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Meet Jay Johnson of Bear Creek Distillery in South Denver

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jay Johnson.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Jay. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Bear Creek, (BCD) is a result of lifelong friendships. The four founding partners have all known each other since junior high and we all went to Bear Creek High School in Lakewood which is suburb of Denver. We came up with a bunch of names, but we settled on Bear Creek, it seemed fitting, not only as an origin story but the Bear Creek itself meanders down from Mt. Evans and has its confluence with the South Platte River not far from our facility in south Denver.

The idea itself was born out of some brainstorming that was fueled by many a can of beer. We always said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if….” My business partner and our Head Distiller was fresh off of a trip to Palisade, Co, home of Peach Street Distillery. We started having a monthly meeting that quickly became a weekly meeting and in 2012, we bought a building. It was a pretty daunting task to navigate our way through permitting on a local, state and federal level. Once we did that, we needed to figure out how to make spirits. Having little knowledge of the industry itself may have been a blessing in disguise. We started out making spirits others hadn’t here in Colorado. Our Rye Vodka quickly became a local stand out. Silver Rum and Wheat Vodka were also some of our first spirits. It’s a common practice to release your “clear” spirits while your aged products mature.

Jeff and I needed help. Our answer was dbo. He came on to help Jeff and I about six months into the project. He had a skill set that Jeff and I didn’t. He was a manager of people and has a great head for operations. This allowed Jeff to concentrate on making his award-winning spirits and I got to run my mouth to whoever would listen about Bear Creek.

Fast forward five years and we have become one of Denver’s most respected distilleries. There are a lot of heavy hitters in this town, Including our neighbors, Laws Whiskey house, Stranahan’s and of course Leopold Bros. I encourage anyone who visits Denver to try any or all of these places. Our spirits lineup grew to include Cask Strength Rum, Spiced Rum, 100% Rye and Wheat Whiskies and our true love Bourbons.

Our tasting room is hoppin six nights a week. Distribution is statewide and we are having a blast. We have built a team here that we couldn’t have done it without. Our booze is top notch and we make some of the best cocktails in the city.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
As in any new venture, there will be a learning curve. The distilling industry is one of the most highly regulated and taxed industries. Paying attention to the law is paramount. Lots and lots of paperwork in all areas including production and sales.

We have a saying here “nobody out hustles us” we work hard and we play hard. That mantra along with some sound business practices we have been able to thrive. We have adhered to a responsible growth model and the future looks bright!

We’d love to hear more about your business.
BCD has set out to make quality spirits from day one. Under the license we carry, our tasting room can only make cocktails with spirits we make. That means that any flavor profile we are looking to capture, we must create. The tasting room staff preps fresh juices daily. They make their own bitters and they use locally sourced mixers to create a cocktail list that usually hovers around 55 cocktails with seasonal rotations. BCD was one of the first distilleries in the state to place a heavy emphasis on our tasting room and cocktail program, I think that is the true feather in our cap.

I am also incredibly proud of how community and grassroots-based our growth has been. We have and continue to support charitable organizations. We host many events here and have made S. Acoma St our home. This street has changed a lot since 2012. Our shop is in an area that was once considered a rough area. We have watched as new business has come to the neighborhood and many new construction projects of mixed use of retail/residential surround us.

I get to come to work with my friends everyday and continue to build something great. How cool is that?

What were you like growing up?
I was generally a good kid with a mischievous side that sometimes ended up in broken bones or an occasional trip to the principal’s office. I was a runt and the youngest with three older sisters. I had to learn to defend myself quickly, usually with my mouth, sometimes not. I was so small that my parents wouldn’t let me play football. My dad took a job with Martin Marietta so we had just moved to Colorado from Louisiana, I asked if I could play hockey. Being Southerners, they had no idea what that was. I have been playing hockey ever since. It has been one of the constants in my life. My youngest daughter is now one of the top players in the state.

I was a pretty good student, I never really had to try that hard. Opening a distillery is the exact opposite of that. I have never worked or tried so hard in my life. My nickname now is The Whiskey Badger. A reference to my tenacity and disposition. I like to laugh though. I am mellowing with age. Just like whiskey.

Pricing:

  • Cocktails: $8-$12
  • Bottles: $22-$55

Contact Info:

  • Address: Bear Creek Distillery
    1879 S. Acoma St
    Denver, CO 80223
  • Website: www.bearcreekdistillery.com
  • Phone: 303-955-4638
  • Email: info@bearcreekdistillery.com
  • Instagram: @bearcreekdistillery
  • Facebook: Bear Creek Distillery
  • Twitter: @stillbearcreek


Image Credit:
Kristin Villani

Getting in touch: VoyageDenver is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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