These Colorado Spirits Are Made With Glacial Water and Famous Marble
Marble Distillery is inspiring the industry with sustainable methods to create its products.
Connie Baker had her head in a fermentor, smelling the liquid, when she called her husband. She was visiting a distillery in Spokane, Washington, to do research and called Carey Shanks, back in Colorado, to say she wanted to start a distillery of her own.
“I told her I had already ordered a five-gallon pot still,” Shanks says, laughing. “Because I know my wife and, when she gets an idea, she sticks with it.”
The couple was also determined in another way: to open a facility as sustainable as possible. Colorado has the fifth-most distilleries per capita in the country and, by and large, they are a huge drain on natural resources through gas, electric, and water. But when they opened Marble Distilling some five years later, they developed methods and practices that not only are better for the environment, but also use its surrounding mountains and rivers to their benefit.
“We were surprised to see so much hot water, which is both clean water and energy, from the condensing process being sent directly down the drain,” Baker says about visiting other distilleries. “There were a few distilleries that were recycling a small portion of their condensing water for use in their next mash, but the majority were dumping it.”
Combining their own research, Shanks’ background in sustainability, and the expertise of an 18-engineer team, the Marble founders built a first-of-its-kind water energy thermal system. Water that comes from a nearby glacial valley, flows down the Crystal River, and is filtered through Yule Quarry marble is then 100 percent recycled. The water can be recycled indefinitely and energy can be harvested off of the hot water for reuse in their building.
“We did have some friends and family who thought we were crazy to spend this kind of time and money, but we knew it was the right thing to do,” says Shanks, who adds that a nearly $200,000 USDA grant certainly helped. “People look at certain things as waste, but we look at them as a resource.”
The innovative system helps Marble recapture more than 4 million gallons of water annually and reclaim 1.8 billion BTUs—enough to power 20 homes—to reuse for the distillery, taproom, and inn. But taking advantage of the natural resources around them has the other added benefit of creating delicious and smooth whiskey, vodka, and liqueurs.
“We use high-elevation grains from a rancher a little over a mile away and they have such a distinct flavor,” Shanks says. “And the water we use for our whiskeys and vodka is from the Crystal River, such a clean and beautiful water not treated by man. It’s so bloody good.”
The marble from Yule Quarry is impressive, too, since it’s the same part of the quarry from which the columns at the Lincoln Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were sourced. That material gives their products a natural minerality, as opposed to other distilleries that use charcoal to filter their spirits.
Baker, in particular, takes great pride in the flavors she has been able to produce since Marble opened in 2015. The distillery’s most popular product is the Moonlight Expresso, a dark coffee liqueur that blends locally roasted Guatemalan coffee beans and Ugandan vanilla beans, which was inspired by her mom.
“My mom always made a coffee liqueur around the holidays that she loved to give as Christmas gifts,” Baker says. “When I graduated distilling school, I called her right away and let her know that would be one of our first products. It’s now become our biggest award-winning spirit.”
More recently, Marble released its first peach brandy, which is made with peaches from nearby Paonia, Colorado and has been aging for three years in bourbon barrel casks. That is an addition to the flagship vodka, tart and spicy Gingercello liqueur, and Ragged Mountain Rye with all Colorado-grown grains.
When they aren’t distilling, aging, and releasing products, the couple spends most of their time advocating for more sustainability in the industry. Big brands like Bacardi, Diageo, Pernot, and Constellation are now making sustainability a part of their core missions and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) is hosting educational seminars, so that other facilities can learn from places like Marble.
“We have toured or talked to 50 distilleries and breweries over the years, trying to show them the long-term financial and environmental benefits,” Shanks says. “Sustainability doesn’t have to be a four-letter word and, if one or two of the big guys take heed from us, the small guys, the innovators, I’m good with all of it. The small guys can show you how to be really smart.”