Colin Keegan: The Architect of Santa Fe Spirits
Story & photos by Neil Wolkodoff
As the craft distillery movement gains, the people making an impact with unique spirits have some funky backgrounds. Colin Keegan is the quintessential spirit maker at Santa Fe Spirits combining a totally un-related field with the artistic bent of distilling. When you visit, Santa Fe Spirits needs to be on your list.
Now in its 11th year, the distillery has continually expanded its products and locations. English by birth, Keegan studied and then went on to become an architect. He practiced in the U.K., then the British Virgin Islands, and finally, New Mexico. In Santa Fe, the pervasive creative vibe caught up, and he ventured into the world of craft spirits.
“Santa Fe has is a small town with a very cosmopolitan feel where people appreciate unique approaches,” notes Keegan. The perfect place to blend art with a technical trade product that appeals to using local ingredients for a southwest spin on classic and new libations lines. “It is a bit of departure from designing buildings, yet the craft precision needed combined with the people, both as contributors and consumers, brings me back every day,” he added. A building is lovely, but an excellent whiskey gets an immediate smile.
As a testament to the demand for unique creations, the distillery has expanded five times. He added a downtown tasting room where visitors can sample the products in various combinations, from pure liquor to popular cocktails. His two most unique concoctions include the Atapino Liqueur, a whiskey base infused with Pinon nuts, aged for over nine months in used oak casks, and sweetened with Ponderosa sap. Santa Fe is not known as a Gin town. Yet, their Wheeler’s Gin is a botanical-style gin flavored with New Mexico botanicals, all harvested around the distillery and a top seller.
The Colkegan Single Malt Whiskey will give the Scottish purists reason to re-think origin with aging that occurs over 7,000 feet for a different type of smoked quality. A local take on a centuries-old tradition and idea that proves a local twist might be a significant improvement.
These spirits need to be experienced to determine how they play with your specific tastes. The tasting room gives the option from straight to mixed drinks. The distillery, a 15-minute drive from the downtown plaza, offers those options plus some personalized spirits blending. As Whiskey is usually a blend, once a month, you can attend a blending class. Dial-up or down from five different casks and come away with your own mix, with the result your personal, labeled bottle. An experience that gets you up close and personal with the art of blending, and ultimately how it is done best for your taste.
Keegan is a man who gets involved, as in his relatively short time in Santa Fe, he has served as the chair of the chamber of commerce. He is also an advocate and member of the American Craft Spirits Association. With only nine states direct shipping spirits, the push is on to let states direct ship spirits just like wine. He noted, “we aren’t there yet but the cause is gaining business momentum.” He also noted that “It’s easy to make whiskey, and difficult to sell whiskey.” The Gin is everywhere, and the Whiskey is catching up as it is in 50% of the states in the U.S.
Keegan sees the addition of smoke to spirits as a continuing trend and anticipates one or two more lines with that flavor theme. As the main facility has expanded, Santa Fe Spirits have added even more cask rooms to give options in various tones and time in casks to further refine the flavors. All with a Santa Fe feel and twist.
Above the raging success, Keegan is a man who acknowledges his past as an architect, combined with the cultural foundation of Santa Fe is the base of his success. Your taste buds are the literal proof of that melding.
Neil Wolkodoff, PhD, is a Sports Scientist in Denver, Colorado who has worked with golfers over the last 15 years. During the rare free times, he travels to exotic golf destinations to see how golf, culture and local geography mix in different locales. He has penned articles for Colorado Avid Golfer, Golf Digest, and Golf Magazine. In his travels, he has golfed with royalty, tour professionals, the local duffer, and the occasional goat.