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Craft distillery industry booming in Colorado

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DENVER -- On this festive holiday weekend, fireworks aren’t the only things booming.  So is an exploding Colorado industry now gaining worldwide attention: Craft distilling.

There are more than 80 craft distilleries in the state, pumping more than $30 million into Colorado’s annual economy.

Taking their cue from Colorado’s billion-dollar craft beer industry, craft distillers have found a niche and their spirits can now be spotted in restaurants as far away as Russia.

Of course, the state has a long and storied history with liquor.  From the earliest days, whiskey was the drink of choice.

“John Wayne never walked into a bar and said, ‘Hey pardner, how about a mango-infused vodka and make it a double,’” joked Jess Graber, founder of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey.

Stranahan’s became the first post-prohibition distillery to legally set up shop in Colorado in 2004.  Intoxicated by Stranahan’s success, dozens of other distillers soon set up shop.

“They led the charge and parted the waters, and as more and more people follow behind, the barriers to entry have been knocked down, and there's more knowledge, and it's just easier to do now because you don't have to go out and start from scratch and figure out how to do it,” said PT Wood, owner of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery and president of the Colorado Distiller’s Guild.

Now, only Washington state has more craft distilleries than Colorado.  And local distillers are making just about everything you can imagine.

“Colorado is an amazing place. People come here because they like the pioneering spirit, and I think Colorado has always had that spirit,” Graber said.

“The boom is here.  It`s gonna keep going. ... You see more and more distilleries popping up all the time,” said Rob Dietrich, head distiller at Stranahan’s.

In a half-hour special, “Colorado Drinks: The New Craft Distillery Revolution,” FOX 31 Denver profiles some of the successful pioneers of this booming industry, including Stranahan’s, Leopold Bros and State 38.