Capturing the “Spirit” of Pueblo Chile: Colorado Distillers Spice Up Their Liquor With Pueblo Chiles

As Pueblo Chile beer, salsa and peppers make their way onto shelves at Whole Foods stores throughout the Rocky Mountain region, there’s a new trend shaping up throughout Colorado’s food landscape: spicy drinks are no longer limited just to beer.

“I think the trend is with some spice,” says Michael McAlhany, registered agent for Spirits of the Rockies, Pueblo’s first microdistillery. “For the longest time, food has been pretty predictable. And I think now, the new thing is these local hometown chefs and distillers and brewers that are really paying homage to what’s around them and what’s available.”

Case in point: Pueblo chiles. As demand for spicy drinks continues to grow nationwide, Pueblo chiles are holding their own, with more and more distilleries harnessing their flavor to bring a little extra kick to spirits and cocktails.

We’ve pulled together some of the most interesting to wet your whistle this harvest season.

Spirits of the Rockies’ Blizzard Peak Chile

Pueblo’s first distillery, Spirits of the Rockies, began its journey toward creating a Pueblo Chile flavored spirit back in January. That was when chef, cheesemaker and home brewer Michael McAlhany approached the owners of the distillery with a bold new concept: what if we could distil a spirit entirely from Pueblo’s favorite pepper?

Several months later, that idea became a reality. McAlhany produces his spirit using a process similar to a brandy: mashing, fermenting, and distilling roasted Pueblo chiles as you would apples or grapes for a more traditional brandy. Of course, the end result didn’t have quite enough chile flavor for McAlhany, who then soaks the concoction in chiles again to get even more of the roasted pepper flavor.

The result is quite possibly the most chile-forward flavor of any spicy spirit on the market today.

“When I tried it for the very first time, it was amazing how much of that green chile flavor comes through in the distillate,” McAlhany says. “I mean it is like a mouthful of roasted Pueblo chiles. It’s really quite a unique experience.”

The bottle carries a Pueblo Chile Growers Association stamp, showing that it’s been approved by the appropriate authorities in the Pueblo chile world, and McAlhany dreams of eventually taking the spirit to an audience outside of Colorado altogether.

Around town, the spirit is starting to make a name for itself, making appearances in Jorge’s Sombrero’s chile margarita, and on the spirit menus of restaurants like 21 Steak, Table 67, and The Shamrock.

McAlhany recommends pairing the spirit with a fruit flavor such as raspberry or peach. He also enjoys it in a dirty martini, spicy margarita, or simply on the rocks.

Breckenridge Distillery’s Chili Chile Vodka

Breckenridge Distillery has their own take on a Pueblo Chile-based liquor – though theirs carries another unique twist. Their Chili Chile Vodka is a combination of local Pueblo chiles and Marash peppers from Turkey.

“My family comes from a farming background, so it’s important to me. Before it was sexy to use local ingredients, it was always important to me to shop around and use local ingredients, support local flavors,” says Breckenridge founder Bryan Nolt.

“There’s four flavors that always work in Colorado, and it’s peaches, pears, apples, and Pueblo Chiles,” Nolt says.

Of course he didn’t want to stop there. When it came to selecting the perfect pairing with the Pueblo chile flavor, Nolt says he eventually settled on the Marash because it reminded him of a less-overdone chipotle flavor – sweet, smoky, and yet entirely unlike anything else around Colorado.

So what do you do with it? Not only will the Chili Chile make a killer Bloody Mary, but Nolt says it also pairs perfectly with chocolate.

“We do these chocolate and spirits flights, and we normally do almost exclusively dark chocolates with these flights,” Nolt says. “And that one’s our change-up. I pair that one with a milk chocolate hazelnut from a chocolate guy I know in Italy,” he says, “It really works across the whole spectrum of chocolate.”

Rising Sun Distillery’s Colorado Chile Whiskey and Colorado Chile Liqueur

One of only two fully-organic distilleries in the state of Colorado, Rising Sun Distillery offers not one, but two unique spirits that showcase the Pueblo chile.

“Dawn [Richardson, Rising Sun co-owner] is from the West and loves chiles, and loves Pueblo Mirasol chiles distinctly more than anything,” says Rising Sun Brand Ambassador Jules Hoekstra. Rising Sun sources all of their Pueblo chiles from the organic-certified Hobbes family farm in Pueblo County, and turns them into a pair of pepper-forward spirits.

The first, Rising Sun’s Colorado Chile Whiskey, is made by macerating, or soaking, their signature corn-based white whiskey in freshly-roasted Pueblo chiles in order to extract their spirit into the alcohol. In the process, the peppers lose their heat, leaving behind a mild pepper flavor in the resulting spirit.

That freshly-made chile whiskey is then rested for 24 hours on a bed of dried Hatch chiles and mixed with agave syrup to make the distillery’s second chile-based spirit: the sweet and spicy Rising Sun Colorado Chile Liqueur.

Hoekstra says they would have gone with Colorado mirasol chiles for this step as well, but the Pueblo chiles’ meaty texture kept them from sun-drying quite the way the Richardsons wanted – and that the farm they bought from simply didn’t have enough peppers to fill the demand.

According to Hoekstra, Rising Sun went through about 900 pounds of Pueblo chiles last year for the whiskey-making alone.

There you have it: the Pueblo chile has made its way from the farm to the table and now into the liquor market. And the result is delicious – further proving just how versatile the unique flavor of Pueblo green chile truly is.