Words: Mundi Ross
Photos: Kelly Fischer
Colorado Springs will soon have its place on the map in regards to micro distilleries and even just the thought of that already tastes so sweet. In the last five months, four distilleries have made their presence known and will be opening doors within a year, including gin, hard cider and vodka. It’s an exciting time for our community, and one in which many are embracing with open arms. Axe and the Oak, a whiskey distillery located off Platte Avenue will be the second of its kind here in Colorado Springs. Five friends make up the operations: Jason Jackson, Product Engineering; Casey Ross, Operations Management; Scott White, Communications and Marketing; Sky Young, Sales and Culture; and Eric Baldini, Business Management. They hope to have whiskey on the shelves by end of September and a tasting room by the end of 2015. I had the opportunity to sit down with Co-Owner, Jason Jackson the day Axe and The Oak, received their federal stamp, a process that has taken them six months to complete. With the federal stamp in hand, it was a busy day at the distillery, starting the process of whiskey-making on a larger scale. However, Jason did manage to give me a few minutes of his time.
So you got your Federal Stamp! Now what?
Now begins the R & D [research and development] of whiskey-making on a larger scale. We have not been able, up until now, to even turn the still on. We are putting the systems in place to be able to hit our production maximums as quickly as possible.
How did your dream of making whiskey come to be?
The dream started with more of a lifestyle shift. I have for a few years really enjoyed being more self-sustaining and I’m making that transition in every area of my life. I had coffee at a local roaster about five years ago and loved the freshness of the coffee. The only problem was that it was $14.50/pound. I thought maybe I could do that. I went to the ARC and bought a $3.00 hot air popcorn popper and started roasting and I never looked back. Whiskey was sort of the same idea. I play music around town and really love a good bourbon when I am plucking away at my guitar. I simply had a thought one night: "I wonder if I could make this?" That's it!
I'd like to know how your name came to be, Axe and the Oak?
Casey Ross (Co-owner) came up with the name initially. He had come up with Axe and the Cask based on the prohibition era. Federal Agents and local law enforcement would carry axe’s with them to puncture all of the whiskey barrels and distilling equipment they came across. Almost all of us loved it, but it was a little hard to say. I was thinking about the relationship of those two words and "oak" popped into my head. What the two words stand for seemed to really blend on a few fronts.
Do you plan on only being a small batch distillery? Tell me about your philosophy of whiskey making?
That's an early question for us. I don't really quite understand the scope of "small batch". Would I like a lot of different people to taste the whiskey? Yes. We want to start small and see where it takes us. We also want to branch out and make some different Colorado-themed products.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
Most importantly, we are a "distillery". We make our whiskey in-house and have our hands in every aspect of the process. There is a section of the whiskey industry that does not even make the whiskey they claim to be distilling. Secondly, the quality. Quality is key. We are very proud of the flavors and smells coming out of the bottle. We want the quality to be our signature, as well as how smooth it is. Feedback has already been incredible.
Do you intend to expand the label once you have whiskey flowing and on the shelves?
Yes we do. We are currently looking at New Mexico, Texas, possibly the mountain west.
How is working with friends, especially with four on the team?
It is amazing, plain and simple. This is a dream team. The scope of talents in this group is extremely humbling.
Any family history in the whiskey business?
Yes, on my mother's side—the Dales from Tennessee. I have actually written music about it. My mother's uncle got shot in the foot by a "revenuer" running through the woods one night. I will be doing a tribute run/series to the Dales at some point.
Anything else you would like to share?