Earlier this autumn, Stranahan’s announced the distribution of its Colorado Whiskey within the five boroughs. When it comes to the brown stuff, New York is hardly suffering from any sort of shortage. So why should you care about this Denver-based brand hitting the shelves of your local liquor store? We asked Rob Dietrich, Stranahan’s Master Distiller, to help state the case. Decide for yourself.
A vital distinction between Dietrich’s whiskey and most of its American counterparts is the ingredients — what distillers refer to as a mash bill.
“We are very different from a Kentucky-style bourbon because we use a specialized mash bill of 100 percent malt barley, the majority of which is grown and malted in Colorado,” Dietrich points out. “A bourbon, by definition, is 51 percent corn and 49 percent grain, barley, or rye and has a very corn-forward flavor. We designed our whiskey to be similar to a scotch, but with a Rocky Mountain style, as we distill and age at 5,280 feet.”
So, for one, Stranahan’s can properly be regarded as an American single malt. But what impact does elevation have on distillation and barrel aging? “Our boiling temperatures are much different and there is less oxygen in the air at this elevation,” says Dietrich. “The aging process is definitely affected by this, as well as the dryness of the high-desert climate. This is why we climate-control our barrelhouse to maintain high humidity and heat for better spirit interaction with the wood.”
In addition to impressive technology, Stranahan’s also relies on good old-fashioned water to deliver a superior product. Sourcing hydration from nearby Eldorado Springs, the water primarily consists of Rocky Mountain runoff. “Every distiller will tell you that one of the key ingredients in every spirit is the water,” says Dietrich. “We have such great water here in Colorado — in my opinion, some of the best in the world. Colorado water is an important commodity and is key to the quality of our whiskey.”
New York is a particularly thirsty market, requiring a lot of water, but Dietrich feels he can meet that potential demand. “I recently attended WhiskyFest New York [on September 24], and there were an amazing amount of people who sought out our booth pleading with us to bring it to New York,” he says. “Keeping up with present demand in New York requires that I have a conversation with my past self to make sure we planned out our barrel production carefully enough. I believe we are up for the challenge!”
You read that correctly. Dietrich actually had to travel to the past, ripping open a corridor through the fabric of time and space itself to make sure there was enough whiskey for present-day New Yorkers. Now that’s dedication. In all seriousness, though, barrel-aging presents some insane risks: namely, having to plot out supply and demand projections years into the future — at a minimum.
Says Dietrich, “In order to fulfill the nationwide demand, we had to make projections about three to four years ago, and expand our mashing and fermentation, distillation, and barrel storage areas to increase our barrel production for future releases.”
But enough about the process, how does the stuff actually taste? I’ll handle this, as I’m currently sipping on a dram, struggling to type with one hand:
The barley mash bill isn’t immediately apparent on the nose. You’d be forgiven for detecting an almost bourbon-like sweetness wafting up from the glass. But the grain hits the palate with immediate impact. An almost undetectable spice washes over the tongue right before a burnt caramel finish holds fast to the back of the throat, evoking a Highland heritage — fitting for a whiskey of Rocky Mountain origin. This is a highland of a different color.
I’m sold. And certainly I’m not the only New Yorker. At WhiskyFest, Dietrich heard such high praise as, “Bro, where can I get some of your awesome whiskey? It’s the best thing I’ve ever had, and the highlight of everything I’ve tried at this festival.” Bold words, when considering the other top-shelf products available that night.
There were also significantly less-savory ways in which folks expressed their devotion. “We had someone swipe a bottle off of our table,” Dietrich admits. “I’d say that’s a compliment in itself.”
If you’re looking to procure Stranahan’s without the five-finger discount, a 750-mL bottle will set you back about $60. It’s on the shelves now at Astor Wine & Spirits, Park Avenue Liquor, and Bottlerocket in the Flatiron. You can also tackle a tipple or two at Del Posto,
Locanda Verde, and Blue Smoke.