Cool Spirits and Hot Water
The evening crowds at the Marble Distilling Company (MDC) are pure Colorado: boots or heels, Carhartts or silk. They gather to enjoy seasonally-evolving cocktails blended with locally-brewed spirits that have been garnering awards and rave reviews.
In contrast to Carbondale’s usual architecture—a mix of funky shacks and newly gentrified brick storefronts—MDC’s building is a spare, monochromatic study in sustainability and regionalism. Despite modish interiors accented with reclaimed wood and local Yule quarry marble, the atmosphere is relaxed. Entering the distillery and luxury inn feels like walking into Cheers.
The ambiance shifts like the weather: one night, an acoustic live set; on another, a low-tempo reggae warms the spirit. Happy chatter from private parties floats out onto Carbondale’s Main Street.
The avalanche of accolades garnered since opening in 2015 makes it clear that Marble Distilling is a smashing success.
But when asked what truly excites her, co-owner and head distiller Connie Baker lights up about something seemingly humdrum—their water reclamation system. “Think about how they made booze in Kentucky and Tennessee a hundred years ago,” she says, “A 50-gallon drum by a cold running stream.”
Translation: a lot of water!
Having visited other distilleries, Baker says she’s “blown away” by how much clean hot water runs down the drain. “Water is the most precious resource we have!” she exclaims. “Everything gets re-purposed here. We use the hot water to heat our building and preheat our processed and domestic waters.” It even flows through outdoor patios, “not as a snow-melt system, but as a heat-dissipation system.”
This groundbreaking water system earned a $197,500 USDA grant that covered one fourth of its cost, a CLEER grant and another $25 thousand that came from CORE’s Randy Udall True Pioneer Grant. In December, the system won an Exceptional Implementation of Sustainable Technologies Award from the U.S. Green Building Council of Colorado.
Why the award? MDC’s water savings are comparable to the amount of water and energy needed to:
- Run a fracking well for one year,
- Fill 12.5 football fields with one foot of water (4.1 million gallons), or
- Service 20 homes for one year!
Named WETS, for Water Energy Thermal System, the system comprises the world’s first fully closed-loop distilling process. Baker says that when the Roaring Fork Conservancy recently visited MDC to see the system, “they were blown away.”
Proud but not possessive, Baker wants other distillers and industries to use this technology. She plans to present WETS at this year’s American Craft Spirits Association conference in March, and explains, “Anyone can do this. Every component in WETS is off the shelf; it’s just that no one’s ever put it all together as we have to make the closed-loop system.”
The hometown team that put it all together included Jeff Dickinson of Energy and Sustainable Design, Baker’s husband Wm. Carey Shanks, energy consultant Joani Matranga, Angela Loughry of Confluence Architecture, Kyle Manske of 20/20 Engineering, Joe LeFavbre of CSI Inc. and August Hasz of REG Inc.
In WETS, ten heat exchangers and a fully integrated control system ensure maximization of stored energy. This efficiency creates 1.8 million BTUs in energy savings per year, enough to power 20 down-valley homes. Adds Baker, “We haven’t even calculated how much energy we’re saving our water department to not process our clean, hot water!”
How much water does MDC use in the distilling process? Behind MDC sits a red tank that holds, as one might guess, hot water, and a blue tank that holds cold water. Together, they store and move the approximately 10,000 gallons of water needed to make MDC’s Crystal River Vodka 80, Gingercello and the award-winning Moonlight EXpresso—infinitely.
WETS will pay for itself in ten years. By then, MDC will have used 10,000 gallons of water—in comparison to a typical distiller’s 41,000,000 gallons!
Typically, a newly-constructed distillery would include underground tanks. But Baker wanted the tanks above ground to show them off, “to show that this system works as a retrofit.”
Asked whether the brightly colored tanks constitute visual blight, MDC’s back-alley neighbor, puppeteer Soozie Lindbloom shot back, “I want to see that! This is awesome!”
WETS might not be statuesque like “Hazel,” MDC’s jaw-dropping six-plate copper-pot still. It won’t elicit as many wolf whistles as MDC’s massive marble slab bar. But to Baker and the MDC family—who live, work and play in Colorado’s premier watershed—it’s a beauty.
“I love vodka. You don’t have to destroy the planet to make it! That’s the coolest message here!” says Baker.
Message received. Cheers, Marble Distillery!