Stranahan's. Denver's best kept single malt secret.
Stranahan’s is an American Single Malt and one of the first brands in this emerging, American Whiskey category. Although, when I started writing this distillery visit post I didn’t feel that was the most important part of their story. Being a single malt made from 100% malted barley is undoubtedly influencing the flavor profile of their product, but I feel there are many additional factors that make Stranahan’s the brand that it is today. This post won’t go in depth about what classifies something as an American Single Malt, but definitely take a look for yourself on the Single Malt Whiskey Commission webpage to learn about the current fight for regulation around this category.
American Single Malt Whiskey Commission
The beginning of the Stranahan’s story starts with a fire, a firefighter and Flying Dog Brewery. Flying Dog Brewery was located just outside of Aspen. A fire broke out on the property and Jeff Graber happened to be the firefighter who responded to the call. He saw the brewery and thought about taking that beer and distilling it. In 2004 Jeff partnered with Flying Dog’s owner, George Stranahan and began a distillery. It wasn’t until 2009 as the business continued to grow, that the distillery was moved to it’s current location in Denver. Stranahan’s is no longer using the beer from Flying Dog for production but you can imagine that it was essential to match that beer (wash) with their own equipment for consistency reasons. Ownership of the brand changed again and in 2011 when Stranahan’s was sold to Proximo Brands and has remained in their portfolio ever since.
They have a mill on site, so once the barley is received they are ready to grind it into grist. I was told that they are currently receiving 60,000 pounds of barley per week. Their mash tun capacity is 1,200 gallons and is stainless steel. Once the sweet wort is collected it goes into what they call a boiling process. This entails raising the temperature of the wort to discourage and eliminate any bacteria from growing. This is not a common practice among whiskey producers as far as I’ve seen. The presence of additional equipment is immediate when you walk onto the production floor because of this process. Since the Flying Dog Brewery was doing this to the beer they used to distill, this meant they had to keep this additional step when on their own. This is an interesting and a potential obstacle for new producers. If they decide to buy in their beer to save on production costs, then as they grow and possibly mash and ferment themselves, they must match the product that was originally bought in.
They have eight fermenters in total ranging from 1,900 gallons up to 5,500 gallons and they use a proprietary yeast for fermentation. The fermentation lasts for about 5-7 days and they are left with 8% ABV. Their pot stills are short and squatty but can’t be missed in the back corner of the facility. An American flag hangs proudly over the Vendome manufactured hybrid column/pot stills. There are three wash stills and two spirit stills. All their whiskey is distilled twice which is almost standard now to most single malt, pot still whisky. I tried a bit of the new make spirit and it was much fruiter than I expected based off my review for their core range, aged single malts.
Independent Stave Company assembles their barrels and gives them a number three char. Their Colorado location comes into play not only with the Rocky Mountain spring water that is used throughout the process but also the extremely dry air of Denver. There is essentially no humidity and so climate-controlled warehouses are a must. With climate control they have about 8% angels share and without this control they were experiencing upwards of 15% angels share. They are also going up in alcohol by volume because the water content of the whiskey is evaporating first. Once the whiskey is ready for bottling it is not chill filtered and cut to 43% ABV. All bottling is done on site.
I have reviewed their core product range below along with one of the special “Snowflake Editions”. Recently Stranahan’s did surprise us with a new addition to their core range – the “Stranahan’s Sherry Cask Single Malt” but it is not reviewed below.
Stranahan’s Single Malt – a marriage of 2,3,4 and 5 year old barrels
Cinnamon toast crunch! Has some dried apples, vanilla and a tough caramel chew to it. I find it at first sip a little rough around the edges if this is your first whiskey of the day. This may be due to the fact of a few of the younger whiskeys that are married in during vatting.
If you add water to this one it subdues the sweet and a nice pepper spice comes out.
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak Single Malt – a marriage of typically older barrels all hand selected for excellence (of course!) by Rob Dietrech, Head Distiller.
Caramel, confectionary qualities from the heavier char and chocolate. The bourbon qualities of the charred oak come out in thick caramel, cappucciono and vanilla for this one.
Snowflake 2014 Release
A limited release that comes out once a year. People wait outside of the distillery for this one! Released December each year and is always first aged for two years in new charred American Oak and then finished in some sort of rum, cognac, tequila port etc. cask.
- Mount Bierstadt Bottling - finishes of Oloroso Sherry, Cognac and various wines.
- Distilled 7/5/12
- Bottle # 2,460/3,000
- Batch 16
A cherry tart, similar to the ones you get at the gas station pit stops. Very sweet, strong and rich port notes. It reminds me of the original port cask export from Lark in Tasmania. There are sweet grapes and a creaminess to it. Some cinnamon shines through along with syrup, nuttiness and literally NO spice.