Story & photos by Owen Woods |
and Madeleine Ahlborn | 

IN Mosca, settled on the far west side of the town, is an old white building that was home to the Sangre De Cristo Undivided High’s auxiliary gym and basketball court. This old building has seen its share of championship games of basketball and a whole lot of dodgeball for the P.E. classes. It sat under the sun for a long time, filled with desks and doors and remnants of the old school. Now, it’s to become the home of The San Luis Valley Distillery, which is the manifestation of a vision of locally sourced spirits and socialization. Nick Chambers and JD Kettle are putting in the work and man hours to get it up and running. A new corner of the Valley will see a fully operational distillery with a bar and tasting room, pool tables, an artful outcropping in the courtyard and a new place to socialize. 

Sangre De Cristo Undivided High’s auxiliary gym and basketball court in Mosca. Sangre De Cristo Undivided High’s auxiliary gym and basketball court in Mosca.

IT’S early February when we take our tour. 

Inside is the framework of a classy establishment that will have a bar and full-time barbacks. A mezzanine will overlook the old theater stage. The existing gym floor is still a staple of the foundation and all the doors going in and out of the main bar are from old classrooms. Brewing and distilling equipment sit in a corner, wrapped in plastic awaiting their time to brew gin, vodka, and whiskey. The distillery will seamlessly meld the old and the new and create something for travelers and locals. 

There’s no surefire opening date, yet, but the work that’s being done now is just as important as the grand opening. 

JD Kettle, nephew of The San Luis Valley Distillery’s owner Nick Chambers, walks us around the tumbleweed flats surrounding the husk of the old gym. He gives us the oral history of the building. Its white paint is sun-faded and chipped, and it stands in contrast to the surrounding world. It is a building that has seen some change, some trials and tribulations, fires, and generation after generation of students who have come and gone. 

“Highway 17 used to be a railroad, and so when people used to offload for the railroad the school house would be the first thing that they would see.” 

photos of the gymbefoer it caught fire, and as it was on fire

The old gym as it was before the fire, then as it burned. | Photos courtesy Nick Chambers

THE burnt history of Mosca’s old school house lies in the dirt at the edge of the property. There is a hidden history that sits in the baffles of the old white building, still painted in shapes of blue diamonds that match the sky above us. 

“The truss system was imported from Pueblo in 1948 after fire burned the original roof. It’s a donated air force hanger truss system.”

“Because we are working with the historical society they’ve got rules on what you can and cannot do, so we can’t go through and just repaint everything. That’s why the (re)stucco is the thing to do…it’s considered preserving the integrity of the building.” 

There is a lot of restuccoing to do on the old structure. There is a lot of restuccoing to do on the old structure.

IT’S a cold day, but a clear one. 

The surrounding property and interior construction are in disarray, but not too long from now it will be a haven of spirits and art. This project will become more than just a bar. It’s a hidden gem that’s being unearthed as we speak. It’s another addition to the unique locales around the Valley that provide folks some comfort and sense of place. 

three panels show rooms under construction

JD Kettle shows some rooms under construction.

It’s a watering hole that ain’t just another sticky-floor dive. 

“There is tourism that comes through year-round, being this close to the sand dunes road it’s nonsensical to not drive by here. So you’re either going to catch people that way, or you’ve got locals that want to come hang out. It’s not hard to find, that’s for sure.”

A scarecrow sits at the eastern edge of the property, looking at Blanca Peak from the end of 3rd Street. It’s a Wednesday in Mosca and the streets are otherwise quiet. Even Highway 17 is sparse with cars. 

looking out east from the building

Looking out at Mosca from the front of the old gym.

THE industrial noises of White Rock Specialities fills the desert silence of Mosca.

“White Rock Specialties, right next door to the Food Hub, they were using this building and I think with Nick’s connections with them, when he came up with the idea he was like ‘Hey, you guys have this big empty space that you’re not using, do you mind if I tinker around in there?’ So there used to be some of their stuff in here. They put in that garage door so they had extra storage and stuff, but they haven’t been using it since we started in here.

“In 2012, 2013 is when the Sangre De Cristo School stopped using this and it just became an auxiliary space. 

“There are some people that I’ve met from the potato farm that helped out with the school. They’ve got funny stories of coming here when it was just basic electricity.There was no water because they took the water rights with them to the new school. So kids would be here for basketball practice or wrestling practice and they would have to leave here, walk next door to the food hub where the auxiliary school was to get drinks then come back, or they had to bring their own water. 

“The majority of the doors we are going to use are actually left behind from the school, so some of them are the old chemistry lab doors. We’re finding use from everything that is available.” 

bleacher seats, a classroom door, some old signage

The remodel will incorporate things left behind.

THE  San Luis Valley Distillery is certain to disrupt the desert silence with an oasis.  

Inside this old building is a vision: caveman alchemy. Gin, vodka, whiskey, locally grown food, and an environment unlike any other in the Valley. 

Chambers is the owner, proprietor, and brains behind the whole operation. His day job is managing the Valley Roots Food Hub, just down the street from the distillery. You could call the distillery a passion project, but really it’s a legacy project that you could argue is in their blood. 

Nick Chambers in the midst of his project

The San Luis Valley Distillery owner Nick Chambers

BESIDES the electricians, JD, Nick, and Nick’s brother David are the only three working on this monster project, with an assist from local electricians, plumbers and drywallers. There’s a lot of personal investment in this vision. There’s a legacy, too. It’s too late to turn back now, and really, why the hell would you? 

Mosca is a gas station in the middle of farm territory. Its claim to fame is the school two miles down the road. It’s a look into the dust bowl and most folks drive right through. Adding a distillery is certain to change the status quo. 

Along with the creation of booze and spirits, a place for music and art, some pool and socializing, it will also be another storefront for the Valley Roots Food Hub. 

“The vodka, whiskey and gin that we will make will be sourced from right next door. White Rock Specialties is a combination of White Mountain and Rocky Farms, they were two of the bigger potato producers out here and they decided to come together. They do potatoes, quinoa, beets, onions, they do a lot of produce. When we say it’s all from here, it’s literally right next door.” 

For a long, long time people have been making alcohol with whatever they could get their hands on – and if it went bad, not to fret, that’s part of the process anyway. 

The Legacy and The History

WITH the manifestation of this place underway, JD took us and steeped us in a little history. 

“That logo right there is from Anthony Carbone Co. Wines, which was my great-great grandfather’s winery. We will have our own wine label that will revive that old family history. This will be separate from the distillery. These guys are actually making this out in Palisade. They will make it and bottle it then we get to put our label on it.” 

winery logo from 1903
wine bottle with label

“THE cool thing in how it (the winery) connects to the Valley is, flash forward to 2002, 2003, Nick is living in Crestone and there is this old cabin that he is renovating and fixing up, and he’s ripping down the walls, and he finds this Carbone wine box being used as insulation. He found that in this cabin of all places in Crestone. Of all people to find that, it’s one of the grandkids.” 

tattered Carbone Wine box

THE San Luis Valley Distillery is still a work in progress. There’s no definitive opening date, but we look at that like a fine wine – the longer you age it, the smoother it goes down. will have more in-depth coverage of the distillery in the months to come. We’ll even be there on opening day. 

“Following prohibition, Carbone Wines was the first liquor license in the state of Colorado… so the story goes.” 

EDITORS’ NOTE: This story has corrected information from an earlier version.

A small favor:  

Alamosa Citizen is committed to informing and engaging the people of the San Luis Valley. Unlike many other sites, the Citizen makes its journalism available to everyone to read, regardless of what they can afford to pay. We do this because we believed informed citizens create better communities.
If you like what you’ve seen and heard so far, please become an member. We have no out-of-town shareholders or billionaire owners. Your membership makes our reporting possible, and keeps it free for all to access. Your support will make all the difference.


Leave a comment