ounce simple syrup
Fresh cracked pink Himalayan
sea salt, for garnish
Lime wedge, for garnish

Pour ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice, cover, and shake. Pour over ice in sea salt-rimmed glass. (Apply salt by moistening lip of glass and turning upside down in salt.) Garnish with lime wedge.

All American Sweet Tea

2 ounces American Whiskey
4 ounces homemade sweet tea
2 ounces freshly squeezed
Lemon wheel, for garnish

Pour American Whiskey over ice in a Collins glass. Top with sweet tea and lemonade. Garnish with lemon wheel.

Recipes adapted and edited with permission from Distillery 291 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. For more information on Distillery 291, visit the spirits producer’s website. All images courtesy Distillery 291.

From the July 2018 issue.

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