Way down Pearl St. on the other side of Foothills Pkwy is the 303 Vodka distillery. Located at the end of a long, green, steel paneled building, this grass-roots Vodka factory does not come across as orthodox. Upon entering there is a bar made partially from an old wooden hot tub. Model airplanes hang from the ceiling and there are guitars hanging on the walls.
“If you want to pick up a guitar and jam or play the piano,” master distiller of 303 Vodka, Steve Viezbicke, offered. “It’s just a very open little, kind of, speakeasy.”
Before looking around the place Viezbicke packed a lip full of dip, and this reporter does not recall him spitting it out once.
The recipe for 303 Vodka came from Poland in an old steamer trunk. The trunk had to be packed in a hurry because the Russian army was terrorizing Poland, and the Viezbicke family name had to be preserved. Steve Viezbicke’s grandpa was the only one to escape to America, where he settled down in Minnesota and worked as a coal miner.
It was not until around 2004, when Steve was putting away Christmas ornaments, that he said he noticed an old, brown, frail-looking piece of paper. He said he took the paper to his computer and typed the foreign words into Google.
It was a recipe for vodka.
With a bit of unsuccessful brewing experience and a library card, Viezbicke said he started to distill hard liquor.
“It started with a few batches in an undisclosed location,” Viezbicke said, with Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” playing in the background.
After getting laid off after 20 years of work back in 2008, Viezbicke said he decided to take his distilling to the next level.
By late 2009, 303 Vodka was on the shelves.
A relatively new vodka, many CU students said they were unfamiliar with 303, including 20-year-old environmental studies major Tyler Blake.
“I’ve never heard of 303 Vodka,” Blake said. “I’ve heard of local breweries, but never of a vodka distillery.”
There are only three ingredients that go into vodka: water, potatoes and yeast. The potatoes get, “the bajeebers” boiled out of them, and then the mixture is allowed to cool so that the yeast can get thrown into the mix. Once the yeast is added, the mixture is put in an airtight blue barrel.
The carbon dioxide that results from the fermentation process goes out the top of the barrel through a tube, the other side of which is submerged in a milk bottle filled with water. This contraption allows fat bubbles of carbon dioxide out without letting any air in, which is essential to the distilling process.
Now comes time to separate the alcohol from the rest of it. This is done in one of three stills, named Ethel, Burtha and Ruth. A good portion of the parts that made these stills were found in junkyards and recycling centers. The cooling water—necessary to cool the pure alcohol vapor so it will drip into a bottle below—is cooled with a handcrafted apparatus made of pumps and old air-conditioners.
“There is mega-million dollar equipment out there, but it doesn’t have to be if you’re banging around and tinkering with it and making sure it’s working all the time,” Viezbicke said.
He said he assembled most of the equipment himself and his hands still haven’t stopped tweaking and adjusting the stills.
“It’s like a fine wine; it changes a little every time,” he said. “Same recipe, same procedure, but every batch has its own little personality.”
Eric Evans, a 21-year-old psychology and political sciences major who works the liquor section at Liquor Mart, said he doesn’t have the highest opinion of 303 Vodka.
“For what it is, it’s unfairly expensive,” Evans said. “You can find better vodkas for cheaper, but they have found a niche market of people in Boulder who seem to support local establishments, even when it means sacrificing quality.”
This reporter sampled the vodka and immediately noticed how different it was from the usual $22 handle. It went down extremely easily, and definitely had a unique flavor beyond the taste of pure grain alcohol that is the flavor in most vodkas.
It is only at the 303 Vodka distillery that infused vodkas are served. These are vodkas that have had a vegetable or fruit sit in them until the flavor from the fruit or vegetable has absorbed into the vodka.
Vanilla bean, Palisade peach and dill pickle were on tap. Vanilla had a strong flavor, while peach had only a subtle hint of fruit. Surprisingly, dill pickle was the most refreshing of all of them.
Not everyone knows how to properly taste vodka, and for those of us who don’t there is Viezbicke’s rule of thumb:
“If it goes down, and stays down, it’s good vodka.”
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Seth Gitner at Seth.firstname.lastname@example.org.