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  • Barrett Rothe

Whistle While You Work: The Turnbuckle Distilling Story

Updated: Oct 26, 2023

In 2017, Sandy Rothe was preparing to retire after 40 years at Deloitte, capping off his career as the managing partner of the Big Four firm's Denver office. A few years before leaving Deloitte, he started to sketch up a business plan for a craft distillery.

Sandy Rothe
Sandy Rothe in the Barrel Aging Room, September 2023.

The licensing and regulatory process for bringing a distillery online is expensive and time-consuming, requiring prospective craft distilleries to go months, or years, paying rent and setting up production facilities before they are able to produce spirits and generate revenue. Unlike the craft beer industry, where would-be entrepreneurs can make home brews for years before jumping into business, privately distilling spirits like whisky, gin, and vodka at home is strictly prohibited; a holdover from the prohibition era and an acknowledgement that safely making spirits requires significant training.

As Sandy prepared to invest the start-up capital required to bring a craft distillery to life, a unique opportunity presented itself: Whistling Hare Distillery in Westminster. Its original owner had been operating for just over a year and needed to move from Colorado to the midwest to help take care of a family member. They were looking to sell a turnkey, licensed distillery and cut years off the startup process for Sandy.

It was a perfect fit. Sandy would buy Whistling Hare and eventually rebrand it when the time came. This way he could jump into production and start aging spirits immediately. A place to learn and test before committing to flagship products. He had long planned a larger facility, a destination for craft enthusiasts and locals alike.

By Spring 2018, Sandy officially retired and began to focus on the distillery. He traveled to Scotland to learn from whisky masters abroad and began sourcing the best local ingredients to deliver spirits inspired by the great Colorado outdoors. The first stop: Blue Corn Bourbon made with corn from the Ute Mountain Tribe in southern Colorado.

While distilling ramped up and spirits were placed into barrels to age, the search began for a place to build the ideal production facility. After a multi-year search, Sandy found a perfect plot of land nestled in the foothills just west of Littleton, minutes from the I-70 corridor, Red Rocks, the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield Farms, and an easy drive from downtown Denver.

A contract for the land was signed, all he would need is approval to rezone the land from Jefferson County. Then COVID struck.

While keeping a tasting room afloat during a pandemic, everything about the zoning process slowed down for over two years. By late 2022 however, it was time to commit to the proposed site and draw up plans for construction.

But what to name the distillery? It had always been the plan to rebrand with a name to mark the new era. If you ever try to name a business, you will find that most of your first ideas are spoken for. After months of workshopping ideas, and a few tense family discussions, the name was picked: Turnbuckle.

Turnbuckle Distilling
The New Logo

A turnbuckle brings two things together. They are used in construction, aviation, onboard ships, and to make the corners of a boxing ring. Whatever they bind is made stronger by the turnbuckle. For a family business, and at a time when divisions are amplified everywhere we look, the idea of bringing things closer won the day. And so Whistling Hare made the long-awaited change to Turnbuckle Distilling.

Now it was time to launch the endeavor in earnest, and that meant building the future home of Turnbuckle. If you are going to make a destination for people to come experience your craft, you want them to stay a while. That means not just a distillery but also a restaurant. A tasting room and bar for visitors, and enough space to host guests for special events. The first draft of plans set the stage for a truly unique opportunity to share craft spirits, and the Rothe Family's work, with people from around the world.

Turnbuckle Distillery
East Elevation of the New Distillery

We are excited to share the rest of the Turnbuckle story with you as its being written: from construction updates to details about our latest releases.

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