Sunday, October 01, 2006
Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey
Since man can not live by beer alone, Lyke2Drink took some time out on Saturday from drinking beer to visit Colorado's only whiskey distillery, Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey in Denver. Head Distiller Jake Norris gave us a tour of the microdistillery and the racking room, including samples of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey and a yet to be bottled whiskey that is being conditioned in a barrel that had previously held Cabernet Franc from Colorado's Creekside Cellars winery.
Stranahan's made its first whiskey in 2004 and has just bottled its first product. The company has avoided the temptation to make other spirits that require less time to make and little or no aging. "We did not want to diffuse our focus. I don't want to make vodka, I want to make whiskey," Norris says. The company uses a unique column pot still built just for their distillery by Vendome Copper in Kentucky. Scotch distillers use pot stills, while many American whiskey makers use column stills.
Stranahan's majority owner is Jess Graber, while Norris and George Stranahan are minority owners in the project. Stranahan, who is the majority owner of the Flying Dog Brewpub next door, had his name used for the brand, Norris said, "because it sounded the best."
Stranahan's gets 3,000 gallons of wash weekly piped in directly from Flying Dog. The wash is distilled down to 450 gallons of new spirit, which is then run through a second column pot still to produce 250 gallons of 140 proof raw whiskey.
Stranahan's has a unique racking room that is humidified to protect the barrels from the dry conditions of the high plains desert. Norris said that without this step, the angel's share of whiskey lost to evaporation would be 10 percent annually versus the 4 percent most distillers experience in other climates. The constant heat and temperature in the rack room also influences the aging cycle of the whiskey. Norris estimates that two years under these conditions are equal to about four years at other distilleries. Stranahan's used heavily charred new American oak barrels to age its whiskey. The two year old Stranahan's that we tried did indeed drink like an older whiskey, with a sweet edge.
Jess Graber says the distillery has a patent pending on its whiskey making process. In addition to what the company does in the racking room, the mile high altitude and large swings in barometric pressure forces the whiskey in and out of the wood. He said many microdistillers have opted to make vodka, rum and brandy because it creates a quicker cash flow and easier to produce than whiskey. "We decided that Colorado needed a whiskey," Graber says.
Stranahan's sells for $54.95 per bottle. Right now the company is concentrating on building distribution in Colorado, but Graber said "it might make sense" when asked if his company might co-locate again with Flying Dog at the brewery they recently purchased in Maryland.