There was a time in the not-so-distant past when drinking alcohol was illegal, and people had to get creative in order to partake. While drinking is far from illegal now, you can still take a step back into the Prohibition era with Lee Spirits, which has opened a speakeasy-style tasting room in Colorado Springs called Brooklyn’s on Boulder St.
Lee Spirits was born out of a family collaboration between cousins, Ian and Nick Lee, who wanted to bring back both the appreciation of prohibition era spirits and recipes, as well as contribute to the entrepreneurial ecosystem of Colorado Springs. Ian began barbacking at The Blue Star to learn how to bartend. During this same time, Nick was learning the art of running a still and the process of making spirits with Michael Myers at Distillery 291 in town—a whiskey distillery. Shortly thereafter, Lee Spirits became more than just an idea.
Cutting through the red tape of starting a distillery wasn’t easy, but the Lee cousins survived the process and began seeing their chicken-scratch ideas turning into realizations. Being the first distillery in downtown Colorado Springs made the process a trial and error for all involved.
“Late nights, so much red tape, and construction and materials delays were all part of the process,” said Nick. “Yet none of that waived our spirit about why we were building Lee Spirits and Brooklyn’s.”
The Lee cousins use organic corn for the base distillate in Lee Spirits Dry Gin. It took these gents a total of 31 different batches to land on the dry gin recipe that makes Lee Spirits Dry Gin what it is today. This gin derives from the traditional elements to include botanicals of juniper, cardamom, coriander, orange peel, lemon peel, angelica, and orris root. These ingredients all soak together overnight in the still, then they are boiled in a pot still. The flavor profile of Lee Spirits Dry Gin includes robust floral aromas and a mingling of juniper and citrus up front—slowly transitioning into spicy wood notes, then finishing off with a hint of cinnamon. Layers upon layers of dimension is what this gin is all about.
From the start, authenticity has been an important focus for the Lee cousins as they shaped their Brooklyn’s on Boulder St. tasting room. The recipes are derived from actual cocktail recipe books from the late 1800s and early 1900s—and to prove it, original recipe books are available behind the bar for your viewing pleasure.
“This tasting room was a way we could allow the community to see what we were doing with all of the Lee Spirits products,” explained Ian. “We give people to get a chance to see the equipment we use every day to create the splendor they taste when they sit here and sip gin-inspired cocktails with their loved ones.”
The Lee cousins source their ingredients responsibly to ensure that they are pure and used in a way that elevates the profiles of their gin. They also make it a point to price their cocktails at a surprisingly reasonable fare (in cents, of course), especially for the quality and uniqueness of the experience you’re getting. This is what they want: A place where people feel they are getting a transparent experience and taking a piece of history with them when they exit discretely out the back door of the tasting room.
The care put into each and every concoction is apparent—from the glasses chosen for each distinct cocktail, to the homemade liqueurs in tall glass jars behind the bar, to how each cocktail is either stirred or shaken in a way that only a bartender with vast knowledge of the ingredients being used would appreciate. The care is right down to the lemon peel that is rubbed along the rim of the glass, with no physical sign of the actual lemon remaining.
If you have the pleasure of sitting at the bar at Brooklyn’s, you’ll get to relish firsthand the experience of the sacred and nearly lost art of bartending. Around the 1940s, when industrialized food really began taking off, a bartending career became less appreciated and therefore less sought after. Prior to this time, though, bartending was held in high regard. It was an art of balancing social interaction with crafting cocktails. Being a bartender was having the gift of being both a good storyteller, as well as a present listener—whichever you were called to be on a particular night.
The Lee cousins made it a point to bring the nostalgia of this type of bartending experience back, starting with who they asked to join their endeavor. Stars aligned when Ian’s path crossed with well-known local bartender, Nate Windham, who was bartending at local hotspot, The Blue Star. Nate has 20 years of experience behind the bar in 30 states across the country. Ian revealed his idea to start the first local gin distillery. Needless to say, Nate was sold on this idea and wanted in. Nate is now functioning at Brooklyn’s on Boulder St. as the resident Spirit Sommelier. His knowledge of the history of spirits and bartending has shaped nearly every flavor on offer and the way Brooklyn’s bartending is approached.
Another amazing bartender is Eliza Lovett, who has spent years in the coffee industry as a barista in some of the loveliest coffee shops around town. Her launch into the cocktail world was spurred along after a serendipitous meeting with Ian that led to delving into further discussion about all things gin. Erika Mullett, another well-known bartender in this community, has a background in wine and restaurant management with a degree from a culinary school on the east coast.
The gentlemen of Lee Spirits often get asked why their tasting room is only open 3 nights a week, 5pm to midnight, Thursday through Saturday.
“Brooklyn’s is our labor of love,” explained Ian. “Every other available waking hour of the week, we are working on our business and the expansion of Lee Spirits, but for the 3 nights a week we get to be open to the community, this place becomes our zen. This place reminds us why we are doing what we’re doing.”
The very bane of Lee Spirits and Brooklyn’s on Boulder St.’s existence is a result of the Lee cousin’s need to fulfill a desire to “creatively create.” Two entrepreneurial-minded gentlemen, both with engineering backgrounds and hearts after the romantic era of the 1920s, who grew up together and knew there was something more they could do to feel creatively fulfilled, came together one afternoon in late 2013 and discovered that the writing was on the wall.
Since opening their doors during the week of Thanksgiving just last year, Brooklyn’s has become a neighborhood go-to. From intimate date nights, to college students who are in search of a different, more unique kind of night on the town, to groups of loved ones celebrating life—Lee Spirits and Brooklyn’s have become a beloved part of this community.
The fine gentlemen of Lee Spirits and Brooklyn’s on Boulder have offered up two cocktail recipes to try your hand at making for your next gathering that involves a little booze and a lot of class:
Gin Old Fashioned
1 ½ oz. Lee Spirits Dry Gin
½ oz. Water
½ oz. Simple Syrup
2 dashes Angostura
1 dash Orange Bitters
Stir without ice and pour into a footed hiball with ice. Garnish with a lemon peel and a cherry.
1 ½ oz. Lee Spirits Dry Gin
½ oz. Lime Juice
fill w/ Ginger Beer
Build in a copper mug filled with crushed ice. Garnish with a lime squeeze.
Lee Spirits Gin is being served at your favorite spots around Colorado Springs and Denver. You can also get your hands on a bottle for making your own cocktail creations – find out where at: www.LeeSpirits.com
Lee Spirits Company
Brooklyn’s on Boulder St.
110 E. Boulder St.
Colorado Springs, CO, 80903