By Jennifer Pund
COAL CREEK CANYON
The term “Old West” conjures up images of gun fights on dirt roads and saloon doors, and that’s what inspired Cody Riggs to order her first whiskey drink. Now, along with Omayra Acevedo, she hosts and designs whiskey tastings for anyone looking to learn more about the spirit. From traditionally popular to rare examples, Whiskey Business brings the party to you while transforming the average “sipper” into a connoisseur.
After a day in Estes Park, the duo were drawn to the Stanley Hotel and its popular Cascades Whiskey Bar, which is famous for its more than 900 selections of whiskeys, bourbons and scotches—one of the state’s largest.
Out of curiosity and a passion for the American West, Riggs ordered a local Colorado whiskey, but had no idea what to do once it arrived. “My hard alcohol knowledge was taking shots in college. I had no idea what to do with the water back or ice that was served on the side,” Riggs said. “I just left all that and drank it neat, as to not look like an idiot, at least I knew I was doing part of it right.” She quickly realized it’s a drink that forces you to sip. “I was experiencing all these things with something I had never done before and I was fascinated.”
Riggs and Acevedo returned to the Stanley often enough to become friends with Jimmy Kuch, The Stanley Hotel’s Whiskey Provocateur. “We would go back every week for a year, just to sit at this bar and listen to this guy talk. It stopped being about drinking at some point. It was just his knowledge base and a friendship that we built with him,” Riggs said.
Acevedo is more of a technical person. “I was asking a thousand questions and taking notes. I’m not as good as Cody at remembering all the details so I’m a note taker.” she said.
Riggs’ passion for American history lent a hand in her discovering the love for Whiskey. “I think American bourbons, whiskeys and ryes are so phenomenal with an amazing process and this beautiful history,” she said. “I’m obsessed with the turn of the century, the Old West, Buffalo Bill and [whiskey] was what they were drinking. I think that’s why it all sticks.”
The two noticed that they were drawn into whiskey conversations wherever they went, which lead to the idea to create Whiskey Business. At a friend’s house, at a bar, at a party, or even hiking, Acevedo said they were always being asked about whiskey. Since Riggs prefers her whiskey neat—without ice, water or mixer—people would become curious when they went out. While trying something new, Riggs would find herself conducting small tastings for those at the bar.
“I’d be sitting next to strangers and having the bartender pour them tastes of different whiskeys.” She said. After this spontaneously happened a few times, she knew she was on to something. “I was noticing that people were into whiskey but didn’t understand how to pick something or how to look at a bottle and tell what was inside by the label.”
Building Whiskey Business from the ground up is important for Riggs and Acevedo. They have bigger plans than what they are doing now, but feel that word-of-mouth is the way to grow. “I think the best way to start a business is grass roots. No start-up, just do it. If you can get people to like what you are doing and talk about it, that’s succeeding,” Riggs said.
A pre-event consultation with clients gives Riggs an idea of the client’s background with whiskey, which allows her to design the tasting specifically for that event. “A tasting for somebody that has only had Jack Daniel’s is going to look much different than somebody who only likes Rye or only orders Irish whiskey. These are clearly different whiskey drinkers,” she explains.
Drawing from these specific profiles, Riggs will bring brands she is certain the tasters will enjoy, as well as some that are completely opposite. “A lot of the flavors cross paths, with the exception of scotch. If you like Jameson, you can like something on the other end of the spectrum, you just don’t know it,” she said.
The two feel that whiskey is for everybody of age. With a plethora of sipable whiskeys on the market, it just might take a while to find one that works for a specific pallet. They encourage new tasters to not just dive in, but start slow. “That’s what’s so great about a tasting,” Acevedo said. “You don’t just open a bottle and try it and move on. You smell it and talk about what you are smelling, it really brings out the flavors.” Riggs emphasizes that it’s not about taking shots then moving to the next style, each whiskey gets it’s own “moment in time” for that tasting.
What she finds most fun is walking someone through a style that they think they are not going to like. She starts slow with questions about what they smell—vanilla or maple or wood? “Then you get them to taste it after they smell all these amazing smells. You just see that expression of ‘I taste all those things I just smelled’,” she said. “You blow their minds with flavor profiles that are far and wide from what they usually drink and enjoying it when done properly.”
The goal is to introduce tasters to styles they can find in their local liquor store, but didn’t know enough to spend the money. It also provides an opportunity for someone to experience rare or small-batch brands that can be difficult to find. “I have items that they can find locally, but I also have them try things that I had a hard time finding so they can experience something they may not get another chance to try,” Riggs said.
Designer tasting can be enjoyed by everyone of age, for any occasion or non-occasion and even for non-whiskey drinkers. Acevedo says the two-hour events are customized to each style and budget and no two tastings are ever the same. There are four levels ranging from five whiskey brands to seven high-quality brands and a surprise tasting.
The duo encourage women to give whiskey tasting a try. “Whiskey can be a drink for women too, you don’t have to drink clear liquor, you can have something with flavor, and be knowledgeable about it, and enjoy it,” Riggs said.
Whiskey drinkers should know there is a world of flavors to be experienced. Riggs reminds when you order something mainstream, you could be missing a great opportunity to experience a piece of our country’s history so ask what local whiskey’s are available and give one a try.
Originally published in the March 2015 issue of the MMAC Monthly