After a long 2020 spent mostly at home and a work-from-home status for the foreseeable future, sometimes I find myself needing a change of scenery. So when I start getting stir crazy in the house, I head to the local cigar lounge, where there is often an interesting bottle of whiskey or two floating around. One such bottle that I didn’t recognize was the Stranahan’s Blue Peak, but after a single sip I knew I needed to get a bottle for reviewing.
In 1998, Jess Graber (a volunteer firefighter) was trying to put out a fire in George Stranahan’s barn. The pair started talking whiskey and instantly formed a friendship; six years later in 2004 they drew upon Stranahan’s experience with the alcohol industry (he was the owner of Flying Dog Brewery) and opened a distillery, the first legal distillery in the state of Colorado since prohibition.
The first bottles rolled off the production line in 2008 after two years of aging and it was an instant hit, being sold in 38 states and seven countries. Two years later, the original founders sold their distillery to the New Jersey based Proximo Spirits (owned by the Mexican alcoholic beverage giant Becle, who also owns Jose Cuervo and is the largest producer of tequila in the world), who decided to concentrate on increasing production rather than further expansion. Under their ownership, production more than doubled at the Colorado based distillery where it remains today.
Technically speaking, this is a single malt whiskey. It starts out life as 100% locally sourced Colorado malted barley, which is then combined with local water from the Rocky Mountains and fermented before being twice distilled.
Just like their standard yellow label version, the resulting spirit is placed into new charred oak barrels to age. But this is where things take a bit of a turn.
Normally, whiskey is placed into a barrel and never touched again until it’s time to blend and bottle. But with this product, Stranahan’s is trying to use something called the Solera Method to create a more consistently delicious spirit. You can read more about it in our in-depth article here, but the basic concept is that the whiskey is incrementally blended with older versions of itself as it ages. This ensures at least some of the previous flavor remains to guide the newer whiskey, and creates generally a more consistent flavor profile over time.
In this case, the whole process takes four years before the end result is bottled and shipped.
I generally like the look and feel of Stranahan’s bottles. It’s a good mixture of the familiar with some touches of experimentation.
At first glance, the bottle looks like a normal whiskey bottle, with a long cylindrical body, rounded shoulder, and a medium length neck. But there’s a taper going on here from the base up to the shoulder that makes the bottle almost look like it’s leaning forward. It’s a nifty trick, and adds a cool twist to the usual design.
For this version, along the back of the bottle there’s a flat section with the distillery information embossed on it. That’s a departure from their original design, and hopefully something they roll out to the others as well. I like bottles that aren’t going to roll off my counter if I lay them down.
All that said, there is one misstep here — the sticker on the wood stopper didn’t exactly get stuck in the right place on my bottle. Minor gripes, but when everything else on this bottle is crisp and particular, this is an odd oversight in the quality control department.
This looks like you’d expect a good Highland single malt scotch to look: straw colored, light liquid with a bit of an amber hue. It’s a little darker than most spirits you’d see in Scotland, but not by much.
The aroma is on point, as well. I get some delicious orange and lemon zest, some honey, vanilla, and strawberries in the aroma here.
Taking a sip, this is very similar to the normal Stranahan’s yellow label edition but with some fruity and delicious changes. First up is some caramel, which is very quickly joined by dried apricots and strawberries. There’s some vanilla that joins in halfway through, a bit of cherry, and just a touch of floral honey to round things out.
Ice has a tendency to ruin the sweeter and more floral spirits, as the lighter notes can’t really stand up to the chill and the dilution. That’s kinda happening here as well, but the result isn’t terrible.
I think this has slipped back into being closer to the original yellow label version at this point. There’s some oats and honey in there along with just a hint of dark chocolate, but that’s it. All the special light and fruity flavors have disappeared.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Once the lighter flavors dropped out, I figured that would be game over for cocktails, but no. There’s actually something interesting going on here.
In the drink, there’s plenty of sweetness to balance out the bitters, specifically thanks to that honey component. But there’s something else, too — some of the cherry from the original flavor seems to have made it through, and is interacting with the angostura bitters to make something that tastes like a dark chocolate and cherry candy.
I’m not saying that this is knocking my socks off, but it’s an unexpected and somewhat delicious surprise.
I wasn’t expecting much here, and that’s exactly what I got.
To be fair, this isn’t necessarily the fault of the whiskey itself. A single malt whiskey is supposed to be a lighter, smoother style of spirit that is best used in either delicate cocktails or just taken on its own. (This is what makes it so surprising that it did such a good job as an old fashioned.) We typically drop this test for single malt Scotch because that lighter character doesn’t make it a fair test, but we do leave it in when testing American version, which are typically a more characterful take on the category.
With this expression, not only is the character wrong but the flavors are wrong as well. It ends up being pretty unbalanced, a little too bitter with a wild earthy note coming out of nowhere. I’m just really not a fan of it at all.
It’s a sweet, fruity, delicious sipping whiskey taken neat, without any issues or troubles to worry about. In that format, I think it competes favorably against most of the Highland scotch whisky that’s out there, and that’s probably the fairest comparison. Treating it like an American whiskey (as we did here) isn’t necessarily the right way to treat this product (although we do for review consistency).
This would go great in a lighter cocktail like a penicillin. Or, really, just leave it be and try it all on its own. I could sip this all afternoon straight from the bottle.
|Stranahans Blue Peak Single Malt Whiskey|
Colorado, United States
Classification: Single Malt Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $39.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
It’s not quite peak performance for a whiskey, but it’s close enough.