Spirited away

Head distiller Earl Spriggs pours glasses of gin for himself and distillery president James Sipaila. <i> </i>

Head distiller Earl Spriggs pours glasses of gin for himself and distillery president James Sipaila.

Photo/Eric Marks

For more information, visit forsakenriver.com.

One version of the American Dream goes like this: you have a hobby you enjoy. You turn your hobby into a profession and achieve awesomeness—getting paid to do something you enjoyed doing for free.

The guys behind Forsaken River Spirits are pursuing the dream. Head Distiller Earl Spriggs was a hobby distiller when a fateful visit to a craft distillery in Colorado planted the seed—could this hobby be a viable business? He recruited former schoolmate James Sipaila, initially to help write a business plan. They soon became business partners, and after a few years of fundraising, licensing and hard work, Forsaken River Spirits was born. (Full disclosure: I kicked in a donation to their crowdfunding campaign, and in return I get a discount. I have no other affiliation.)

A few weeks after the opening, I decided to pay a visit and see what’s cooking in the still. As the Forsaken River publicity machine is still pretty quiet, I wasn’t even sure the few open hours on the Facebook page were correct. (They are.) Located near a dead end of Bell Street, this multi-tenant building displaying signs for a church, a wine company and, ironically, a substance abuse counselor. It feels like an odd place for a distillery. I followed signs through a few turns down a hallway and wandered into a dimly lit salon of sorts, empty of a single other soul.

Farther in, I found Spriggs and Sipaila huddled over a table working, alone, in a small warehouse-like space. A smoky aroma filled the air, and the white noise of a gas burner filled my ears. Announcing myself, I was greeted warmly and given a brief tour of the operation. The smoky smell, Spriggs explained, came from a batch of cold-smoked rye grains, destined for a mash tun, fermentation and distillation before filling one of the barrels in the corner. The first batch of Forsaken River’s Western version of Scotch is expected around December.

Until the alchemy of those barrels is complete, local spirits enthusiasts will have to be satisfied with faster production products, namely the Highland Gin and Vodka from Grains currently available. I sampled a wee bit of each as Spriggs talked about everything from production to legal requirements. He described flavors I should look for, but as somewhat of a distillation novice, my palate still struggles to find or identify subtle flavors and nuances. Guided perhaps by the power of suggestion, I’m getting there. Regardless, I know what I think is good, and I liked these—not harsh, burning or challenging to drink, just light flavor and pleasant warmth.

The dream has been set in motion, but the struggle continues. The crowdfunding campaign was only 26 percent funded, making capital for things like ingredients limited. Forsaken River hasn’t found a distributor yet, so sales of its small product line is limited to patrons who seek them out. For now, both partners continue to work their regular day jobs.

But, as is often the case, this labor of love doesn’t feel like work. When Spriggs talks about gin ingredients like lavender and sage, the magic of barrels, or the sweetness of grain, his enthusiasm is contagious. The place is kind of odd at first, but warm and quaint once you settle in to taste some hooch. I can picture a day when I’ll find Forsaken River whiskey at my local bar or liquor store. It’s hard not to believe in the dream.