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The Local Spirit Behind Santa Fe Spirits
If you are a foodie, or maybe not even a foodie but just care about where your food comes from, chances are you also care where your beer, wine and spirits come from. Maybe you just like to impress your party guests with local brews. Whatever your defense of drinking local, you should know that your choice to do so matters.
At Santa Fe Spirits, a local micro-distillery on the south side of Santa Fe, you get a contact buzz just walking into their tasting room. The barrel room is right off the tasting room, begging for a sniff of whiskey, aging in the barrels for the last couple of years. In the tasting room, you can sample the clear whiskey called “Silver Coyote,” or try a sip of locally sourced and produced vodka, gin, or apple brandy. It’s the gin and apple brandy that I’ve come for. I’ve come to find out why local booze matters in this economy.
“You don’t need alcohol. We know that. It’s a luxury item. So if you are going to buy it, why not buy a better product?” says owner Colin Keegan. The “better product” he’s referring to are his micro-distilled products, featuring so much infused localism and love that you can smell it the moment you walk in the door. The apples in Santa Fe Spirits’ Apple Brandy start at Colin’s home property, growing on about four acres. And the ingredients for his gin are sourced within a 30-mile radius of Santa Fe. Talk about hyper-local.
The company throws “picking parties” for the staff, family and friends of the distillery. These are fun get-together events where everyone chips, picks, plucks, pulls, sorts and stems. For the gin parties, the crews head out to the Bonanza Creek property to pick cholla cactus blossoms. After a good rainstorm when the cholla is in full bloom, armed with channel locks and heavy gloves, the crews head out to pick as many blossoms as they can, since the cactus blooms are in short supply, and who knows when the next rain will come these days. At his orchard, Colin hosts picking parties for apple harvest, serving everything from local elk to homemade apple pie. It’s a family-like affair and everyone pitches in.
The heart of a local economy is a locally owned business, and the heart of a locally owned business is the community culture created to serve the community. This is what the spirit of Santa Fe Spirits is really about. When Colin talks with pride about the fast growth of the business, you can tell it’s not all about him. This business is about keeping ingredients sourced locally in order to keep more money in the community, keeping well-paid employees (he also relies on seasonal employees for harvest, often hiring off-season landscapers), and serving the community with expanding resources. For instance, their whiskey wort (mash) is made at Santa Fe Brewing Company from beer and then sent back to the Brewing Company once it is spent, to be transported to feed local cattle.
The harvest for apple brandy doesn’t just come from the four-acre property. Apples are coming from a farmer in northern New Mexico and others in southern Colorado. What Colin envisions is a co-op of apple growers or barley growers in southern NM who can grow for the local brewers and distilleries. “Imagine if we all came together to purchase from local farmers. That could really change the farming economy.” Indeed it could, but the questions of water usage come up. And the answer Colin has? “We know that climate change is impacting our barley sources. So we do our part as a distillery: We recycle our water through a heat-exchange system to make our mash and then vaporize it, saving us up to 1,500 gallons a day.”
Santa Fe Spirits is looking to go even greener with a full solar system on its roof in the next year or so. Helping the agriculture community is a goal too. The apple pulp from the brandy is a great source of nutrients when combined with other vegetation, and Colin says finding a local compost company to take it on and create a supreme compost would be ideal.
Growing the business into the Oregon and Colorado markets, where local distilleries are catching fire, is key to Santa Fe Spirits’ plans. In Portland, Ore. distilleries are fast becoming a part of the food-and-drink tourism economy, even having a street of their own called “Distillery Row.” And Colorado ranks among the top five states for micro-distilleries.
Santa Fe Spirits’ growing parties could be a fun tourist attraction, engaging the savvy foodie tourist who is looking for adventures to connect with the food and drink they consume. The problem is relying on quality rain and organizing such a tourist attraction. With a little help, a distillery tour of small companies around the state could also be of interest to traveling foodies coming to NM to eat their way around places like food-centric Santa Fe. Farm tours have taken off; why not pick your away across the state and have a cocktail afterwards? When you taste Santa Fe Spirits’ tasty concoctions you can savor the flavor of localness in each one—local white sage, juniper, cholla cactus and osha root are the notes you’ll experience. In moderation, of course. Alcohol, after all, is a luxury, and meant to be tasted, savored, and sipped, not consumed by the bottleful.
Vicki Pozzebon is the owner of Prospera Partners, a consulting group practicing bold localism, and the director of Delicious New Mexico. Visit www.prosperapartners.org and www.deliciousnm.com. Follow her on Twitter: @VickiPozzebon
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