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38.5347°N, 105.9989°W
Salida, CO, USA

Salida mayor P.T. Wood is a Rocky Mountain Renaissance man. He bristles at the word politics, but as the recently elected mayor of Salida, Colorado, Wood has eased gently into the role of de facto politician. And while some may not agree with all his policies, it’s hard to argue that Wood hasn’t sought to find balance in an increasingly unbalanced political landscape. 

Browse through his campaign webpage and you’ll be hard pressed to find a mention of his political affiliation. Instead, you’ll find common sense ideas about leadership, planning, and community. There’s a neighborliness to Wood’s demeanor – an inviting air that makes you want to sit and listen to his 30 years of stories about adventure, craftsmanship, and self-determination here in the Arkansas River Valley.

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“I’ve seen this town change a lot in the last 30 years – much of that is positive,” says Wood, who came here to be a river guide and never left. “But a place like Salida doesn’t become what it is by chance. Like all great things it takes planning and leadership. I want Salida to be a town where people can live and work and enjoy all the beautiful things this place has to offer.”

Many here agreed: In November 2016, Wood won the mayor’s race with almost 60 percent of the vote, handily beating the incumbent mayor.

“There were people in the government here who didn’t have the town’s best interest in mind,” he says of why he chose to run for mayor. “I thought I had better ideas about how to bring the community together and figure out what we want for Salida’s future.”

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Central to Wood’s leadership goals is finding a way to balance Salida’s uptick in economic development – businesses that are thriving on Salida’s influx of tourism dollars – with affordable housing and growth management.

“Like a lot of Colorado, housing prices here are just skyrocketing,” he says. “That makes it hard to live here, work here, and play here.”

For many locals, the recipe to success involves what many refer to as “the Salida shuffle” of holding several jobs at once, and moving from job to job as opportunities come along. Wood knows this trend firsthand.

“I owned Moonlight Pizza, worked as a builder, opened a distillery, and now I’m the mayor,” he says. Like Salida itself, which has undergone several major shifts – from railroad town, to agriculture, to mining, and now to a regional hub that people flock to for the outdoor lifestyle they crave – Wood has reinvented himself many times.

"The challenges of living here draw people who are seekers,” says P.T. Wood, a 30-year Salida resident. “People who want to make something of themselves – craftspeople, artists, business owners who feel they have something different or quirky to offer."

There's something incredible about the space at Wood's High Mountain Distillery. From the bikes and boats hanging from the ceiling, to the hand-crafted cocktails made at the bar, Wood's High Mountain Distillery is the apotheosis of Colorado cool.

P.T. developed a love for the outdoors at an early age. Back packing, skiing, fishing, and hunting were family affairs, and he began alpine skiing at age 11. He discovered kayaking in the early 80s and fell in love with the adventure of navigating rapids, eddies, and river rocks. He moved to Salida in the late 80s, following the river running he loved to the Arkansas River, famous for being one of the first rivers to host recreational river sports.

It was on a 21 day trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1995 that he discovered the multitude of flavors and styles of whiskey.

"By the end of that trip I knew I would eventually make whiskey," he said. "There was a whole world of flavor profiles – like wine there's just so much going on."

Over the course of the next decade, opening a distillery was a frequent topic of conversation with his brother, Lee. Navigating the complicated web of restrictions and permitting presented a consistent challenge, but by 2007 regulations had relaxed enough that the idea could potentially become a reality.

"We were lucky that a friend asked if I wanted this old, German pot still," P.T. remembered. "I drove all the way to Kentucky, loaded it up, and drove it back to Colorado – didn't know if it worked – but it was beautiful."

They named the still Ashley, and it has become the workhorse of their distilling operation, all of which takes place in the back warehouse section of Wood's downtown tasting room.

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"We do everything in the back – grain to glass," he said, laughing at the idea of learning any other way than through trial and error. "I just started doing it."

By 2012, the brothers Wood had found a space in downtown Salida to open their distillery. Today, Wood's High Mountain Distillery features an eclectic mix of cocktails featuring their house-distilled spirits.

"We have an Alpine Rye and a Tenderfoot Whiskey," said P.T. "We also have three gins – our Treeline Gin, a Barrel-rested gin, and a Mountain Hopped Gin. We also make a really delicious elderflower liqueur."

Today, Wood's High Mountain Distillery is the perfect place to grab a cocktail, meet with friends, and experience the world of hand-crafted spirits and cocktails. The space itself has character to spare, with exposed brick, canoes hanging in the rafters, and vinyl records pumping. While their Old Fashioned is incredible, don't skimp on the house specialties that use the distinct character of Wood's spirits to bring out unique flavor profiles.

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While we can't sell the fine spirits distilled at Wood's High Mountain Distillery online, we can point you in the right direction. When in Salida, visit Wood's High Mountain Distillery at 144 West 1st Street. There you can find Wood's full offering of spirits – as well as try one of their delicious hand-crafted cocktails.

If you're looking to make your own Colorado-inspired cocktails at home, check out the Cocktail Bitters Gift Set from another Salida mainstay, DRAM Apothecary. And if you need some inspiration, we've got you covered as well, with our guide to one of the lesser known pre-prohibition concoctions.

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As Airstream travels the country in search of unique Round Trip destinations, we keep our eye out for dedicated craftspeople who are passionate about manufacturing quality products. Like like the hundreds of production associates who hand-make Airstream travel trailers and touring coaches in our Jackson Center, Ohio manufacturing facility, they are committed to their craft – and to living their dreams. These are their stories.

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