Biglife Magazine covered Marble’s Distillery inn in Carbondale, CO.
an unlikely inn words by AMANDA M. FAISON
“Once you’ve settled in, come down for a cocktail on us,” chirped a manager as my husband and I jostled our overnight bag up a set of wide stairs. And that was how our weekend visit to The Distillery Inn, a five-room boutique hotel perched above the award-winning Marble Distillery Co., in Carbondale, Colorado, began.
The staff encounter was by chance, as the check-in process is both paperless and people-less; instead, information is delivered via a series of pre-emailed instructions and entry codes. If that sounds efficient but cold, consider it a gentle reminder of co-founder and distiller Connie Baker’s larger mission of sustainability. Not having a staffed front desk for the five suites cuts down on needless man hours and electronic entry codes remove the need for plastic key cards (which, let’s face it, usually leave with and are discarded by the guests).
And so, we unlocked our room, named “Yule” after the rare and glo- rious white marble that’s quarried in the nearby town of Marble, and took inventory: Nespresso coffee maker! Stocked mini bar with samplers of all of the distillery’s spirits! Envy- inducing marble bathroom complete with rain shower! We threw open the patio door and lounged on our private balcony before the temptation of a cocktail—especially a compli- mentary one—got the better of us.
On the way down to the tasting room, we stopped off at the rooftop deck, which Baker affectionately calls the “partio” because patrons often wander upstairs to sip their cocktails from stools overlooking Carbondale’s main drag. There is nothing quaint or bed-and- breakfast-y about The Distillery Inn or Marble Distilling Co.—and that’s a good thing. Instead, the design is a marvel of clean-lined minimal- ism that feels akin to a modern art museum. Wide panels of black recycled concrete line the building’s exterior and contrast with tall col- umns of chiseled Yule marble and windows showcasing the distillery’s Kentucky-made copper still. Over the building’s entrance, the sharp- peaked, double-embossed “M” that makes up the distillery’s logo also nods to the surrounding West Elk Mountains. On this quiet stretch of Main Street at the edge of town, there is an undeniable sense that Marble Distilling Co. and the inn above it are both of this place (Carbondale has a thriving arts community) and forward-looking.
You can say the same for Baker and her husband and business partner, Carey Shanks. The two, who have called the valley home for a combined 54 years, are stretching what it means to be craft distill- ers—and that’s not just because they operate a tiny enterprise in an off-the-beaten-path mountain town, producing award-winning spirits.
For one, Baker is one of just a few female head distillers in a heavily male-dominated industry. That’s a point of pride (further emphasized by naming the distillery’s copper still “Hazel”), but Baker and Shanks are even more focused on challenging the industry’s inherent wastefulness. “Our motto is ‘drink sustainably,’” says Baker, who used to work in the pharmaceutical industry before she caught the distilling bug in 2010. That ethos forms the foundation of the duo’s approach to water and energy consumption. It’s no secret that the industry is a huge user (and many would say, abuser) of water. Case in point, it takes an average of 30 bottles of clean water to make one bottle of vodka. But thanks to Shanks’ background in building sustainability, he and a team of local engineers crafted a sophisticated thermal network that captures 100 percent of the distillery’s process water. Since the distillery opened in June 2015, the system has effectively whittled away at waste (it takes just one bottle of water to create a bottle of Marble Distilling Co.’s vodka) while also maximizing energy. The closed-loop operation collects energy from the spent hot water and uses it to heat the building, including the inn above. When the water cools, it helps chill the distillery’s mash and—during the summer months—cool the space. “We think of it as saving the planet one bottle of vodka at a time,” Baker says.
To say the technology is revolutionary is an understatement. Marble Distillery Co. saves more than four
million gallons of water annually and recaptures enough energy to heat 20 homes for a year. And here’s the kicker: rather than patenting the system, Baker and Shanks believe in making it available for all. “We don’t want to own it, we want to share the technology,” Baker says, noting that a handful of regional distilleries have already expressed interest.
Baker and Shanks have taken the same unconventional approach to the guest suites. As far as they know, The Distillery Inn is the world’s only hotel housed in a working dis- tillery. Although the concept initially generated eye rolls from banks and lenders (“They told us we were crazy and not focused enough,” Baker laughs.), the inn has since become a convincing source of revenue. In fact, with its high occupancy rate, it’s the inn that pays the mortgage each month. When the hotel won the 2017 Green Hotelier Award—and was the only North American property to garner the coveted accolade—it was a testament to Baker and Shanks’ dedication to hard work and maver- ick thinking.
All of this becomes abundantly clear while sipping a cocktail at the tasting room’s impressive marble-topped bar. The four-inch- thick, nine-ton slab, which was sourced 40 minutes up the road from the quarry in Marble, serves as a subtle reminder of place and technique. The Marble-Rita, made with Gingercello (think limoncello but ginger) is a bestseller, as is the JJ Curley, an Old Fashioned with the distillery’s Ragged Mtn Rye and a glug of Gingercello. No matter the spirit, all share in this: a combination of pristine water from the Crystal River and locally-grown grains (all of the distillery’s spent mash returns
to farms as chicken and hog feed) filtered through chunks of foraged Yule marble and coconut husks. The result is a flavor that’s as clean-lined and flawless as the inn and distillery themselves.