Longtime friends open distillery in South Jeffco

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By Deborah Swearingen

It began as a dream for three high school best friends. Earlier this month, however, the dream became reality as 52Eighty Distilling officially opened its doors in South Jeffco.

Lou Pacenta and brothers Erick and Drew Demgen all worked in corporate finance but regularly contemplated the possibility of branching out to start something of their own.

“We were three buddies that would hang out and consistently talk about what we were going to do together,” Pacenta said.

They tried brewing their own beer but ultimately landed on distilling spirits and began moving forward with the process of opening their own business about two years ago. It was a risk, but with the support of their families, the trio took the plunge.

Housed in a warehouse off Centennial Road in Ken-Caryl, 52eighty currently offers four products: two varieties of whiskey and two varieties of vodka. A gin and a new whiskey are in the works, though, and the distillery has the capability to make just about any liquor a person could want. Their tasting room menu features a number of handcrafted cocktails and provides customers a chance to create a personalized beverage from a selection of mixers and ingredients.

Although the trio looked into a number of locations, they landed on the Ken-Caryl spot. It was the perfect fit, considering the distillery is just a few miles from each of their homes. Plus, with the closest craft distilleries in Golden and downtown Littleton, 52eighty fills a bit of a void.

Crafting new flavors is one of the best parts of the job. Drew compares it to cooking, while Pacenta said it’s a lot like a “grown-up science experiment.” They enjoy trying new recipes and using fresh, local ingredients in their products.

For example, when creating their peach vodka, they used 1,200 pounds of Palisade peaches that they cut, cored and froze by hand. The vodka has just a hint of peach, but that’s because 52eighty doesn’t use any artificial flavors or added sugars.

At some point in the new year, 52eighty hopes to kick off distillery tours, but they have to find the wherewithal to do so first. While the owners have had lots of help from family and close friends, the Demgens and Pacenta have done everything on their own.

“It’s a labor of love,” Drew said.

“Drew, Erick and I are production, facilities, sales, distribution. I mean, we’re everything,” Pacenta said.

From bottling the beverages to labeling bottles and securing a tiny Colorado flag to each one, the trio does it all by hand. Undoubtedly, it’s a process, but having ownership over everything makes a world of difference.

“It’s so cool putting in extra hours when it’s for yourself versus a big corporation,” Pacenta said.