Saving the Planet One Bottle at a Time: The Leopold Bros. StoryBy Katrina Niemisto
Todd and Scott Leopold don’t make their products sustainably because it’s the hip thing to do. In fact, you won’t find a single note on any of their spirits that labels them as organic. But they are. Family-owned and operated, efficiency—in every sense of the word—is at the heart of the Leopold Bros. business. They started their business in 1999 in Ann Arbor as a brewery near the University of Michigan campus. Their popularity increased quickly and they expanded to distilling by 2001.
The early days of the Leopold Bros.
Both brothers are highly educated. Todd has a diploma from the Siebel Institute of Technology and had an apprenticeship at the Doemen’s School in Munich. Scott has a B.A. in Economics and a B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Northwestern. He also holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Engineering from Stanford. They became well-known for their eco-brewing techniques, often lecturing at the University of Michigan on sustainability. In 2008, Scott and Todd moved their business back to their home state of Colorado.
Todd & Scott Leopold / Photo Credit: Leopold Bros.
In 2015, they moved to their second location in Denver to keep up with growing demand. There, the Leopold brothers focused on furthering their environmental efforts. You won’t find much in terms of Leopold Bros. swag—apart from their spirits—only t-shirts and branded Glencairn glasses are for sale in their tasting room. Their cases are plain brown boxes with a small sticker of their logo which is five evergreen trees representing the five members of the family. All labels are printed with water or soy-based inks. The bottles are 100% recyclable, environmentally friendly, and capped with artificial cork made from recycled plastic.
Natural light is utilized throughout their 3,000 square-foot distillery, taking advantage of Colorado’s 300 days of sunshine per year. Sky lights illuminate open-top Oregon pine fermentation tanks. Todd states that it is the pine tanks where the majority of their water savings come. Stainless-steel tanks must be thoroughly cleaned with hot water, caustic cleaner, another hot-water rinse before a rinse with sanitizer, followed by another round of rinsing with water.
Open-top Oregon pine fermentation tanks / Photo Credit: Leopold Bros.
It’s not unusual to find a distillery in which 30 gallons of water or more go in to making just one gallon of whiskey. By using sixteen natural-wood fermentation tanks and a sour mash process, the staff at Leopold Bros. is able to utilize wild yeast left behind by previous batches. This crafts a unique, complex flavor profile as their tanks cannot be cleaned with chemicals and only require a rinsing process before they are able to start a new batch.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Leopold Bros. business is how they are able to accomplish everything they do with only eight full-time employees and two part-time employees (Todd and Scott’s parents).
Thankfully, for both the business and consumers, the “right thing to do” produces unique, quality spirits—22 of them and counting. Leopold Bros. also has a partnership with nearby New Belgium Brewery which incorporates Leopold Bros. used fruited-whiskey barrels—like Michigan Cherry and Rocky Mountain Peach—to create some of New Belgium Brewery’s Lips of Faith sour beer series. They empty the barrels of whiskey, then fill with beer within three hours. Unique expressions, like Leopold Bros. Apertivo, combined with their Navy-Strength Gin, create a fantastic Negroni. Their American Small Batch Whiskey is versatile—lending itself to complex cocktails and yet still standing on it’s own to be sipped neat.
Sampling whiskey from the barrel / Photo Credit: Leopold Bros.
Todd and Scott Leopold’s commitment to sustainability has never waivered. Their innovation and ingenuity has only increased over the last 17 years. Be sure to watch them in the years to come!
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