“I don’t look at us as a booze company,” says Carey Shanks, co-owner of Marble Distillery (which, as its name would indicate, is a company that makes booze), located across from the Clay Center on Main Street in Carbondale. “I look at us as a company that is living our passion, and we do that through a couple of different ways — making great spirits, using sustainability as a business model and reaching out to the community.”
The “great spirits” that are created at Marble Distillery begin and end with Carey’s wife and business partner, Connie Baker, the head distiller at Marble Distillery.
In 2010, Connie had a very successful career in pharmaceutical marketing, but she had a secret passion, and she wanted to explore it. She went to distilling school, fell in love with the idea of making spirits and convinced Carey that was their future.
“I came home from school in 2010, started writing a business plan trying to figure out if we had something worthwhile and that lasted from 2010 to 2013,” Baker says. “We decided to move forward, even though eight banks turned us down for financing before Alpine Bank said yes, we got an architect, designed a building, broke ground in June of 2014 and opened in June of 2015.”
Being a distiller is a lifelong process, and Connie and the other master distiller at Marble Distillery, Julius Grissette, continue to learn, taking a new class at the American Distilling Institute last March.
“Now, what are you going to make?” was the next question Connie and Carey had to figure out as their building was being constructed. She tested a range of spirit recipes and convinced her mom to let them use a family recipe for an espresso liqueur.
After testing spirit recipes for three years, they settled on vodka, and not just any vodka, but vodka made from locally produced wheat, and locally produced water that is filtered over chunks of locally mined marble.
“We start with Colorado soft-white wheat that is spring planted right here in the Mid-Valley by the Nieslanik family,” Baker says. “I like the taste and the texture of what they grow, so they grow all of our wheat. The malted barley we use comes from the Alamosa area in southern Colorado. The wheat is ground locally, so it is fresh when it comes to us for our fermentation process.
“We start with 600 pounds of wheat, 200 pounds of malted barley and 400 gallons of water that we haul down from our well on our property in Marble,” she continues. “We cook the wheat shortly after it’s ground. It cooks for a day in our mash tun, then cools, and we add malted barley. Malted barley is a very creamy grain with a lot of vanilla flavors in it and it’s very expensive. I just feel malted barley makes it stunningly delicious.”
The barley is roller milled, so it is crushed and creates an enzyme that helps convert starches to sugar so that alcohol can be created.
They cool the mash/barley mix down to less than 100 degrees and add yeast, pumping the mixture into a fermenter and letting it sit there for approximately five days.
Fermentation is the process by which yeast breaks down sugar into alcohol. So the yeast does all of the work.
The yeast eats the sugar and creates alcohol. The alcohol has a very low ABV (alcohol by volume) coming off the fermenter, picking up flavors from mainly the base grains. They then tweak the flavor by distilling.
“Five hundred gallons leaves the fermenter and gets pumped to the strip still,” Baker explains. “We call it that because we have to get rid of most of that grain. We don’t strip it down all the way because we don’t want flavorless, odorless vodka.
“Out of that 500 gallons, we collect 150 gallons of low wines, and there is about 350 gallons of waste in every fermentation,” Baker continues. “Many distilleries pump that waste down the drain, but we do not. We pump it into totes and take it back up to the ranch where it is fed to the livestock. It is a great livestock feed and there is no waste. From 500 gallons, we end up with 30-35 gallons of 190-proof vodka.”
The vodka is finished through five distillations in the large 250-gallon finishing still that sits in the front of Marble Distillery. The vodka flows over marble from a quarry in the village of Marble so it picks up some minerality in the flavor. They take the 190-proof vodka and proof it back down to 80-proof using water they bring from their well on their property in Marble. In each bottle of vodka, there is roughly half a bottle of fresh water. The vodka is finally finished over coconut husks for 48 hours and then bottled.
“We would like them to taste the spirit as they sip,” Baker says. “We’re not trying to get them high.”
Gingercello, espresso, whiskey, bourbon and soon, gin, will also be distilled in the large copper finishing still.
Gingercello is distilled with vodka and then rested for three months over fresh ginger and lemon zest.
Whiskey takes at least two years to age in an oak cask, and they are not releasing any whiskey that has been aged less than two years.
In addition to straight vodka, Marble Distillery also creates seasonal infused vodkas, and currently they are serving ginger, toasted coconut, cucumber, grapefruit, hot pepper and lavender.
While their vodka has a crisp clean taste, their infused vodkas are ripe with flavor. Grapefruit is tasty and tart, the cucumber cool and subtle and toasted coconut sweet and flavorful.
In addition to having the Distillery, Baker and Shanks also constructed five high-end hotel rooms for guests that are nicer than anything you will find between Vail and Aspen. Each room comes with local art that is refreshed every three months, fixings for your own martinis using Marble Distillery products and an assortment of high-end personal products for your luxurious stay. They are also pet friendly. It was Baker’s idea to include the hotel rooms, having seen a similar idea in a distillery in the Northwest. The rooms are a big hit and very popular.
Sustainability is the second company asset co-owner Shanks is proud of, and the Distillery’s sustainability takes many different forms.
The bricks behind the bar in the main room come from the original farmhouse that was located for years on the property. Lavender is grown locally on the Flying Dog Ranch and used in the infused vodkas. The mash/barley mixture creates waste that is converted to livestock feed.
But the main feature of sustainability at Marble Distillery is their recapturing and reclamation of water.
When you are distilling, you are heating up your mash to a temperature that is a lower boiling point than water so the alcohol turns into a vapor. You then use water around coils to cool it back down to a liquid to turn it to alcohol. Most distilleries use tap water in this process and it is whatever tap temperature is. The coils are heated to 180 degrees so the water coming off the coils is around 125-135 degrees. In most distilleries, that water is flushed down the drain so they are losing water and energy.
With a longtime focus on energy sustainability, Shanks cobbled together a team that included members of CORE (Community Office of Resource Efficiency) whose headquarters are in Carbondale.
Instead of sending all of that clean hot water to the wastewater treatment plant, they decided to recapture it. They constructed two 5,000-gallon tanks — one hot, one cold — and they store all of the hot water that is created in the distilling process using one of the 14 heat collectors that are found throughout the Marble Distillery building. When they need energy, they extract the heat off the water leaving cold water that gets reused in the next distilling process.
In the end, they are using all of the energy and the water again and saving more than 4 million gallons of water each year and harvesting 1.8 billion BTUs (or enough to power 20 homes for a year) with the solar collectors on the roof of the building.
The final component in their business plan is community, and Marble Distillery offers weekly community events: trivia contests, comedy nights, musical events and last week they had a mechanical bull and a bull-riding contest.
“Carbondale as a whole is big on community, and we want to engage and support that,” Shanks says.
They support community through events like their Barrel Club, where you can purchase your own hand-crafted Missouri oak barrel and have it filled with one of their hand-crafted whiskeys, rye or bourbon, which you can taste periodically over a two-year period until you think it is ready to bottled.
And they enhanced community when they created a special pepper vodka as a fundraiser for local firefighters, use Bonfire Coffee as their special roasters for the espresso liqueur and continue to create even more local partners where they can.
Creating special products that are their passion, with sustainability and community partners. That’s Marble Distillery. Go try those vodkas, the flavors will astound you!
Marble Distillery. 150 Main Street. Carbondale. (970) 963-7008. www.marbledistillery.com