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few years ago, William H. Macy did the most romantic thing he could think of for his wife, the actress Felicity Huffman: he bought her a house.
But it wasn’t just any house that Macy took over. No, the actor purchased Huffman’s childhood home, and lovingly — and painstakingly — rebuilt it from the studs, until he had one day turned her childhood home into her dream home, and the couple moved in with their two daughters and two dogs to live happily ever in the “Hollywood version” of the same house that had stood there for years before.
That’s the story of how William H. Macy and Felicity Huffman ended up in Woody Creek, Colorado, an unincorporated town with exactly one tavern and one post office along the Roaring Fork River, flowing gently upstream from Aspen.
“The story of me and Woody Creek is pretty freakin’ good,” Macy recalled on a recent afternoon, huddled over a glass of whiskey on the rocks at the popular Aspen hat shop and speakeasy, Kemo Sabe. To hear the actor tell it, he began coming to Woody Creek for Huffman (Macy affectionately refers to her as “Flicka” or “Flick”) but it eventually became a place where he found sanctuary for himself, from the demanding grind of Hollywood.
“Flick grew up here and I started dating her many years ago, and so I’ve been coming here for 30 years,” he says. “But I started to know a lot of the people coming up on our road and I’ve skied most of the mountains, and we hike all the time and we live close to the Woody Creek Tavern, which is a book in itself,” he says. “When we’re here, it all just fits.”
The move to Colorado brought other unexpected opportunities as well, namely a chance meeting with the team behind Woody Creek Distillers, a group of friends who had started making vodka, gin and bourbon using grains from local farms and water from the Rocky Mountains. Macy quickly struck up a friendship with the owners and began frequenting their distillery in nearby Basalt. The actor was introduced as the brand’s official “spokesdude” a few years later.
Now, Macy is launching his own expression with Woody Creek, with the introduction of the “William H. Macy Reserve Straight Rye Whiskey,” a premium, 10-year-old, bottled-in-bond release with an 80% rye, 20% malted barley mash bill. The limited edition “Macy Reserve” is available for purchase now at woodycreekdstillers.com and select retail outlets in Colorado and California, with other regions launching soon.
Macy says the opportunity to launch his own bottling with Woody Creek has given him a chance to explore new artistic endeavors, after spending eleven seasons playing the patriarch Frank Gallagher on the hit Showtime series, Shameless. “When Shameless ended, I had this notion that I would go into something that would be like semi-retirement,” Macy offers, explaining that he “wanted to do different stuff.”
“I’ve always been fascinated about alcohol and the history of it, and I love to drink it,” he adds: “So this was a perfect fit.”
The new expression features notes of clove and cinnamon on the nose, with hints of dried raisins, burnt orange and baking spice on the palate. The spirit is warm and enveloping, at once nostalgic and peculiar, designed to be sipped neat, or on the rocks (Macy prefers a generous pour over a large cube of ice).
Every ingredient in the rye is sourced from Colorado, and Macy and the co-owners of Woody Creek know every supplier by name. The distillery also mashes, ferments, distills, ages and bottles every ounce of whiskey themselves.
For Macy, the rye whiskey harks back to memories of watching his parents drink, and quickly learning that drinking is personal. “My mom and dad drank in such an odd way,” he recalls. “They would pour a shot of Canadian rye and a glass of water, and with the left hand they’d throw the shot back and swallow it, and in the right hand they’d take a big gulp of water.”
Though the actual rye wasn’t that good — “It looked and tasted like medicine,” the actor says — the ritual of enjoying a drink and the small sense of indulgence that came with it was enough to spark a curiosity in Macy. Growing up in the South, he developed an affinity for bourbon; as an adult, he “had a love affair” with scotch. And then he arrived in Woody Creek, where he tasted the Woody Creek rye and quickly “adored it.”
“I thought it was so refreshingly different than bourbon,” he expresses. “I like the bite at the beginning, and there’s a little sweetness that I really appreciate, but it’s smooth,” he says; “much smoother than bourbon.”
To hear Macy tell it, the process of working on the Straight Rye Reserve was equally as smooth, with the actor, Woody Creek co-founders Mark Kleckner and Patrick Scanlan, and a handful of their friends sitting down for a blind tasting. “Each tasting was numbered and I had a notebook to write down some of things I liked about each glass,” Macy recalls. “People were saying things like, ‘It’s fruity, it has an afterglow’ and all sorts of stuff, but I couldn’t come up with that,” he continues. “I just knew what I tasted and what I liked.” As it turns out, the batch that Macy liked also matched up with what the others had picked out on their pads of paper. As the actor says in the announcement release for his rye: it was “magic.”
Though Macy has gamely posed for photoshoots and campaigns for Woody Creek (there are even cardboard cutouts of him holding bottles of whiskey in the distillery’s tasting room in Colorado), his latest promotional tactic has been decidedly more harmonious.
The actor has been surprising guests at the tasting room with impromptu musical performances, with songs inspired by Woody Creek and written by the multi-talented star on his ukulele (“People who play ukulele are just slightly better than people who don’t,” he jests). On a recent Saturday, Macy was spotted performing a trio of acoustic ditties that paid homage to everything from the staff at the distillery, to the local municipality of Basalt, to the “fucked up women” he’s come across in his life (it should be noted that Huffman was in the audience clapping along and gamely taking it all in stride – “I’ve heard this song many times before,” she said with a laugh).
For Macy, the pop-up performances are another way to promote Woody Creek’s line of spirits while also showing guests that while the distillery takes its work very seriously, the drinking part of it doesn’t have to be so austere. “When people come see us, we try to throw them a party, and part of that party is me singing a couple of off-color ukulele songs,” cracks Macy, who reveals he’s written seven or eight tunes for this very use. “It just gives you a face and a name and a feeling behind the brand. Plus,” he adds, “We used to do a lot of bottle signings and I went all over the country and met people. And then the pandemic hit, so we weren’t doing that. And I want to still earn my keep.”
Would the theater major ever record a proper album? “I would,” he says, “though I’d want to re-record everything.”
“I think the tunes are workable,” Macy clarifies, “but the subject matter has got a very limited scope — about 200 square miles,” he quips. Another quip: “I only know four people who would buy my album: my wife and I, and both my daughters. And if Felicity says no, then I guess I’m out of luck — and out of money.”
Macy Reserve is the first entry in Woody Creek’s Barrel Select Program, which will offer customers a series of premium special reserve offerings chosen from the distillery’s more than 5,000 barrels of whiskey. Though this is a limited-edition release, customers can also buy the brand’s regular whiskeys, bourbons and ryes (and entire line of spirits) online on sites like ReserveBar.com.
As for Macy, the actor says he’s excited to have the opportunity to create something new, as he enters this new phase of life in Woody Creek. “We live out in the country where the elk are a pain in the ass and come on the back porch, and we’ve got a resident coyote and red-tailed hawks and owls,” he says. “But I feel so fulfilled in my life. I’m reveling in that, and part of reveling in that is taking time to do other things.”
“I really do hope people enjoy this whiskey,” he offers, raising a mock glass in a toast. “They’re the finest spirits made. They’re all sourced out of Colorado. It’s about 20 people who make them so it’s not a big committee. And it’s as green and philanthropic as it can get.” Macy smiles and ends with this: “This spirit is so refined and so perfect, and I guess I’m reveling a little bit in that too.”