Some areas of the country are more well known for their whiskey production than others. Kentucky, for example, is lousy with distilleries both of the legal and illegal variety. Colorado isn’t particularly known for their distilling prowess — brewing, yes; distilling… not so much. But there are a few brands coming out of this state and starting to make some noise – including the one we’re checking out today: Colorado-based Tincup.
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. From there, they crafted and perfected Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, now owned by parent company Proximo (further owned by the Mexican alcoholic beverage giant Becle who also owns Jose Cuervo and is the largest producer of tequila in the world).
More recently, Jess wanted to branch out and do something different. He wanted to create another product that focused on a high rye content bourbon that was accessible to the masses instead of the craft distilled Stranahan’s that they had built. Inspired by the mining town of Tincup, Colorado, he created a new brand under the Proximo umbrella to bring his idea to market.
The bottle makes no bones about the fact that the majority of this whiskey comes from MGP in Illinois, but there’s a twist here.
The grain bill for this whiskey is listed as 64% corn, 32% rye and 4% malted barley. It’s higher in rye content than the usual bourbons, but it nevertheless makes the cut to be labeled as such. That said, the word “bourbon” is missing from the bottle — a conscious design choice, not wanting to compete head-to-head with the flood of bourbons on the market.
That grain bill doesn’t match any of MGP’s standard “white label” bourbons because it’s a proprietary mix of different hand selected strains. The bourbons are crafted and aged at MGP, blended together, and then shipped out to Colorado for finishing.
Once the whiskey arrives at the Stranahan’s facility in Colorado, the crew adds a bit of Rocky Mountain water to cut down the alcohol content, and also adds a touch of Stranahan’s whiskey for flavor. So technically this could be called a “bourbon whiskey finished with Colorado malt whiskey,” but instead they opted for the more generic and easier to remember “American Whiskey” appellation. The completed product is then bottled and shipped out.
There are some really cool aspects to this packaging.
First, I love that pretty much the entire bottle is transparent. The whiskey is visible from top to bottom without obstruction, allowing you to see the beautiful amber color within. What’s even cooler is the bottle design itself: an almost Victorian style, with a hexagonal shape and the branding embossed onto the sides of the glass bottle itself. It’s different, but in a striking and beautiful way. It’s something that looks great on your shelf.
Also cool is that there’s a literal tin cup on the top of the bottle. Stranahan’s does this as well, but theirs isn’t quite as nicely done. In this version, the cup actually screws onto the top of the bottle for easy storage and carrying.
In my book, it’s a 10/10 design. Functional yet visually appealing, unique yet classic, all at the same time.
While it’s a bit light for a bourbon, it’s significantly darker than Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. It also smells much richer, with a heavy dose of brown sugar and vanilla coming off the glass. I think there’s a bit of caramel in there as well.
The taste is smooth and delicious, without any burning or biting sensations, which is always a good thing to see. It’s sweet at first, with some caramel notes, but it quickly develops some texture and complexity with the addition of some cherry and orange citrus flavors coming in slowly but surely as the flavor matures.
On the finish, there’s the unmistakable peppery spice of the rye content that adds a good bit of kick and stays with you long after the liquid is gone. It doesn’t overpower the experience, but just adds one more layer of complexity and flavor.
Normally with the addition of a bit of ice, you lose some of the complexity and the more subtle flavors. But there really aren’t any subtle flavors here to shed. Everything is bold and beautiful, so really all you’re doing is chilling the drink a touch and proofing it down for those who thought there was a bit too much power in that glass.
What I do miss is that the peppery spice is significantly diminished. This is a pretty common trait with the addition of some ice, so not a strike against this particular bourbon — just a fact of on-the-rocks life. It’s still there in the background but instead of a strong showing at the end, it’s now just another part of the show.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I didn’t really like a Stranahan’s old fashioned. The flavor profile was simply too light to support the bitters and citrus, and gave it nothing to balance against.
In this case, however, things are much better. Those bold rich notes are the perfect balance for the old fashioned mixings, and the latent cherry flavor in the spirit itself serves to amplify the cherries added as a garnish. It’s damn good, actually.
There’s a lot of good things going on here. Normally, I like to see that the whiskey is adding something to the drink and in this case it’s meeting that criteria. Those deep and rich flavors are balancing well with the bitter ginger beer, and the peppery spice is adding some complexity to the finish. It’s not quite as spicy as if it were a proper rye whiskey, but it’s still pretty pleasant.
I’d put this somewhere halfway between the power of a dark & stormy (using spiced rum) and the sweeter and more subtle mule you get when using Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey as your base. It’s a good middle ground.
Different whiskies have their different uses. This is pretty good for sipping, but truth be told it’s a way better mixer — it makes a mean cocktail. Conversely, the delicate flavors in Stranahan’s makes it a far better sipper than it is a mixer. It’s a trade off, and in this case I think the Tincup brand is doing a great job meeting the needs that Stranahan’s doesn’t.
The packaging is top-notch, and I love that it doesn’t try to conceal the fact that this is a MGP sourced whiskey. I’m always a sucker for small batch custom production, but as long as you don’t try to pass off some re-bottled MGP as the same as something from, say, Tuthilltown… we’re good.
Overall, it’s a solid whiskey that definitely deserves some consideration.
|Tincup American Whiskey
Colorado, United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 42% ABV
Price: $24.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
The only remaining question: what am I going to do with all these tin cups if I keep drinking this whiskey?