Several years ago when Colorado native and longtime FirstBank customer, Sean Smiley, wanted to leave a successful career in the oil and gas business and invest his life savings into creating an all agave-based spirits distillery, not everyone was onboard. But Smiley had good reason for this drastic lifestyle change: to spend more time with his 8-year-old daughter, Genevieve, for one thing.

After receiving Federal and State permits, Smiley built a 3,000 square-foot distillery by hand and named it State 38 Distilling, inspired by Colorado’s status as the 38th state to be admitted into the Union.

The Golden-based distillery celebrated its grand opening this past November and is on track to becoming another successful business in Colorado’s burgeoning craft-spirit scene. We sat down with Smiley to learn a little about State 38 and where he sees his distillery heading.

How did you get into distilling?

I started out home brewing—making beers, none of which were that great—and decided to get into “home stilling” (the process of distilling liquor from home). I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond  and Home Depot to pick up all the necessary components, including a metal salad bowl (no joke!), to make a homemade still. I built it in my garage and made two or three bottles of moonshine. The rest is history!

What was the inspiration behind State 38?

I’ve had a passion for distilling for several years now and I chose to distill agave-based liquors because they produce a much better, cleaner tasting product. I also wanted to celebrate Colorado’s roots and create a space where people can hang out. Our tasting room is more like a lounge. We even have a private room we let patrons use—free-of-charge—for meetings, parties and other events.

What makes State 38 unique from other distilleries?

You won’t find any other distillery in the U.S. that makes 100 percent agave-based spirits. We make all of our spirits from organic raw blue agave, which comes directly from Jalisco, Mexico. When we say “raw,” we mean the agave was extracted from the pina (heart of the plant) at a temperature less than 140 degrees, helping to maintain its original flavor. I actually had to get both fair-trade and organic certification for my distillery. Fair-trade certified basically means that all the workers who produced my agave are paid a fair wage. Certified organic means the agave has been reviewed and approved by the Colorado Department of Agriculture for not using chemical food additives.

What kind of spirits do you produce?

We carry the world’s only agave-based vodka and gin and, of course, we make Agave Reposado, Agave Blanco and Agave Añejo spirits. The Reposado, Blanco and Añejo are tequilas, but because our products aren’t made in Mexico, we can’t technically label it “tequila.” It’s very similar to how sparkling wine can only be classified as “champagne” if it’s made in the Champagne Region of France.

Can you take us through your distilling process?

We ferment each batch in small 50 gallon stainless steel containers using the organic raw blue agave and Colorado Rocky Mountain Water, mixed with a secret yeast that I have found produces a superior tasting spirit. After fermentation, we distill the agave in custom stills, which I designed and built with the help of Mountain Man Welding and Fabrication. When the distillation process is complete, the high proof alcohol is either aged in brand new North American White Oak Barrels, then blended with distilled  water and bottled immediately after to make our Blanco, Reposado and Anejo agave spirits or redistilled and carbon-filtered to create our floral and clean agave-based vodka.

Where can people find your products?

We’d love for them to come to our distillery and take a free tour with tastings. Otherwise, people can find our products at major liquor stores, including Argonaut Wine & Liquor (Denver) or Hazel’s Beverage World (Boulder) and they can also taste select products at popular restaurants in Denver such as Lola’s and Lime.

What are your goals for State 38?

I want to get as many people to try our product as I can. Those who have tried it seem to really like it, and we’re building great buzz by being the only all agave-based distillery in Colorado. Our short-term goal is to get our products in as many liquor stores and restaurants as possible.

State 38 is located at 400 Corporate Circle, Suite B in Golden. Open Monday – Wednesday: 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m./ Friday – Sunday: 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. For more information about State 38, go to

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