Colorado is cranking out some of my favorite American whiskey these days, with Denver emerging as a hotbed of the craft distilling scene. Breckenridge is a town less often associated with the blue collar world of a distillery — but the folks at the Breckenridge Distillery think they have something special in their bourbon, and I am determined to find out what it is.
Bryan Nolt didn’t come from a distilling or a spirits background — he’s a doctor. As in, a true “stick out your tongue and cough” medical doctor. He spent his life trying to make people feel better, and along the way developed an appreciation for scotch whiskey that eventually blossomed into a love of bourbon. One day, while fishing along a pristine creek in Colorado he was struck with a calling to open a distillery.
Founded in 2008 and located in the skiing village of Breckenridge, Colorado, the distillery claims to be the highest altitude distillery in the world (although this title is contested by a Swiss distillery). They designed their operation after the Maker’s Mark facility, sporting a 40 foot column still with a doubler.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
There’s a trick here — but if you don’t look closely, you’ll miss it.
As a bourbon whiskey, this is required to start with a majority of corn in the mash bill. But for their spirit, Breckenridge whiskey barely clears that mark and opts instead to use a higher percentage of other grains — specifically, this is a reported 56% corn, 38% rye, and 6% malted barley.
Those grains are cooked and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid which is then distilled through their combination column still and doubler (again, that same general design used by Maker’s Mark). That whiskey is then placed into charred new oak barrels where it ages for a minimum of three years before being used.
The trick is that this is technically a blend of bourbon whiskies — only a fraction of the actual alcohol content here comes from spirits they produce on-site. The remainder appears to be sourced from other established distilleries (which are not named or disclosed) and combined to create the final flavor profile.
That leaves a pretty big question mark around how much of the flavor here is from the distillery’s own hand and how much is the fruit of other people’s work.
Overall, it’s a pretty standard design. They are using the same short and stout bottle used by numerous other craft distilleries (which isn’t a bad thing — it is popular because it works). That short and stout design is appealing, and looks good on a shelf. The bottle is capped with a wood and cork stopper that comes wrapped in a foil wrapper.
The markings on the bottle are painted onto the glass, which means the vast majority of the space on the bottle is transparent. I love that — being able to see the color of the spirit inside is something I enjoy, and with this kind of coloring, the spirit inside is something they should absolutely be showing off. They do make quite a fuss about being a Colorado distillery, putting that fact in big gold lettering as probably the most prominent component of the design.
Something that seems deliberately obscured is the fact that this is a blend. The word “blend” is not only in cursive, but printed in gold ink. That gold ink, against the color of the spirit, makes it almost disappear — and to be honest, I didn’t even notice it until after I had already bought the bottle and gotten it home. That feels a bit like a marketing sleight of hand, which I don’t appreciate.
It’s right on the money in terms of the color here for a bourbon — a nice deep gold color, bordering on bronze. The aroma is also very characteristic of a bourbon with some burnt brown sugar up front, toffee caramel, and a good hit of vanilla, followed by some apple and banana fruit tying it all together. Way in the background is a tiny touch of cedar, but not enough to really make a difference unless you are looking for it.
A lot of those aromas carry over into the flavor, with the brown sugar, caramel, and vanilla taking center stage immediately. There really aren’t any additions to that list until you get to the finish, when the only thing that changes is that the flavors seem to intensify and morph from their individual components into more of a cohesive “oak wood” flavor. When you reach the finish, that oak note persists but there’s some apple and banana that comes along for the ride and makes it a little bit more interesting.
Usually, the addition of some ice has a muting effect on the flavor profile of a spirit — and this is no different. The flavors in this whiskey may not have been groundbreaking when we tried in neat, but they were well saturated and nicely balanced. With the addition of the ice, though, the flavors become thin, watery, and really all that’s left is the stronger oaky flavor. There’s not much vanilla here — primarily just the burnt brown sugar and caramel.
What does come out more clearly (and is leading to that distinct woody characteristic) is the cedar I mentioned before. That almost aromatic note is on par with the other components for importance at this point, which makes it taste more like licking an oak plank than sipping a bourbon.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Normally, I prefer a darker and richer version of an old fashioned — but this is perfectly serviceable. We’ve got a lighter and more aromatic take on the cocktail with this whiskey, especially thanks to that cedar coming through in the flavor profile, and so I think you really need to lean into it to get the recipe right here. Adding some sugar is a necessity, and the orange peel gives it just enough fruit to pull the whole thing together into a coherent cocktail.
What is really coming through is the sweetness of the brown sugar and the aromatics of the cedar. You don’t have quite the same vanilla complexity to add some depth, so you’ll have to do that yourself with the additives.
Like I’ve been mentioning, the flavor profile of this whiskey is decidedly on the lighter side of the spectrum. There’s not a whole lot of depth and complexity. Which is unfortunate in this test, as that depth and complexity are exactly what’s needed to successfully counteract the ginger beer.
There’s just not enough flavor or sweetness in the whiskey to tame that bright and bitter flavor from the ginger beer. In fact, I can barely taste any of the whiskey flavors at all (only if I really, really try). It’s about what you would expect from a Moscow Mule, but that’s not what we’re looking for here. If I wanted to add vodka, I would have added vodka. In this test, you should have the whiskey contribute something unique to the flavor profile… and that just isn’t happening with Breckenridge whiskey.
Generally speaking, this is a pretty acceptable whiskey. There’s nothing patently offensive going on here, and the flavors (what few there are) all seem to balance well and interact nicely when taken neat. But especially with a bourbon, you expect to be able to mix it into cocktails and use it in different ways. And this spirit just doesn’t have the depth, complexity, or saturation to make that happen.
I think where this is really falling short, though, is the pricing. If you’d have told me this is a ~$20 bottle of whiskey, I’d be happy as a clam. But this is (at the time of publication) pricing itself in the $35-$40 range — a market in which there is some amazing bottles to be found. And this bottle just can’t compete.
|Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey|
Produced By: BreckenridgeProduction Location: Colorado, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $37.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 2.5/5
An acceptable bottle of whiskey that is trying to play with the big boys but not quite meeting the mark.