Strategies and gear for living the dream
P.T. Wood owns a gin and whiskey distillery in Salida, Colorado, where he also happens to be the mayor
Name: P.T. Wood
Job: Mayor of Salida, Colorado; co-owner of Wood’s High Mountain Distillery
Home Base: Salida, Colorado
Education: Bachelor’s degree in business administration from Fort Lewis College
In the mid-1990s, P.T. Wood was on a Colorado River trip in Grand Canyon with a tavern-owning friend who had brought along about 20 different types of scotches and bourbons. “We drank whiskey at the end of every day,” Wood says. “He introduced me to the varieties that were out there. At that moment, I got it in my head that, one day, I wanted to make whiskey to take down the Grand Canyon with me.”
Wood grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, where he studied, as he likes to say, “powder skiing and keg tapping.” Wood moved to Salida, on the banks of the Arkansas River, in the 1980s to work as a river guide. In the years that followed, he did a variety of jobs: sales rep for whitewater kayak brands, house builder, and pizza shop owner.
Finally, in 2012, Wood was ready to fulfill his longtime dream of making whiskey. That year, he and his brother, Lee, a veteran bartender, opened Salida’s first distillery, Wood’s High Mountain Distillery, which now makes a malt whiskey, a rye whiskey, and three types of gin.
In 2017, Wood, who also serves as vice president of the American Craft Spirits Association, took on yet another role: He was elected mayor of Salida, where he’s focusing on issues like affordable housing, growth planning, and trail development. We talked to Wood about his preferred cocktail and his favorite Sunday tradition.
On the First Thing He Does When He Wakes Up: “If it snowed overnight, I’ll go skiing. I love being in the backcountry. I’ll get up before the sun and take a lap on Monarch Pass before work. If it’s summer and there’s been a little rain, I hop on my mountain bike and ride while the trails are still tacky. It’s always nice to watch the sunrise. Then I’ll come home and start coffee.”
On His Full Name: “My given name is Powell Thomas Wood, but I go by P.T. When I was a river guide, I told people P.T. stood for Passing Through. My parents were hippies. I was born in the back of the bus, and they named me because they were just passing through one town or the other. I was actually born at the hospital in Boulder, Colorado.”
On the Biggest Misperception People Have About his Job: “People think I stand amongst the barrels and drink whiskey all day. But that’s not the job. I do get to do a little tasting, but what I actually do is a lot of input into the computer and answering emails. There’s a lot of science and math involved in distillation.”
On What His Workspace Looks Like: “I have an office at the distillery. It has the water heater in it. It’s very much a cave. They say a messy desk is a sign of a brilliant mind, so I must be brilliant. I also have a mayor’s office at city hall. I go there usually every day for a little bit, but I tend to do more work at the distillery.”
On Why He Ran for Mayor: “I wasn’t super happy with the direction that the last mayor was taking the town. I was looking over my shoulder to see who would step up, and nobody was. If you want to change things, you have to do it yourself. Since then, the general tone of local government has changed significantly. We’re listening to folks. Our conversations are civil, thoughtful, engaged.”
On What a Typical Day Involves: “There is no typical day. But most days, I get up early, and I’ll sit down at my house and drink coffee and answer the mountain of emails that show up in the morning. I’ll try to get to the distillery by 8 or 9 a.m. There’s distilling going on most days, picking barrels for harvest, and we’re also in the middle of a big expansion of our distillery, so we’re meeting with contractors. Or I’ll be talking with potato farmers in the San Luis Valley, since we’re working on a potato vodka.”
On His Most Revered Daily Ritual: “I ride my bike to work pretty much every day. If I’m getting caught up or frustrated at the distillery, I’ll jump on my bike and ride down to city hall and do some mayor stuff—answer messages, walk around and talk to city employees, tell them they’re doing a good job. My bike from home to work is about a mile—on my phone, it says three or four minutes with no significant traffic. That’s always amusing.”
On the Habit He Would Most Like to Break: “I probably drink far too much coffee. That’s one of my worst habits.”
On His Biggest Pet Peeve: “People who talk a lot without saying anything. Especially at the city level. It’s like, ‘Get to the point. Tell me what you want and let’s move on.’ People start asking questions at city council meetings and it’s like they’re trying to convince themselves of the point they’re making.”
On His Preferred Cocktail: “Right now in our tasting room, we have this drink we call Hockey Night in Canada. It’s a little bit of our Tenderfoot Malt Whiskey, a splash of real maple syrup, some bitters, and a piece of bacon rolled up and dropped in. Or I’ll get a cup of whiskey and a beer. You can sip your whiskey, then sip your beer. I like that setup.”
On His Sunday Tradition: “Go up Monarch Pass, ski as much of the day as the snow warrants, then stop at Elevation Brewing and have one of their tasty beers on the way home. Between the distillers and brewers and vintners, it’s a fun group of folks.”