I was spending a weekend in Denver, Colorado a couple months back and it seemed like around every corner was a bottle of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. I remembered liking it, so when it started appearing on local billboards and store shelves I decided to grab a bottle and really put some thought into that notion.
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 George’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 (best known for importing Jose Cuervo tequila into the United States), 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.
The end result is placed into new charred American oak barrels for a minimum of two years, which is the exact same process as a bourbon (which it would be, if they used 51% corn in their grain bill). Once it’s ready, the spirit is bottled and shipped.
While the tall, round bottle may not be groundbreaking, I do like it. The bottle sports a slender and elongated round body which tapers to a rounded shoulder and a long neck. That elongation of the bottle helps it to stand out on the shelf, but it also might make it a tough fit in your liquor cabinet.
There’s very little branding on the bottle itself. A single label slanted across the bottle is the only decoration, with Stranahan’s logo prominently displayed. Otherwise, the spirit shows through and is the most prominent feature of the package, as it should be.
Topping the bottle in store shelves is a two ounce stainless steel jigger, which is handy the first time but can start to clutter up your cabinet after the second and third bottle.
As soon as you take a sniff you can tell that this is something different from the usual American whiskey. The initial impression you get is that of vanilla — but instead of immediately adding some caramel or other oak forward notes, there’s something closer to crisp apples present. It’s more like a scotch whiskey without the peat flavor, still flavorful but on the lighter side of the spectrum instead of jumping straight into the heavier flavors.
The liquid is about what you’d expect for a 47% ABV alcohol content spirit, somewhere halfway between something lighter in weight like Jack Daniel’s black label and a heavy thick bourbon.
As for the actual flavor of the whiskey, it’s absolutely delicious in my opinion. The oak barrels really impart a good bit of smoke and caramel flavor with some vanilla under tones. Others have noted that there’s some oats or nutty flavors underneath that I’m not getting personally. Either way, the flavors combine for something that I would happily sip all day long.
Overall the experience is enjoyable. There’s a good amount of burn from the alcohol, but not more than you would expect from a whiskey. There’s no bitterness or displeasant taste here, the spirit is smooth with a clean finish.
The only real difference here is that the smokey flavor has gone from being the most powerful flavor in the profile to playing a supporting role. In my opinion, the spirit is just fine when drinking it neat but if that smoke is a little too much for you then give it a try with a couple ice cubes.
I’ve found that the best old fashioned drinks always start with a spirit that has some bolder flavors. In this case the whiskey isn’t that far to the “bold” side of the spectrum, but there are some specific flavors that lend themselves to a good drink. Specifically the smokey flavor and the vanilla are strong enough that when you add the orange bitters they still make themselves known and help to balance out the new flavors.
It’s not the greatest old fashioned I’ve ever had, but it’s pretty good. I think I’d still prefer a bolder bourbon for my base, but this will work in a pinch.
Usually it takes a fairly bold flavored whiskey to make a good mule. Something like a heavily oaked bourbon or a spicy rye. In this case you’d think that the more subtle flavors wouldn’t work, and yet it does.
Lost is the crisp apple, but the smokey flavors of the whiskey are bold enough to still come through even with the ginger beer on top. It makes for a nicely balanced drink that I’d happily sip throughout the summer.
I like the branding, I like the production methods, and I really like this neat or on the rocks. I think it’s a good smooth spirit that pairs perfectly with a crisp Colorado evening.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey
Owner: Proximo Spirits
Classification: Single malt whiskey
Grain bill: 100% malted barley
Aging: 2-5 years
Proof: 42% ABV
Price: $47.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
I like it. I’d like it better for $10 less, but still.