Whisky Advocate

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Artisan Whiskey of the Year”: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

February 2nd, 2010

Artisan Whiskey of the Year (operating 10 years or less)

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey (Batch #49), 47%, $55

In the U.S. alone, there are dozens of small artisan distillers now making whiskey. Many of these whiskeys are already on the market and are only a few years old—at most! Some show great potential, while others…well, let’s just say you should definitely “try before you buy.”

A few of these distillers are now making whiskeys that rival well-established scotch or bourbon distillers in quality. A great example of this is Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. The distillery began operations in 2004, using beer (wash) from the adjacent Flying Dog brewery, and then distilling it into whiskey. Batch #49, the whiskey we are honoring with this award, was made this way. (In 2009, the distillery moved to a larger facility, and they now make their own wash.)

Stranahan’s whiskey is sort of a hybrid. Being an all-malt product, it does resemble a single malt scotch in many ways, with a unique flair and a hint of bourbon character. (It is a “straight whiskey” aged in new charred oak barrels, similar to bourbon.) It shows nice maturity, considering it contains whiskey as young as two years old, but not older than five. It’s smooth, too, with layered sweetness (honeyed caramel, English toffee, maple syrup), tangerine, roasted nuts, and peppered with spice (warming cinnamon, glazed ginger). A good grip of tobacco and polished leather on the finish balances the sweetness that comes earlier. This is an example of the right way to do artisan distilling.

Bonus blog comment: The distillation date on the bottle states 10/15/07, which puts it at a little over two years old. I’m told there is older whiskey in here too up to five years of age, but it shows very nice maturity for its age range. My only issue is the price. I really like the packaging, but I would bet that many out there would prefer to see simpler packaging, and a lower price. [Although, judging by some of the comments I'm reading below, it looks like many places are selling this whiskey in the $40s, which is good news.]

Tomorrow’s Malt Advocate Whisky Award announcement: American Whiskey of the Year.

64 Responses to “Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Artisan Whiskey of the Year”: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey”

  1. BourbonBreath says:

    Love it and my local retailer has it for $40, which is a more befitting price…

    • Duke Johnson says:

      Is there any distribution in south central Florida?

      • Duke Johnson says:

        Looking for distribution in South Central Florida

        • Dan C. says:

          Stranahan’s does not currently distribute to Florida. You can order online from various sites that do stock the whiskey though, and I highly recommend it.

    • Mai Linh Lawrence Skropanic says:

      Where can I buy this? Preferrably online at the best price. Unless, you know of a place near Rock Springs, WY?

  2. Luke says:

    I first sampled this last year at the Great American Beer Festival in Denver CO – a marvellous malt!

    P.S. Does anyone out there know if they use virgin oak? It would go some way to explaining the maturity of this whiskey at such a young age?

    • Luke,

      Yep. Our spirit is matured in 100% new American White Oak form sustainable-growth forests. It is also matured under special environmental conditions which has profound effect on the process; and distilled in a unique pot-cloumn still made by Vendome Copper Works, combining what we felt were the best apsects of pot and column stills.

      Charlie Davis, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

  3. Red_Arremer says:

    John, I remember when this came out, you gave it a somewhat lukewarm review (high seventies maybe low eighties). Has it been improving in your opinion?

  4. sam k says:

    Kudos to Jess and his crew on this award. I finished my first bottle recently, and agree with your observations 100%. They are good folks making great whiskey in a very non-traditional whiskey state…part of the mystique, eh?

  5. This is just what I’ve been loking for, a single malt matured like bourbon. Any chances of this whiskey finding its way to Europe?

    • John Hansell says:

      Oliver (and Luke) hopefully Jess @ Stranahan’s will catch wind of this thread and answer your questions.

    • Rick Duff says:

      One single malt aged like bourbon you might be able to find is BenRomach’s Organic Single Malt Scotch. It is aged in new charred American Oak barrels just like bourbon. This was done to try to mature it faster. I bought a bottle at the distillery a few years back.. when I loved bourbon more than scotch because it was so much like a bourbon.

      • Thanks for the hint, I will try to get hold of at least a sample. But the Stranahan is different as it was also matured in a comparable climate as bourbon.

        • MrTH says:

          I was going to say that Colorado’s climate is quite different from Kentucky’s, but as noted below, this is matured in a climate-controlled warehouse, which is something else again.

  6. Jon W says:

    I had a bottle of this (batch 13, distilled 10/1/05) a little over a year ago and thought it was fantastic. As you say, it’s got some of the characteristics of Scotch and Bourbon, but it’s definitely its own animal. I’m looking forward to trying the product of their own wash.

    • Jake Norris says:

      Jon W
      This is Jake Norris, head distiller at Stranahan’s. In regards to your comment on producing our own wash: The quality of our whiskey should be identical to the spirit produced when we contracted our wash production. Our custom 100% Rocky mountain malted barley recipe has not changed, just the location in which it is produced.

  7. Vince says:

    John
    This is a whiskey that I pass all of the time at my favorite liqour store but I have yet to purchase. My issue is with the price (and I do remember your luke warm review). It is selling for $55 at my store. When I think of the phenomenal bourbons I can purchase for that price (and less) I always seem to reach for the bourbon. (WTKS, Rock Hill Farms, Pappy 15, etc)
    Your award will make me think twice about this again. I just wish it was at a lower price point.

    • John Hansell says:

      Vince, I think you will find that nearly all, if not all, the small distillers’ aged whiskeys will have a higher price point than the bigger bourbon distillers. They don’t have the economy of scale to sell their whiskey for $15 a bottle.

  8. Brian says:

    This one has been on my short list for quite some time now. But like most good stuff, it’s not available in my state. Luckily, it appears that it’ll be poured at Whiskyfest Chicago – and while I’m there, I can pick up a bottle from Binny’s. Woohoo!

  9. B.J. Reed says:

    Great choice!

  10. Alex says:

    I hear this is quite good but have yet to try. I was pulling for McCarthy’s!

    • John Hansell says:

      Alex, McCarthy’s has been making whiskey for more than 10 years, and is no longer eligible for this award. Same thing goes for Anchor. They are now competing with the big boys for the American Whiskey of the Year award, which will be announced tomorrow.

      • Alex says:

        I should have read the fine print closer – thanks for the clarification, John. Tuthilltown in 2011!

        • Love the selection, but I am pulling for Tuthilltown in the future. I can’t wait till they offer some of their oat whiskey to the public. Never had McCarthy’s. John, do you have any word on how Eades is doing?

    • Red_Arremer says:

      McCarthy’s is good stuff, Alex,

  11. sam k says:

    $47.99 in PA, but you have to special order a quantity of six to get it, dammit!

  12. Jess Graber says:

    Luke, We use new, charred, American white oak barrels that are stored in a heated and humidified warehouse. We feel those conditions greatly enhance the maturity of the whiskey.
    Oliver, We have limited distribution in the EU through Bier & Co. in Amsterdam

    • Luke says:

      Jess, thank you for the clarification!

      Congratulations on the award! We look forward to future releases!

      Slainte!

  13. Texas says:

    It’s $58 here in Houston at Spec’s. Price needs to come down across the board, although I understand that an artisan whiskey will be more expensive since volume is much less. At $58, I can get some very good > 10 year single malts and bourbons. Heck I can get a 1.75L bottle of Old Weller 7 year/107 for $42, and that is a very good bourbon. I’d love to try Stranahan’s but just can’t justify it at that price point.

    • Whiskey Mountain says:

      Texas, I had to do some saving for my first bottle but when I tried it I was blown away. A whiskey unlike any other that I had tasted before it. Soon after I purchased the bottle I visited the distillery (2007) and it was an experience like no other. You only get one go at it in life – take it from me and jump at this bottle. John mentioned batch #49. I’ve actually tried that one too and it’s a beaut! Cheers!

      • Texas says:

        Hi Whiskey Mountain..I will certainly put it on my list of twice a year whiskies. Just wish they’d get it down to $40-ish (MSRP). Thanks.

        • JWC says:

          Texas, I think I may have seen it for around $50 at another store in Houston. I’ll check (they are not online) and report back to you just in case you are interested.

          • Texas says:

            Thanks, JWC. Yeah I would be more interested at that price..also interested to know that there is another store in our area that would carry an unusual whiskey like that.

  14. Bill H. says:

    Anyone know if and where this can be found in the NYC area? Doesn’t come up at Park Ave’s or Astor’s websites.

  15. Jake Norris says:

    Bill H
    I know it is a challenge to find it in NYC, here are our distributors in your area, hope this helps.

    New York
    Domaine Select Wine Estates
    555 Eight Avenue
    Suite 2302
    New York, NY 10018
    212-279-0799

    New Jersey
    Hunterdon Brewing Co.
    45 Howard Street
    PO Box 811
    Phillipsburg, NJ 08865
    908-454-7445

  16. JWC says:

    John, I (like the others) remember your initial reaction to it and passed (even though I heard better reviews by others but I don’t value their opinions as much as I do yours) – I think I might have actually asked you point blank on your blog and gotten a response from you. The price was also an issue. As Texas points out, it’s close to $60 here in Houston and my thinking was similar to Texas’ – why pay that much when there is “just as good” if not “better”? I understand why a microdistillery cannot price their product(s) the way the bigger distilleries do – if they offer a product that is distinct and good, I would pay the premium (if nothing else, I like the idea of supporting the “small guy” who is doing a good job).

    John, a question about this and your other award winners – how would you rate them in your “number” rankings? The reason why I am asking is, theoretically, just because a whisk(e)y wins an award in your category, it doesn’t mean that such whisk(e)y is rated a 90 or higher, correct? It just means that in your opinion, it was the best in it’s category.

    • John Hansell says:

      JWC, that’s a very good question. This whiskey is also being formally reviewed in Malt Advocate (The next issue next issue is already designed, so it will go in the issue after that). I will probably score it in the mid-80s–a very good whiskey. This category is weaker than others because the distilleries must be making whiskey fewer than 10 years, and the whiskeys, therefore will also be fairly young.

      • Red_Arremer says:

        I don’t think there’s anything wrong with giving “recognition” to a mid-80′s rated whisky. If promoting innovation is a goal, then achievement according to established standards of excellence shouldn’t be the only route to recognition.

  17. brian mac gregor says:

    I got to try this at whiskey fest in san francisco and promptly bought a bottle for the bar, this is great stuff and hope they continue to do well over the coming years.

    brian mac gregor
    bar manager
    jardiniere restaurant
    san francisco

  18. Jeff A. says:

    I had a bottle of their snowflake edition, I believe it was “grand mesa,” finished in a wine cask, and it was fantastic. Completely unique.

    • We have a few of those Snowflakes; they are very small batch, SCW (Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey) finished in a wine or exotic cask (for example, our most recent expression was finished in Hungarian oak). There is also a Port Cask Finish, a Cabernet Franc Finish, a finish we refer to as the Paladise Finish (a red wine cask from Palside Colorado), and the Grand Mesa Finish that Jeff A. mentioned. For the time being, they are available only at the distillery. Folks often find them to be rich and dark, and quite complex.

      Charlie Davis, SCW

  19. John Hansell says:

    I posted a link on Facebook and thought you might like some of the comments there:

    “great whiskey – I just finished my bottle and am waiting patiently for my next trip to Denver so I can pick up a few more”

    “Ryan & Casey Liquors just ordered more for our shelves”

    “Consistently the best new American whiskey, in my opinion.”

    “I think you’re spot on with this one!”

    “I love that whiskey. Truly one of my faves.”

  20. Thanks, John. Glad folks are enjoying the whiskey. Folks who are local, or traveling to Denver might consider a tour; we’d love to show you around (you too, John!)

    And thanks, John, for getting the specifics of what Stranahan’s is and how it’s made right–that doesn’t always happen ; ) I think your tasting notes are spot on, too.

    Charlie Davis, SCW

  21. Ken Young says:

    I visited Flying Dog Brewery a few months ago and found out about Stranahan’s there, and have been looking forward to trying it since. The only prices I have seen are at or very near the $60 retail price including at Bevmo when I was in CA which is typically a bargain joint. I, like others, considered trying this whiskey but there were other quality bourbons, ryes and even single malt scotches that were better priced, so other selections were made. Someday I’ll try it.

  22. Carl says:

    yes, the Stranahan’s tour is great fun, for anyone visiting Denver. I really enjoy this whiskey, to me it has a wonderful taste of caraway seed.

  23. [...] Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey has won Malt Advocate’s award for Artisan Whiskey of the Year.  Congrats to a great American craft distillery.  Meanwhile, the MacPhail’s Collection wins best buy of the year. [...]

  24. RedmondBarry says:

    I love SCW since I discovered it at WhiskeyFest two years ago! I can’t wait to get out to Denver to get a snowflake bottling.

    I haven’t had a problem getting it in NYC, although the price just went up this year to $60. Ouch. I think Brandy Library pours it, if you just want a taste. I wish more of the scotch and whiskey bars carried it, though.

  25. Monique at the Dell says:

    Congratulations Jesse, Jake and Charlie. Well-deserved guys. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to try it, it gets better and better with the batches and has continued to age well. Those Snowflakes are mind-blowing, the Port continues to be my absolute favorite. I often have Scotch drinkers try it blind next to other, much older Port aged single malts, and it wins hands down. Very fresh, spicy, complex whiskey. Can’t wait to catch up in Chicago gents!

  26. lawschooldrunk says:

    Thanks for pointing this out, John. I’ve always seen it on the top shelf out of the corner of my eye but never gave it attention.

  27. @yossiyitzak says:

    SCW is in my top 10 for all whiskies (the only American whiskey in my top 10, BTW). Unique and amazing stuff. There is and will always be a place on my shelf for this nectar. Would love to see some of the various “finished” bottles out in the market (being that I never get a chance to get out to Colorado)

  28. jimdrew says:

    $54.99 in the Boulder, CO area (30 miles from Denver). I believe Jake took me and some buddies on a tour before we hit the 2008 GABF. We talk more about SCW than the beer festival after the fact. My brother cracks open his single barrel bottle for special occasions, while I’m holding mine for posterity. Good people and good whiskey, check them out when you have a chance.

  29. [...] according to a Stranahan’s press release, which points to a recent post on the Malt Advocate blog. Stranahan’s won points for its smoothness and even sweetness, “an example of the right [...]

  30. [...] another 16th Annual Malt Advocate award winner, which was originally announced here last month. (Our “Artisan Whiskey of the Year.”) This is my formal review for the [...]

  31. [...] some ways, the whiskey resembles a single malt scotch (it is an “all malt” product), however it also has some characteristics of American bourbon (the water used in its creation is [...]

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