Brewing, Cideries & Spirits  June 6, 2024

Hoshiko hopes his Lasso whiskey ropes drinkers into friendships

WINDSOR — A visit to a politician drove Hunter Hoshiko to drink — and he couldn’t be happier about it.

He now is part owner of a 2,000-square-foot distillery in east Windsor, near the Future Legends sports complex, where he and his partners produce Lasso Whiskey and have been self-distributing it to around 35 liquor stores and 40 restaurants in Northern Colorado and metro Denver for the past three months.

“We do not have a tasting room yet,” so the distillery isn’t open to the public, Hoshiko said, “but we’re looking at a 25,000-square-foot building for an entirely new, giant distillery where we can have a tap room.

“That’s still in the works, but we’re growing like crazy.”

Like his small-batch handcrafted whiskeys, the dream of opening his own distillery has been aging awhile.

“I started getting the whiskey bug about 10 years ago,” said Hoshiko, a fourth-generation Coloradan, who recalled being invited to the home of Kevin Ross, now chairman of the Weld County Board of Commissioners. “He brought me over to his house and had a bunch of prominent guys and business leaders there, and it was cool to see everybody form relationships over whiskey.

“And I thought, shoot, I can do this too. So I went out and bought one bottle, then two, and now I’ve got a collection of over 1,000.

“Now I have people over to my home all the time, and we talk about just about anything. It creates lasting relationships and real relationships,” Hoshiko said.

Soon, Hoshiko began dreaming of opening a distillery, he said, “and about three years ago, I decided let’s make a company out of it. But that takes a while with permitting and figuring out what your brand is.”

He met with people in Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia who had massive stills, and told them, “These are the flavor profiles we’re going for,” Hoshiko said. “We had over 1,000 people try variations and different profiles. Once we decided, they did our initial distilling for us because whiskey has to go to sleep for a long time, and we didn’t have the means to do that yet. For a full-blown distillery that can turn out 10,000 barrels a year, it takes $6 million to $10 million to set it up correctly, and we still don’t have that capital to really dive in ourselves. That’s something we’re looking forward in the future to do.

“So right now, we reserve barrels from them,” he said. “They send us barrels, and we age, blend, proof and bottle everything in Windsor. The idea is eventually to bring it in house and vertically integrate everything here.”

Hoshiko established Lasso Whiskey alongside partners Joe Berlin, Dave Goldschmidt, Gabe Keyes and Jordan Lockner. “I met these guys a couple years ago,” he said, “and they said ‘we’re thinking of opening a whiskey company,’ and I said, ‘Oh, well, I am, too.’ They said ‘we have to get bonded and permitted,’ and I said, ‘We’re already going through that process.’ Now they’re some of my best friends. We gave them some ownership of Lasso, and they gave us some ownership. So now we have two companies under the same roof: their Ridge River Whiskey and my company, Lasso.

“We work together, bottle together, do everything together.”

Hoshiko picked the name Lasso for its symbolism of the American West and because, according to his company’s website, he wanted his whiskey to be “as smooth as a rope gliding through the hands of a seasoned cowboy.”

Lasso produces a six-year wheat, eight-year rye, and a Roper Reserve cask-strength rye, which is 58% to 60% alcohol. “That’s poured straight from the barrel into the bottle,” Hoshiko said.”

Lasso is a bit higher-priced than Ridge River, he said, “just because our whiskey is a little older. They got started a little later than we did.”

Lasso’s Roper Reserve and Rye Whiskey are already getting noticed, winning gold medals at the 2024 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Hoshiko’s family has been farming in the Greeley-Kersey area for 130 years and is known locally for raising onions, and today also raises corn, wheat and winter wheat on 3,000 acres. He hasn’t been using any of that grain for his whiskey — yet.

“There’s certain grain types you have to use,” he said. “That’s something new we’re going to be doing this year, sending that over so they can do some new fills for us.

“We’re just starting out and trying to find our way in the big whiskey world.”

Trying to find their way in the world is a tradition for the Hoshiko family. In the early 1900s, his then-teenaged, orphaned great-grandfather, Katsuma, stowed away on a steamship bound for the United States from Japan. The youth was caught, however, and forced to shovel coal in exchange for food. Fearing that he’d be sent back to Japan once the ship docked, Katsuma jumped overboard in San Francisco Bay and swam to shore, then gained U.S. citizenship and changed his name to Paul after the Bible’s Apostle Paul.

Paul Hoshiko worked on railroads to earn money, then joined other Japanese immigrants en route to Colorado who had heard about farming opportunities in Weld County. The family he raised avoided the World War II-era internment camps, but his teen-aged son — Hunter’s grandfather — was the only one who was allowed to travel outside the government-imposed 30-mile restriction so he could sell the family’s produce harvest in Denver.

Friendships were forged across racial and ideological lines in Colorado, symbolized by the Tower of Compassion erected in 1972 by the Kanemoto family in Longmont. Today, Hunter Hoshiko hopes his whiskeys can lasso folks into similar camaraderie.

“People say there’s no good that comes out of alcohol, but I would disagree,” he said. “There’s a heck of a lot of good. It creates lasting, longtime friendships. I’m always happy to sit down and have a good conversation over a glass.”

A visit to a politician drove Hunter Hoshiko to drink — and now the co-owner of Lasso Whiskey couldn’t be happier about it.

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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