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Chef Daniel O’Brien and proprietor Bryan Nolt

Breckenridge Distillery’s quest to produce world-class bourbon? Done. A year after Kansas radiologist Bryan Nolt founded the company in 2010, Breck’s bourbon won one of three gold medals at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London—the most prestigious whiskey contest in the world. And earlier this year, it won Whiskey Magazine’s “Best Blended American Whiskey” award.

But Nolt, 45, always harbored grander plans than simply making quality booze. And this July, when the distillery opens a new restaurant with critically acclaimed chef Daniel O’Brien, locals and tourists will get their first peek at what could become a most unlikely spirits-and-cuisine empire.

O’Brien, 36, who competed on Bravo’s Top Chef—he was sent packing by Wolfgang Puck—and has cooked in France and throughout the U.S., arrives after five years as owner-operator at Seasonal Pantry in Washington, D.C., a 264-square-foot, 12-seats-per-night nook that served an 11-course tasting menu for $163. He and Nolt met two years ago on the prestigious Cochon 555 food tour. When Nolt decided to proceed with his restaurant, he recruited O’Brien to move to Breckenridge.

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With the addition of a kitchen, brewery, and winery this summer, Nolt has plans to transform the distillery’s newly expanded production facility into a destination for gourmands.

The distillery’s new eatery won’t have a name, by design. “It’s almost counterculture in a way, but that’s kind of the point,” Nolt says. “You come to the distillery, and if you want to eat, you can eat.”

O’Brien plans to open with an après and dinner menu, which will feature small plates as well as family-style meals designed to feed four to six adults. “We’re going for short, rich bursts of flavor and trying to use whole animals as much as possible,” O’Brien says.

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The small plates will include a truffled fritter with parmesan crème and mushroom dust; chicken liver profiteroles with chicken stock caramel and sweetened pickled onions; and a soft local hen’s egg with asparagus salad with crispy chicken skin. Affordably priced family-size meals (at $15–$18 per person) will include the signature Porchetta à la Breck: a rolled, slow-cooked pork belly flavored with sage, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper and served with a bourbon plum jam and house-made Parker House rolls.

The 1,800-square-foot dining room, which will anchor Breckenridge Distillery’s new 9,000-square-foot addition at its Airport Road production facility, will also include a chef’s tasting station with cured meats (think orange tea-smoked duck breast and prosciutto) and wine. Two other bars, one for spirits and one for house-made beer and wine (from a small brewery using house-grown hops and a winery specializing in varietals made from Western Slope grapes; the distillery was still working on permits at press time), will also be housed in the dining room. A beer garden with picnic tables will be located just outside the restaurant’s south entrance. And a giant barrel house with 35-foot ceilings will host weddings and corporate events—as well as 1,000 barrels of aging spirits stacked against the walls—through the restaurant’s north door.

Equipment and space upgrades will allow master distiller Jordan Via and his team to increase the distillery’s spirits production tenfold, from two barrels a day to 20. Nolt and O’Brien also plan to offer a weekend Bloody Mary brunch and eventually add daily lunch and breakfast, with a DJ and espresso machines on rickshaws. Really.

“The goal is to turn us into a destination distillery. I hope it’ll sway people to come to Breckenridge over someplace else,” says Nolt, who still works a few days a month at his radiology practice in Pueblo. “To me it’s about hospitality. In medicine, you always see people when they’re at their worst. You’re there to take care of them, but you can’t entertain them. This is to show people the good times.” 

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