Opening in December
By John Colson
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Connie Baker certainly does not look like anyone’s typical image of a whisky maker, but she is about to become one.
Baker, 49, is a partner in the Marble Distillery, to be located at 150 Main St. in Carbondale once construction is completed on what she described as a first-of-its-kind distillery operation with an emphasis on “green,” or eco-friendly construction and operating techniques.
The distillery plans to produce liqueurs, vodka and barrel-aged whisky, and to offer a tasting room and a shop where drinks can be sold and served, as well as a couple of rooms to lodge tourists and other guests.
“We can’t find anyone who’s doing it yet,” she said of the building, which is being constructed under Carbondale’s new green-building code and will use water and crushed marble from the Yule Quarry in Marble in its distilling process.
“As far as we know, we’re the first,” she said, explaining that crushed marble will be used to filter the water meant for the stills, and that water from the marble “cuttings” will be used as a coolant for the equipment in the building.
Baker, who is of Irish stock, is working in partnership with her husband, Carey Shanks, and her brother in law, Rob DiPangrazio, as well as Michelle and Keith Marlow, who have ownership interest in the site itself.
She also is working with another Carbondale-area land owner, Bren Simon, who owns the lot at the corner of Second and Main where the YouthZone trailer stood for years. Simon, Baker said, has offered that corner lot as the “staging area” for construction work on the distillery site.
Baker said the distillery is part of a growing segment of “small-batch and hand-crafted” liquor distilleries that got its start in the state of Washington a few years ago, and now has taken root in Colorado.
“Now, Colorado is ahead of Washington in distilleries,” she said proudly, after noting that she attended a year of distillery school at the Dry Fly Institute in Spokane in 2010.
The Marble Distillery, she emphasized, will be “family owned and operated” and will be “a super-green system” that recycles 100 percent of the water used in the process – beyond what ends up in the bottles, of course.
And whose idea was this in the first place, a reporter asked in an interview?
With a shy smile and a downward tilt of her head, Baker replied, “It was mine. It’s definitely my baby.”
Originally from New York City, Baker moved here in 1992 and started up a pharmaceutical marketing business with offices in Carbondale and New York City, which she ran until recently.
But she tired of that work, and at the same time, she said, DiPangrazio was going stale as a marketing and sales executive in North Carolina.
“He wanted to change his life,” she said of DiPangrazio, “so he moved here in February” with his family, and went to work for Marble Distillery.
As for her own transition, she noted, “I joke that I moved from drugs to liquor.”
With an $8,800 design grant from the Community Office of Resource Efficiency (CORE), and promised marketing help from national start-up experts at The Proof Agency in St. Louis, Missouri, she said, the business already is off to a good start.
“We’re hoping to be a model for small distilleries,” she said, explaining that the Marble Distillery is paving the way for the greening of the industry.
“I think Carbondale is the perfect location for this,” she said of the distillery, adding that she plans on using fruit from Paonia, grains from around the Western Slope and malt from a farmer in Alamosa to make her small-batch products, and equipment fashioned in Montrose and other USA-based manufacturers.
“And Carbondale welcomes that, embraces that,” she said.
“I think it will be a welcome addition,” she added. “It’ll bring a little vitality to this area,” indicating the eastern end of Main Street.
She said the plan is to open the distillery some time around Christmas of this year.