Local Distillery Puts the Class Back in Vodka

Photo by Jafe Parsons

By Matt Minich

Where liquors are concerned, vodka doesn’t have the best reputation. At its very best, many think of it as a tasteless, odorless elixir mixed into another drink. At its worst, the stuff is known as a recipe for shame and regret sold off in plastic one-gallon jugs.

To Heather Bean and Jeff Copeland of Syntax Spirits, however, vodka is high art. In a Greeley tasting room between a grain elevator and what looks like a storage lot for highway construction equipment, the couple produces Northern Colorado’s first craft vodka.

Named for Colorado’s famous whitewater (Bean is an avid kayaker), Class V vodka is a unique, flavorful vodka that Bean and Copeland hope will change the way people look at the liquor as a whole. With hints of coconut and a hot, peppery finish, Class V is a true sipping vodka, though Syntax also serves it up in cocktails at their bar.

“We actually take pains to get the flavor we want,” Bean said, for whom the distillation process has become real labor of love. Since Syntax set up their Greeley shop in June 2010, Bean has lived and breathed vodka. She spends so much time working the still and bottling line that she often sleeps behind the tasting room’s bar.

The vodka itself is made from local wheat, which Bean picks up from the (extremely) nearby grain silo in a busted-up 1959 GMC. Save a few enzymes, the ingredients for the vodka are 100 percent local, and the distillery uses the same Poudre River water the Fort Collins breweries are always boasting about.

That combination, along with all of Copeland and Bean’s hard work, is already paying off in a big way. Class V is now available in 133 bars, restaurants, and liquor stores across Colorado. The initial success has been so strong Syntax now offers a variety of infused liquors, which, they are careful to stress, are flavored not by syrups but by steeping peppers and fruits in the vodka for days on end. In the future, they are considering rolling out rum and even whiskey.

“I’m seeing us as about where craft beer was 20 years ago,” Bean said, who moved to Fort Collins in 1989, when New Belgium founder Jeff Lebesch was still riding his mountain bike across Europe. Craft brewing has since become an institution in Fort Collins and across Colorado, and Bean and Copeland hope to see that enthusiasm spill over to harder liquors.

Syntax Spirits can be found at 625 3rd street in Greeley, and Class V can be purchased at every major Fort Collins liquor store. Find them at syntaxspirits.com or follow them on Facebook for the latest updates on cocktails, infusions, and new products.