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Rocky Mountain Whiskey - Defying Definition While Delighting the Palate
Posted July 25th, 2008 by firstname.lastname@example.org
BevX - Discovering the Hot Brands of Tomorrow
From the time of our first forced socialization, be it at school or chucked in the yard with the neighbor kids whilst the parents play cards; we are compelled to conform. It begins rather subtly and then becomes more pervasive as we find ourselves making conscious decisions regarding the clothes we wear, the music we listen to, and the people that we keep in our company. We all have done this albeit with varying degrees of dogma and comfort. Often the biggest conformers are those who “fight” conformity. Yes, you in the spiked purple hair and ring through your nose. You’re a colossal conformer and besides, there are far more creative ways to let your parents know that you loathe them.
The desire to categorize products is strong, and in the world of alcohol beverages it’s nearly required. From time to time we witness the introduction of something uncommon but it is largely done for the sake of being peculiar. Being a first seems to hold cachet with some folks while I am pretty sure that no one needed to be the first caffeinated Beer. However, on rare occasions, something truly original does emerge as equally unmoved by a desire to captivate as it is by convention. This is the soul of creativity, the heart of a pioneer. Fortunately, I have found a beverage that fits this bill, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. This spirit defies categorization but generously compensates by providing raw hedonistic pleasure and pure palate satisfaction. That’s a trade I’m willing to make on any day of the week.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey was born out of the most unlikely of circumstances. Stranahan’s principal owner, Jess Graber, was a volunteer fireman in his rural Colorado community. In 1998 Jess and his fellow firefighters answered the call to tackle a fire at a neighbor's barn. When the flames were extinguished, Jess met the property owner, George Stranahan, majority owner of Denver’s Flying Dog Brewery. The two chatted about Beer and Whisky, a mutual passion, as Jess remarked that if George rebuilt the barn that it would be an ideal place to make some small batch Whiskey. George’s barn never became a distillery but a few years later the dream of creating a Colorado Whiskey began to take form. Test batches were made in a small space in Woody Creek. They experimented by distilling various Flying Dog Beers looking to identify which style and what combination of malts created the best tasting Spirit. The test phase went on for more than three years until they discovered the recipe that is now Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. In 2003 they moved into their present locale and on March 22, 2004, they distilled their first batch.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey (SCW) is located in a semi-commercial area of Denver just a few blocks behind Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies baseball club. It is also very strategically located next to the Flying Dog Brewery. The space itself is unremarkable, cramped, and with few creature comforts. Work desks are steps away from the still, a simple quality control lab, and stacks of Whiskey boxed for sale. Separate is the aging room that is a converted warehouse with wooden barrel racks lining the walls. The warehouse’s special addition is its industrial strength humidifiers and the warm to scorching hot ambient temperatures. Graber jokes that the aging warehouse ranges from “hot to Hades.” (Hot in the winter months and Hades in the summer.)
The process in creating SCW is straightforward and methodical. The raw material at SCW comes straight from neighboring Flying Dog Brewery via a 200-foot long 1.5-inch stainless steel pipe that spans the brewery and enters the distillery through a hole cut in a skylight and down to a holding tank. The beer is an unhopped, dark lager that is rich, malty, and perfectly fresh. From here the beer goes to SWC’s custom still built at Vendome Copper in Kentucky. It’s a unique hybrid still that combines a pot still (the style used for Single Malt Scotch Whisky) and a column still (the type used by most Bourdon distillers). The spirit is distilled twice before being laid to rest in American white oak barrels that have been heavily charred. Charring the interior of the barrel is a common practice that gives additional flavor and color to both Wines and Spirits (although a Wine producer would never char his barrel to this degree). At this point the hot and humid warehouse as well as Denver’s high altitude goes to work on the fresh, young Whiskey.
Remarkably, in just over two years the Whiskey is fully mature and amazingly complex. When I first reviewed Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey friends and readers asked, “What is it? Is it a Bourbon, a Rye, or a Scotch?” I suppose that the reflex to categorize is deeply ingrained within all of us.
Many would point to the warehouse and the unique aging conditions as SCW’s secret weapon. While I certainly believe that the aging conditions are absolutely crucial to the Whiskey’s flavor and aroma profile, I am more impressed with the flavor and quality of the product from start to finish. While all Whiskies are distillates of a Beer-like liquid, most all are nearly undrinkable at this stage. SCW’s Beer is very drinkable. Once distilled, and prior to wood aging, many Whiskies are hard, if not harsh, and in need of time in wood to soften rough edges. SCW’s raw spirit is amazingly fragrant, soft, and complex at 70 degrees alcohol by volume (the strength of the spirit when it finishes its second distillation). Throughout the process the product is not in need of being improved by the next stage in the procedure, only changed, and the final result speaks for itself. Often, the simplest answers hold the most truth.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is a growing brand. If your local store doesn’t carry this fine Whiskey, as them if they can get it for you. Also, be sure to check the brand’s website to find a listing of stores in the US that offer this spirit.