Colorado's first whiskey distillery
Stranahan's is an American single malt whiskey that is produced in Denver, Colorado. It is made at the Stranahan's micro distillery, which was founded in 2004 by Jess Graber, George Stranahan and Jake Norris, and was the first micro distillery to ever be granted a license to distill whiskey in Colorado. The partnership was born when Graber, who was a fireman, attended a barn fire at Stranahan's farm. The two got talking and discovered a mutual love of whiskies. Upon Graber's retirement from the fire service, the two decided to start a micro distillery along with Norris, who remains the head distiller and production manager. Between them they formulated the recipe and still design for Stranahan's whiskey.
Stranahan's whiskey is made using water from the Rocky Mountains, which is filtered through charcoal, and 80% of the barley used is also grown locally in the Rockies. The still is almost unique in the whisky world as it combines a copper pot still and a column still (the only thing that we know is similar, can be found at the Welsh distillery of Penderyn). The spirit is distilled twice and the make up of the still produces a high yield with little waste. The new spirit is matured for 2-5 years in heavily charred new oak casks and this takes place in climate controlled warehousing. Each cask can hold 200 litres and only 12 casks worth of spirit is produced each week (therefore 2,400 litres per week and around 125,000 litres per year).
Details of the whiskey
Stranahan's is released in small batches. Each batch consists of between 10 and 12 casks (approximately 2500-3000 bottles), which are married together for a short period and reduced to 47% ABV for bottling. Every bottle is filled by hand and the each label has hand written details including the batch number, the date that the youngest cask included was distilled and a comment. Our bottle is from batch 53, with the youngest cask of whiskey distilled on 28 January 2008 and a comment of 'Listening to Nick Cave'. Stranahan's has started to win awards, both in the USA and abroad, including Best Small Batch Whisky in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2008.
Our tasting notes
The colour of Stranahan's is a deep rich gold and the first thing that you notice is that this whiskey grips on to the glass and doesn't let go easily. The nose hits you with its intensity and the complexity is surprising given the youthfulness of the whiskey. Firstly comes a massive hit of vanilla and oak (think of sawdust) before sweet malty cereal grains and some fresh fruits come through (imagine pears, apples and some zingy citrus, possibly orange). These are all backed up by increasingly intense wood spices (think of cinnamon and nutmeg) and a hint of sulphuric smoke (this is reminiscent of coal smoke and is probably a result of the heavily charred casks used in maturation). On the palate, it is full bodied and viscous but the alcohol seems powerful and threatens to overtake everything. This is nullified by some big, bold characteristics that are present - heaps of oak, wood spice (the cinnamon and nutmeg again) and vanilla, some honey, orange zest and a heavy malty grain influence. The sweetness of the palate is replaced by dryness on the finish, as a charred, burnt woody element comes to the fore. This gives extra bitterness that is accentuated by further bitter cereal, wood spice and burnt sugar notes.
What's the verdict?
Stranahan's is a very interesting whiskey, although certainly not a subtle one! It is big, bold and a little brash with plenty of exaggerated aromas and flavours on offer. This may make it a bit overpowering for some. It certainly tastes and seems older than it is, although it gives hints to its youthful age with the pear and apple notes on the nose and the spicy alcohol on the palate. The comparison with 'Listening to Nick Cave' cannot be ignored - you will think it is great if you are into that style of lyrics and music (or this style of whiskey), but will find it difficult and almost inaccessible if you are not. There are few American single malts so it is well worth a try if you can get a bottle or a sample.