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Colorado ranch helps forge a whiskey made from wildfire

Locke + Co. Distilling creates a whiskey that is finished with aspen discs harvested from a burn scar

This unique batch of whiskey features subtle fruit notes from the port barrel finish, including rye spice, cinnamon, light brown sugar and toffee notes from the charred aspen wood discs.
C Lazy U Ranch/Courtesy Photo

Many trees on C Lazy U Ranch in Granby are still charred and bare from the 2020 East Troublesome Fire, although the land is recovering.

These trees seem lifeless, but Owen Locke of  saw a unique purpose for the scorched bark and trunks. He traveled to the ranch nestled next to Willow Creek Reservoir to explore the burn scars. Along with C Lazy U staff, he chose trees that would be cut down and repurposed 鈥 for a new whiskey. 

“In 2020, when that fire came through, it was pretty devastating,” Locke said in an interview with Sky-Hi News. “So how could we turn a negative into a positive, and give back to the community?”



Together, Locke and Brady Johnson, director of sales and marketing at C Lazy U, came up with the idea of using charred aspen tree discs in the process of aging of the distillery’s whiskey.

Locke + Co. then released its creation 鈥 the鈥痩imited edition鈥疌 Lazy U Ranch East Troublesome Fire Aspen Aged Rye Whiskey.

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Giving back to Grand Fire

Not only has the whiskey given new life to the charred aspens, there is an added benefit to the bottles 鈥 giving back to firefighters. For each bottle sold, $15 is given back to the Grand Fire Protection District No. 1.

When the East Troublesome whiskey was finished after a three-year process, Locke recommended that a portion of each bottle’s proceeds be donated the charity. Johnson and the C Lazy U team chose Grand Fire to receive the charitable donation.

When the  wildfire headed toward the ranch, the Grand Fire Protection District, along with members of Adams 久久热精品视频app wildland firefighters, stepped in and saved the ranch’s structures. As the flames approached, the first responders created fuel breaks around the main lodge and other structures. These men and women put themselves in the unpredictable fire’s path. Strong winds, which sometimes got up to 90 mph because of the fire’s power, meant the fire moved at an unimaginable speed.  

After the fire burned through the area Oct. 21, 2020, first responders assessed the damage. The horse barn, one guest cabin and eight of 27 member homes were lost. C Lazy U also lost its off-site employee housing building located along Colorado Highway 125.

But C Lazy U staff were surprised and overjoyed to learn that many of the structures were still standing after the fire went through. Thanks to the firefighters’ work, the main lodge, dining area, patio house and nearly all the cabins were saved, as well as the on-site employee housing and administrative buildings.

In 2020, the East Troublesome Fire destroyed parts of C Lazy U Ranch, but firefighters with Grand Fire Protection District No. 1. helped prevent the ranch from being completely destroyed. C Lazy U thanked these first responders in October 2023, offering a donation from bottle sales of a limited-edition whiskey.
C Lazy U Ranch/Courtesy Photo

On the anniversary of the East Troublesome Fire in October 2023, the ranch also invited members of Grand Fire for a tribute lunch. There, ranch staff unveiled the new whiskey that is available to the C Lazy U guests.

“We thanked them for their service and protecting and saving the ranch,” Johnson said.

The Grand Fire team had heroically worked to fight the  wildfire in Colorado’s history. Although Grand Fire has resident firefighters, many of its staff are volunteers. Johnson added that the team has helped the ranch in lots of ways, including their efforts to fight the East Troublesome Fire.

“They’ve been great 鈥 they always consult us and help us in doing proper fire mitigation and safety,” he said. “Helping (the homeowners) protect their homes, helping the ranch protect its buildings.”

Burned wood given new life in the whiskey-making process

In the four years since the fire, C Lazy U has been busy rebuilding and healing the scorched landscape. Removing the burned aspens allows for new growth to flourish 鈥 but instead of just getting rid of the trees, they are now sustainably used in Locke’s whiskey.

“We use aspen wood in our products, that’s kind of how we started our company,” Locke explained. “So we decided to use some of these naturally burned, naturally charred aspens on the property.”

He added that traditionally, whiskey is aged in charred barrels. This practice of using charred barrels goes back centuries 鈥 by toasting the wood, certain flavors and colors are brought out in the spirit, while neutralizing other flavors. This practice was also thought to sanitize the wood. 

The limited-edition whiskey was aged for two years in oak barrels, then four months with the charred aspen discs, and finished in a wine port barrel.

“I came up to the ranch in February (2023) and we picked out the trees that had been charred, but were still in good condition for the whiskey,” Locke said.

After the team carefully hand selected the best trees, the distillery cured the wood, which still had some residual moisture from the winter snow. Then the wood was added to the blend of rye whiskey.

“That rye whiskey has a spicy, earthy tone to it, and the aspen wood from C Lazy U adds a little light brown sugar, some cinnamon, some toffee notes to the whiskey 鈥 so some sweetness in there,” Locke explained while describing the whiskey’s flavor.

They finished the whiskey with the aspen wood in a port wine barrel as well, which added a red hue to the whiskey.

“It’s a very special, unique blend with the different woods,” he said. “First in an oak barrel, the port barrel, and of course the East Troublesome Fire aspen wood.”

The speciality East Troublesome Fire Whiskey isn’t the first time that Locke + Co. and C Lazy U have partnered together.

“Part of our mission and goals of the ranch, is to do collaborative things with the community, and collaborative is what we’ve done with Locke + Co.,” Johnson said. “We’ve worked together for many years.”   

Johnson added that the ranch is proud to work with a Colorado-based company that offers its spirits in stores throughout Grand 久久热精品视频app. The distillery makes all of its whiskeys from locally sourced aspens.

In addition to selling the whiskey at C Lazy U, Locke + Co. made it available at Grand Lake Wine & Spirits for a time, also with a portion of the proceeds going to Grand Fire.

“It’s really come full circle, from the trees burning down, to harvesting that charred aspen, to aged whiskey, to thanking our firefighters and actually cutting them a check from the sale of each bottle,” Johnson said.

Locke has plans for his next batch of East Troublesome Fire aged aspen whiskey, allowing for the sustainable removal of trees on the property to continue. Since C Lazy U is 8,500 acres, there are lots of trees to select from.  

“There’s another section on the ranch where the fire impacted the trees, so there’s more to come seasonally for different whiskey batches,” he said. “So we can keep that cycle going, and raise more money for nonprofits.”

Locke explained that he is a sixth-generation Coloradan, and is always looking for ways to benefit the surrounding community through his business. As wildfires like East Troublesome become more prevalent in Colorado, every donation to local firefighters counts.  

“Anything we can do to help Colorado, and in line with C Lazy U 鈥 the benefits of this collaboration just seemed to make a lot of sense,” Locke said.

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