I know the reason I’m here in Denver is the Great American Beer Festival, but bear with me here. Because my first stop yesterday had something to do with beer, but more to do with whiskey.
Together with Lynn Davis, publisher of the new and forthcoming Beer Connoisseur magazine, I went for a visit of the new Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey distillery, where distiller Jake Norris was kind enough to show us around the company’s new digs, on his birthday, even. And it was an impressive your indeed.
Suffice to say, they won’t be needing to move again any time soon, since the building that now houses the distillery covers a city block and a rambling 60,000 square feet. And for the first time since Stranahan’s was originally distilled way back in January of 2004, they are now making their wash on site.
What this effectively means is that Norris is in charge of both a brewery and a distillery, in that the wash production takes place on a small brewery set-up and involves a complex grain bill. (For those of you unfamiliar with whiskey or whisky distilling, what goes into the still is essentially an unhopped beer, usually made from at least 51% corn in the US.) I offered the generalized characterization of the “beer” that Norris is making as an unhopped Scotch ale and he was comfortable with that, but the important thing to note is that this is a 100% barley malt wash made from multiple malts.
The wash is then distilled to first 100 proof and then 140 proof, before entering the new charred American oak barrels at 110 proof. If you’re a whisky fan, you’re probably making the connection of Scottish and American practices by now, and this is what makes Stranahan’s unique. Also quite tasty.
Norris has been playing about with some wine barrel finishes – called the Snowflake Series – but he admits that he’s just a bit irritated by the disproportionate attention they receive, since what he’s really about is the basic product. (Which, by the way, is blended in batches from whiskeys between 2 and 5 years old.) And rightly so, because Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is a singular spirit, and one I think is deserving of as much attention as it can receive.
Check it out if you can. And if you can’t, come to Denver some time and take the tour yourself. Just not on the distiller’s birthday…