Bad Alibi turns two coal workers into whiskey-makers

The former APH Construction building at 406 Yampa Ave. is slated to become Craig's first distillery.
Amber Delay/Craig Press

The idea for a new local business may have been sparked in the same way that pioneers conquered the West, with a wild hair and strong ambition to explore new terrain. 

Wade Gerber and Sean Hovorka, both in leadership roles within the local coal industry, first met four years ago while volunteering to help with the high school robotics team sponsored by Tri-State. 

From there, there was a lot of discussion between Gerber, his wife, Hovorka and local business owner Kirstie McPherson about what is next for Craig’s economy with the transition away from the coal industry. In these conversations, the idea sprung up to open a distillery. 

Because Gerber and Hovorka will be directly affected by the closure of the coal power plant and the mine that feeds it, they decided to prepare for their future in a unique way. 

“It’s been about a year and half since we started talking about it, and here we are now with a building ready to move forward,” Gerber said. 

Earlier this year, the pair purchased the old APH Construction building at 406 Yampa Ave., and they plan to transform it into Craig’s first distillery under the name Bad Alibi. 

“Basically, what it’s going to be is a 500-gallon distillery unit that will produce vodka, gin and different kinds of whiskey,” Gerber said. 

This will be a new adventure for Gerber, who has been the maintenance supervisor at the power plant since 2004, and Hovorka, who is the production superintendent at Trapper Mine. 

However, there are no prohibition batches the team can test out prior to Bad Alibi opening its doors. Becuase all spirit production is regulated by the Colorado Liquor and Tobacco Bulletin Board, Bad Alibi has to have a license before it can start production. 

After coming up with the idea, Gerber has been taking courses to learn how to distill. 

As for the name Bad Alibi, Gerber said he can’t remember exactly how it came about, but he thinks that it may have been McPherson who threw the idea out there. Whatever its origin, the name fits perfectly into the storyline that will accompany the products.

“A lot of the products are going to follow the history of this area with bank robbers, cowboys and cattle rustling — people who came here with nothing and fought to get what they had,” Gerber said. 

Turning 406 Yampa Ave. into a distillery will take a significant renovation.  With the purchase of the building, the owners said they are honoring the current leases, so as tenants move out of the building, Bad Alibi will start doing the renovation. 

In the back of the building will be the distillery where all of the production takes place. Upfront, there will be a tasting room where Bad Alibi will be able to sell its products. 

Bad Alibi is aiming to be in production by this time next year, though Gerber said there is a lot between now and then that could hold up the project. The team is currently working with an engineer to make sure the still will fit in the space, and once the design phase is finished, ordering the still will take additional time. 

Because of the renovation and improvements that Bad Alibi will be putting into the building and the future prospects for growth of the distillery, this project was prime for a Craig Urban Renewal Authority project. 

Craig Economic Development Manager Shannon Scott said that the urban renewal authority met Wednesday, Aug. 10, to discuss Bad Alibi and approved the project. 

According to Scott, the urban renewal authority is designed to spur investment by providing tax incentives to help investors make back some of their investment over time. During the creation of the the urban renewal authority, local taxing entities agreed to share a percentage of the taxes. 

In order to partner on projects, the urban renewal authority looks at the project cost, the investment into the property and the potential economic benefit to the community, including job creation. If a business meets its milestones over the course of the program, a portion of the taxes from the investment are rebated back to the business. 

Gerber said Bad Alibi will be self-distributing its products in the local area in the beginning. Once they start building a name for themselves, they hope to start working with a regional distributor. The goal in the first couple of years would be to have Bad Alibi products available statewide.

Once Bad Alibi opens, Gerber and Hovorka plan on sticking with their current jobs, so they plan to hire wait staff, bar staff and distillers to run the place starting out. 

Scott said this is the type of project — two business partners transitioning out of careers in the coal industry to become entrepreneurs — that the urban renewal authority is inspired to see.

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