Distillery takes a shot at canned cocktails

von Feldt

Joe von Feldt and his partners are rolling out canned drinks from their LoDo distillery. Photos by George Demopoulos.

Denver distiller Mile High Spirits is taking a swing at national distribution this summer with a new workhorse – canned Moscow Mules. It’ll be the distillery’s first time distributing outside of Colorado.

Mile High Spirits has been canning the fashionable mixed drink at its LoDo distillery at 2201 Lawrence St. for three weeks. In June, the company will begin distributing the “Punching Mule” in four markets: Denver; Madison, Wisconsin; Austin, Texas; and Charleston, South Carolina.

“From the time we first opened (in 2012), we were pouring 200 to 300 Moscow Mules a night,” said co-founder Joe von Feldt. “It’s the most-ordered cocktail in Colorado right now, and we’re the first one to market it.”

Mile High Spirits also sells six versions of its Moscow Mule from its taproom bar.

Mile High Spirits also sells six versions of its Moscow Mule from its taproom bar.

The drinks are made by mixing Mile High Spirits’ vodka with ginger beer concentrate and carbonating the mixture. The company cans the concoction on-site and can pump out one can each second. The drinks were originally 8 percent alcohol, but MHS lowered that to 7 percent so they could be sold in the same stores as beer in some jurisdictions.

Von Feldt’s first order calls for him to ship 14,400 cans to distributors – and he’s stocking up now.

“We have to be able to produce 1,000 gallons a day,” von Feldt said. “We can produce 333 gallons a day now, but that’s not enough … By the time we start to sell through, we’ll be up and running.”

To ramp up production, Mile High Spirits will be buying two “bright tanks” in the next six weeks. Each tank costs $14,000 and will be financed through private equity investors, the company said.

Eighteen weeks after Mile High Spirits begins distributing in its first four markets, the company will start selling Moscow Mules in another four cities, von Feldt said.

“We’re doing that because we have to establish a cash flow,” he said.

The company has invested in new distillery equipment to increase distribution.

The company has invested in new distillery equipment to increase distribution of Moscow mules and whiskey.

Cities haven’t been chosen for the second run of Punching Mules, but Chicago seems like it’s on the short list.

“Madison is above Chicago,” von Feldt said. “We want to create a buzz in Madison, and then we’ll create demand in Chicago.”

The cocktails will be available in liquor stores, but von Feldt said they will also market in event venues. Punching Mules are currently available in the Pepsi Center, Paramount Theater and Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom.

Von Feldt and his partners dreamed up the idea for canned Moscow Mules three years ago over lunch. Designing the can, perfecting the recipe and securing distribution took several years, von Feldt said.

The Punching Mule isn’t the only expansion for the Denver distillery. Von Feldt purchased a $500,000 still from Germany to triple Mile High Spirits’ production capabilities.

But demand has shot up more quickly than von Feldt anticipated.

“We couldn’t distribute outside of Colorado with whiskey because we couldn’t make enough. We thought that this would create an opportunity for that,” he said. “What’s happened is that demand has increased in Colorado, so we’re still distributing here.”

Von Feldt plans on adding another three fermenting vessels to his still system, which will double whiskey production to two barrels per day.

Von Feldt, 54, founded Mile High Spirits with his partners, William “Wyn” Ferrell and Chase Campbell, in December 2012 at 2920 Larimer St. in what is now Ratio Beerworks. They relocated into Mile High Spirits’ current 13,800-square-foot facility in November.

The company produces its own vodka, gin, rum, whiskey and peach-flavored whiskey, as well as distilling for 32 private-label contract clients. It employs about 30 workers, mostly in its 5,000-square-foot tasting room.

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