“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” – Mark Twain
We don’t know about too much, but now and then it’s fun to set the beer stein aside and belly up to the bar for something a bit stronger. Recently we got just the opportunity to do that thanks to Yelp Denver and the folks over at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey.
We had signed up for the Yelp’s Secret Sipper April Edition with only the knowledge that we’d be going to a distillery. If you’re not familiar with Yelp’s Secret Sipper, it’s a somewhat-monthly event for Yelp members (at least in Denver) that provides a little excursion to a local brewery, winery or distillery for cocktails and a behind-the-scenes tour, all for one low flat price. The catch? You don’t get to find out where you’re going until the day before the event. As luck would have it, this month ended up being Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey distillery in Denver, and we were thrilled. After all, Stranahan’s occupies the Denver space that used to be the Rackhouse Pub, and before that, it was Heavenly Daze Brewery… the same brewery where we had our first date. Given our history here, of course, we were happy to return! We knew that this event would be lots of fun, given that we’d be there with our fellow Yelpers, including good pals Rob & Stacy.
Years ago we had taken a Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey distillery tour, but boy has things changed since then. First and most obvious was that the Rackhouse Pub and restaurant had moved out. The space that Rackhouse occupied was mostly the same – less the tables, chairs, liquor and customers. Eventually construction will make some of this a tour tasting room, but for now it still just looked like a vacant restaurant. On the Stranahan’s side, there is also a small tasting room that wasn’t there before, fully decorated with barrel tables and outfitted with a small bar of their own. There was also a helluva lot more fermentation tanks. Massively huge new fermentation tanks, to be specific. Clearly, the whiskey business has been good.
Our tour began with a taster of Stranahan’s Whiskey and some quick company history: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is named for George Stranahan, founder and owner of Flying Dog Brewery. Back when Flying Dog was brewing in downtown Denver, Stranahan was living in a ranch in Aspen. When one of his barns caught fire, one of the volunteer firefighters who showed up was Jess Graber, a homebuilder who also happened to dabble in a little backwoods distilling. When Stranahan and Graber learned that they both shared a love of fermentation, an idea was born. Stranahan supplied some resources from Flying Dog, and in 2004 the pair opened the first legal new distillery in Colorado since prohibition. The distillery has done well, and even though Stranahan and Graber sold the business to an east coast distributor back in 2010, things are still done in the distillery pretty much the same way they always have, keeping Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey a true Colorado-made product.
The tour was awesome, given that we have the VIP experience this time around. We went through the brewery, past the giant fermentation tanks and into the distillery where they turn their wort into 140 proof whiskey. We were able to take a sample of white dog whiskey, aka, whiskey fresh from the still that wasn’t barrel-aged yet. Holy hell! If you don’t understand the importance of aging whiskey, try a little white dog. Woof! During the tour, we were also given samples of 2-year aged whiskey straight from the barrel, as well as Snowflake, a limited edition whiskey that’s highly sought-after and available only at the distillery on a very, very limited basis. Every sample we tried was smoother than the one before, and by the end of the tour, it was clear that the folks of Stranahan’s had converted many whiskey virgins to whiskey drinkers, both with their samples and with their pure enthusiasm of the product.
After the tour, it was back to the tasting room for some Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey cocktails. There were so many amazing options to choose from, and they all looked fresh and delicious. I had the Strawberry Rhubarb Smash made with muddled strawberries, rhubarb simple syrup and of course, a healthy shot of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. It was so good! Give me a sunny day and I could drink a pitcher of these, which could be a problem. Jeff had the Honeycomb Rosemary Sour, made with honeycomb-infused Stranahan’s whiskey, fresh sour mix, a splash of soda and a spring of rosemary. It was outstanding! We’re definitely going to try to recreate both of these recipes on the patio this summer. Stranahan’s will be re-opening the lounge in the next month or so to make cocktails such as these, and we highly recommend their cocktails, even if you don’t think you like whiskey. Give it a try… who knows, maybe their whiskey will make you frisky… for more whiskey!
Again, big thanks to the wonderful folks at Yelp for putting together this event, and for the fine folks at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey for staying late and showing us such amazing hospitality. They did, indeed, treat us like VIPs, but we still wouldn’t be raving about them if they didn’t deserve it, and if those drinks were so freaking amazing. We will be back for cocktails again once their lounge opens to the public next month.
Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey is currently only available for sale in Colorado. If you’re going to be in Denver you can sign up for your own distillery tour on their website, and can even upgrade to a top-shelf VIP tour if you’re so inclined. Just remember, liquor then beer…