Engineer-turned-distiller credits CSU for a firm foundation

Jason Hevelone

Jason Hevelone, owner of CopperMuse® Distillery. 

“I married an engineer; I didn’t marry an entrepreneur!” That was Heather Trantham’s (Civil and Environmental Engineering, ’92, ’95, ’98) immediate reaction when her husband, Jason Hevelone (Electrical and Computer Engineering, ’92), expressed his desire to enter the distilling industry. Already an avid home brewer, Hevelone originally came to Fort Collins to study engineering at CSU.

Distilling, rooted in engineering

The year was 1988, and Hevelone came to CSU with a few years of vocational electronics under his belt and a propensity for computers and programming. Trantham, Hevelone’s soon-to-be wife, also came to CSU to study electrical and computer engineering, but eventually switched to civil and environmental engineering. Both came from Pueblo, Colorado, and lived in Allison Hall, the engineering dorm at the time, their freshman year.

Jason Hevelone and Heather Trantham
As CSU students, Hevelone and Trantham were both officers of the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honors Society.

While at CSU, Hevelone took a liking to communications-based classes, especially antennas and electromagnetic fields. He particularly liked courses taught by Dr. Reza Zoughi, who was the Business Challenge Endowed Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the time. “I ended up taking more classes from him because he was a great teacher,” Hevelone said.

After graduation, Hevelone landed a job at NCR Corporation working in semiconductors, worked his way up the ladder, and moved on to become one of the youngest employees ever to be promoted to a manager role. After his time with NCR, he worked as manager of the reliability testing team at a solar energy startup company, Abound Solar, created by CSU mechanical engineering professor Dr. Walajabad Sampath. Hevelone’s time with the company gave him startup experience – a must-have for any aspiring distiller.

Distillery musings

In 2012, Hevelone experienced the craft beverage that would change everything: “It was a gin and tonic at Leopold Brothers in Denver, and the flavor was better than anything I had ever tasted before.” He realized Fort Collins didn’t have any establishments that offered handcrafted spirits quite like this, and the idea to open a local distillery was born.

In April 2014, Hevelone opened CopperMuse® Distillery, a tasting room and distillery in Old Town Fort Collins. While distilling might not seem directly related to engineering, Hevelone explains that his education and work experience still play an active role: “The analytical way I approach problems is rooted in my engineering experience, especially when troubleshooting an issue. While some people would get frustrated with how long it takes to figure out a problem, an engineering degree teaches you how to get over that hump.”

One example: when Hevelone created CopperMuse®’s silver rum. “Choosing new flavors and recipes is like designing your own experiments. I would name each attempt with a different letter of the alphabet, but I went through so many attempts while creating our silver rum that I ran out of alphabet. Like the engineer that I am, I started over with the Greek alphabet, and when I finally perfected the recipe, I was at the letter pi.”

A family effort

While engineering certainly played a role in Hevelone’s distilling success, he credits his wife as the true muse behind CopperMuse®. “Heather enables me to take this on; it’s a team effort.”

While Heather pursued both her master’s and doctoral degrees at CSU, Hevelone was able to support the two of them (as well as their two young children) because of his career in the engineering industry. Now, while he is pursuing his passion for distilling, Heather is able to support the family with her career in the engineering industry.

One thing is clear to Hevelone: his degree has been an asset to this turn in his career. “An engineering degree is going to give you a foundation to launch you pretty much anywhere. You just have to keep your eyes open to opportunities, and think about how to use the skills you’ve learned to get you where you want to go.”