Floodwaters can’t dampen their spirits

Vodka and water may not be a very good mix. But take a distillery menaced by a flood and stir in some caring, tireless friends, and the result can be quite flavorful.

That was the happy ending to a stressful first week of June for Syntax Spirits. Its distillery at 625 Third St. Unit C in northeast Greeley was swamped when the Cache la Poudre River, swollen by mountain snowmelt and repeated rains on the plains, rose out of its banks and into nearby industrial areas.

“We didn’t have any damage last September” when massive flooding devastated parts of the Front Range, said Heather Bean, managing member and chief executive at Syntax. “We had to close, but only because people couldn’t get to us. It was different this time.”

For the distillery’s staff who watched the Poudre rise on June 2, Bean said, it was an emotional rollercoaster. “It went from ‘Oh, we’re winning!’ to ‘Oh, we’re losing!’ We went from happy to ‘Oh, crap!’

“The deepest was about 2 feet,” she said, “with about 6 inches in the tasting room. It was a lot of mud and silt.

“We had some dicey moments when people would drive by and throw huge wakes against our garage door. I could have surfed those waves in my kayak! The door eventually started to buckle, and if it had given way we would have had 2 feet of water everywhere.”

During the most desperate hours, Syntax posted about that “cheap old garage door” on its Facebook page, “Apparently it wasn’t rated as a sea wall. … Who knew?”

This is where a little help from friends went a long way.

“We had several customers come help, and some good friends from other times,” Bean said.

The biggest help came from Greeley-based Hensel Phelps Construction Co., which has grown since its founding in 1937 to become one of the largest general contractors and construction managers in the United States. “They got in and tried to pump out water as fast as they could,” Bean said. “If anybody can pump out that much water, it’s them, with their enormous pumps.”

By June 5, the warehouse Syntax shares with Wiley Roots Brewing Co. had been pumped out and the scrubbing, rinsing and squeegeeing was in full force. “We’d gotten all of our packaged stuff off the floor,” Bean said, “and our stainless-steel tanks were meant to be hosed down. So it wasn’t so bad.”

By June 7, Syntax put out the happy word on Facebook: “We’ve got 99 problems, but a flood ain’t one! Syntax will reopen … at 4 p.m. Thanks to good pumps, big tools, great friends and troubling amounts of caffeine, we’re going to be good to go! We can’t guarantee that everything will be perfect, but the spirits are unharmed.”

The human spirits as well as the liquids, Bean said.

On June 9, the tasting room held a flood fundraiser, with free food and $1 from every drink sold going to “those hit worse than we were,” Bean said.

She’s even coming up with a commemorative flood cocktail, with lemonade and vodka. In honor of those powerful wakes that were thrown against the Syntax garage door, it’ll be called the Whitewater.

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