Set designer, furniture maker, whiskey distiller, father — the list goes on and on when it comes to naming all of the avenues Casey Ross has journeyed during his 38 years.
Owner of Axe and the Oak Whiskey House at Ivywild School and Axe and the Oak Distillery, Ross’ whiskeys have garnered national awards, including the recent “Colorado Whiskey Distillery of the Year” by the New York International Spirits Competition. Axe and the Oak whiskey can be found at more than 300 liquor stores, bars and restaurants throughout Colorado, and will soon be in Texas.
With a self-admitted tendency to underestimate himself, Ross was surprised when both his whiskey and then, later, the Whiskey House, took off. But the quality of his product has gained loyal fans throughout the state. All the grain hails from Hugo and the crew cooks 750 pounds of it a day.
Distilleries are beginning to gain popularity, much like the early years of microbreweries. But that’s okay, Ross said, as he has full confidence in his brand.
A Wasson High School graduate, he also attended automotive school in Laramie, Wyo. He enjoys spending his free time with his wife, Mundi, and their 3-year-old son, Walker.
Explain your career in a nutshell.
My background is crazy. I was in automotive for a long time, then I went to theater and rock ’n’ roll [stage production] … I traveled all over. I always told myself if I had kids I’d get off the road. I worked [as a project manager] for a company called Stageco [in Black Forest] and toured with them. It got to be too much … but when I was touring I would come back home on breaks for a few weeks and started making beverages with some buddies. … It’s me and three old friends that started Axe and the Oak. It was a hobby that morphed. On another side, I also took my car and motorcycle fabricating skills and transferred them to making furniture. I just love building things.
How was your first year in business?
We started in 2013, got all our licenses in 2014 and sold our first bottle in November that year. I entered a couple of spirit competitions just for fun and to get our name out. We entered the Denver International and the North American Bourbon and Whiskey Competition, not expecting a thing, but we took silver in both of them. We were brand new and that whiskey had only been in the barrel for three months. It was like — holy cow! It’s been crazy ever since.
What’s the best part about your whiskey businesses?
We’ve really tried to hire the best people and I think we do have the best people — good hearts, really easy to work with. They’ve become really good friends and family. That’s the coolest part. The craft process is [also fun] — taking a project from A to Z.
Explain your Colorado roots.
My great-great-great-grandfather [Levi Welty] named Cripple Creek. A lot went down with my family back then. … There was a bridge that went over the creek and a bunch of livestock got hurt and Levi said, ‘This here is a Cripple Creek.’ They sold their homestead to Bob Womack and he was the first one who struck gold there. They moved from Cripple Creek to Colorado Springs. … My roots are really deep here. I just love it here though. I’ve been all over the world and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
What’s the future hold for your whiskey?
We’re confident in our processes here and we’re tried and true with all the competition. Our moonshine is killing it now. We’ve taken gold in Breckenridge [at the Breckenridge Craft Spirits Festival] for the last two years. It also took silver at the San Francisco International and the New York International [whiskey competitions]. … We’re using some really good grain and making good stuff.