Cotswolds Dry Gin, Batch #01/2017 – Review

Here in Minneapolis, an April 15th snowstorm dumped around a foot of the frozen white stuff on us, pretty much crushing the souls of those who long for spring and summer. Just between you and me, I’d be fine with Winter being a year-round endeavor, but that’s not a popular position to take, so I try to keep that under my hat. That said, I’m happy to report that, a month or so later, we’re plunging headlong into 90 degree days. I’m excited to see some things grow out of the ground and to have the color green dominate the landscape for at least a few months. So, in the spirit of Spring finally springing, here’s another look at a spirit that’s so well-suited for the warmer months…gin.

The Cotswolds Dry Gin was, predictably, the first product released by the Cotswolds Distillery, with the first round being released in the Fall of 2014. As with their single malt, Cotswolds is relatively transparent and open about their gin’s process and ingredients, giving those of us who are interested in such minutia, a glimpse into what makes their product unique. Their Dry Gin is more or less in the London dry style of gins, but has a slightly more “artisan” feel about it compared to ubiquitous, mass-produced London dry gins like Beefeater or Tanqueray. Cotswolds begins with a wheat-based, neutral grain spirit (NGS) from Hayman’s. You may well ask, “as a craft distiller, why aren’t they making their own NGS?” And I may well answer, “I don’t know, go ask them yourself!” Or I might answer by saying there are several reasons why a smaller distillery might opt to use someone else’s base spirit. One, it’s expensive. Getting a distillate up to NGS’s 95-96% abv range is a costly, intensive process, and many smaller producers probably feel it’s more cost-effective to source the stuff. Two, by definition, neutral grain spirit is supposed to be…well, neutral. When distilled to such a high proof, a great deal of flavor has been stripped out, providing rectifiers and blenders a relatively blank canvas to work with. So, I suppose that smaller distilleries, even ones seeking to express some kind of terroir, might consider the payoff from making their own NGS is not worth the effort. Not having ever sampled this kind of neutral grain spirits, I cannot speak to the differences between, say, a wheat based one and a corn-based one, but there are those who insist those subtle differences make a difference.*

Ok, enough about neutral grain spirits already. Once Cotswolds gets the high-proof stuff in their hands, they begin the flavoring process. Their Dry Gin uses nine botanicals, starting with Juniper, Angelica Root and Coriander seed, which are macerated for a period of time before the other ingredients are added. They opt for fresh lime peels and grapefruit zest instead of the more commonly used dried because of the more flavorful oils found in the fresh fruit. The remaining four botanicals used are cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, bay leaf, and locally produced lavender. The distillery claims to use ten times the amount of botanicals most other gin producers use. Once distilled, Cotswolds adds only water to lower the proof, making theirs a “single-shot” gin as opposed to a “multi-shot” gin which has more NGS added after distillation to reach the flavor profile, and is then proofed down with water. Multi-shot production is another production method more commonly associated with the large-scale production brands like Beefeater. Lastly, Cotswolds Dry Gin is non-chill-filtered, which means the final product hasn’t lost any flavor in a vain effort to always appear as clear as possible. Once you add a little water or ice to this one, you get a very pleasant, cloudy, absinthe-like “louche.”

The Nose:  I don’t really think of a gin being lush and rounded, but the nose on this is very lush and rounded. Lots of citrus upfront, juicy lime, pulpy grapefruit, a bit of key lime, and pithy navel orange. All that citrus is balanced by earthy notes of soft juniper and green pinecones – though the juniper is not the dominant player here. The Angelica root and coriander add to the herbaceous side of things, with the lavender and cardamom adding a subtle, soft floral layer over it all.

The Palate:  Straight, this has a slightly weighty, creamy mouthfeel. The bright, fresh citrus notes pick right up from the nose – mostly sugared lime slices and orange peels, with the grapefruit being a bit more subdued. There’s a little more juniper influence here, but it’s still coming in a close second to all that citrus. Stronger notes of cardamom join the Angelica root and coriander, again helping to balance it all. Black pepper begins to make an appearance towards to finish along with a faint, welcome hint of Eucalyptus oil.

The Finish:  Ah, there’s the black pepper! Along with the earthier spices and juniper, the pepper creates a long mouth-watering finish.

Thoughts:  Fairly tremendous stuff. While this has roots in the london Dry style, its citrus-forward, herbaceous flavor profile truly set it apart. The citrus is bright, fresh and complex, while the Juniper, Angelica root, and coriander make for an earthy counterpoint. This progresses quite nicely, with the pepper and bay leaf making late appearances to keep one wanting more. The flavors are bold, yet balanced and complex, making this feel like a spirit that does not necessarily need to be in a cocktail to be thoroughly enjoyed. Hell, I enjoyed this a few times just neat in a glass. Of course, that same quality also meant that I found it a bit more challenging to use in cocktails. At around $35-$45, this definitely carries a “craft spirit” price tag, but it is also a clearly superior spirit to those less expensive, more ubiquitous gins.

As gin is usually a cocktail spirit, here’s how I thought this one held up in a trio of classic drinks…

In a Gin & Tonic:  This makes pretty terrific G&T’s. While perhaps not quite as crisp and sharp as ones made with more juniper forward gins, this is more complex than I usually think of this drink being. The citrus and juniper handle the sweetness well while the herbal notes compliment the bitter quinine, giving it a subtle, peppery kick.

In a Martini:  Admittedly, Martini’s are not my favorite cocktails. The Cotswold’s Dry Gin makes a pretty stunning Martini. The citrus and juniper come through cleanly with the vermouth amping up the herbal notes to make a lush, complex drink. It’s doesn’t hurt that the unfiltered “louche” makes it nice to look at as well.

In a Negroni:   Thanks to its flavor profile, this works pretty well in a Negroni, but also needs a little tweaking past the usual 1:1:1 recipe. The complexity makes it a little harder to balance the three ingredients. I found cutting back on the Campari a bit, and upping the gin helped balance all the citrus notes and let the more herbal side of the Cotswolds play with the vermouth more noticeably.

Cotswolds Dry Gin, Batch #01/2017, +/- 2017

46% ABV

If you’re interested in reading more about neutral grain spirits, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t be interested in reading more about Neutral grain spirits, I found this article very helpful.



Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky – 2014 Odyssey Barley, Batch #2 – Review

*Sincere thanks to Cotswolds Distillery for the sample.

Founded in 2014 by a former financier, Cotswolds Distillery is located in one of the UK’s wonderfully named “Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.” The Cotswolds District is full of rolling hills and charming looking villages built with the distinctive, honey-toned Cotswold stone, an oolitic Jurassic Limestone known to be the most pompous and rudely dismissive of all Jurassic Limestones. From the beginning, it seems apparent that this venture has been well-funded and dedicated to taking its time to do things traditionally and with great expertise. To help get it off the ground the distillery enlisted two Scotch industry veterans, Harry Cockburn, a former Bowmore master distiller, and the late, legendary Dr. Jim Swan.

Cotswolds is refreshingly upfront and open about their sources and their production processes. They’re committed to using only barley that’s grown in the Cotswolds region. The locally grown barley is then malted off-site at Warminster Maltings, LTD. which claims to be the UK’s oldest working maltings. Warminster also does things the old-fashioned way, they still hand-turn and floor-malt all their barley, providing a range of grains for both craft brewing and craft distilling.

Along with their locally sourced ingredients, Cotswold’s fermentation and distillation processes have some out-of-the-ordinary aspects as well. To produce their wash, they uses two strains of yeast and a relatively long fermentation time. Most Scotch distilleries use a fermentation time of that falls somewhere in the range of 48 to 80 hours. Shorter fermentation times are very cost-effective but longer fermentation times are where some truly incredible magic happens. Thanks to a lot of fascinating and overwhelmingly complicated chemistry involving things like autolysis, Lactobacilli, and the Ehrlich Pathway, long fermentation times produce a more complex spirit with a wider range of esters which are responsible for variety of fruity notes in an alcohol.* Dr. Swan helped Cotswolds establish a fermentation time of slightly over 90 hours. The distillery also sets itself apart once the second distilling starts, by cutting from the heads/foreshots to the hearts relatively early in the process, and then cutting from the hearts to the tails/feints rather early as well. When a second distillation starts, the initial spirit, the heads or foreshots, is a harsh, even poisonous alcohol. The heart of the run is when the spirit has the most potable, flavorful ethanol. The tails or feints mark the end of the run, when the liquid becomes hot enough to give off some heavier, unwanted flavors. As distillation progresses, the distiller will run off the heads to be used later, then will make their “cut,” keeping the hearts, and later will cut again to the tails which are also run off to be used later. Cotswolds’ early cut times, in theory, would indicate a fruity, ester-y spirit that’s potentially fairly light.

The Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky – 2014 Odyssey Barley, Batch #2, is the second batch of two that made up the largest release yet for the distillery. The Odyssey Barley part of the name refers to the variety of high-yield, hearty, locally grown barley used. The whisky was aged for a little over three years in a combination of first-fill, ex-bourbon barrels, and re-charred American oak red wine casks.

The Nose:  Definitely a young whisky, though not as rough and hot as one would expect. There’s a taut complexity here and an initially thin sweetness. Floral, almost herbal honey, dried fruitcake fruits, slightly under-ripe stone fruit and pithy orange. Crisp barley notes, both toasted and green, along with almond extract and the snap of damp linen on the line. Not surprisingly, there isn’t much oak, just a subtle hint of sanded boards with a bit of clove, young ginger, and dried vanilla bean.

The Palate:  Hottish, but with a nice oily mouthfeel. This becomes more expressively sweet as it opens up in the glass. Dark sugars and red fruits abound along with spiced orange, weaving their way throughout the palate. There’s also Jordan almonds and bittersweet chocolate, with subtler hints of malt syrup and vanilla. Stronger oak notes than the nose, slightly edgy and tannic, with allspice berries, clove and vanilla bean

The Finish:  A bit of burnt sugar, roasted almonds, ginger, clove and the subtle suggestion of dry, charcoal-y wood smoke(?!)

Thoughts:  While this is young, slightly edgy and hot…that’s to be expected, right? It’s also very drinkable, complex and full of promise. It seems to show off the grain and the distillate more than the oak, which at this point I’d think is exactly what one would want. Initially, it seemed very young and closed off, but with a bit of time in the glass, it opened up and became much more expressive. The subtle green earthiness of the nose compliments the sweeter notes and hiding behind the heat of the palate are some wonderfully rich dark fruit and cocoa bean notes. The palate, I think, is what really won me over with its mouthfeel and vibrant flavor profile. This is an impressive new distillery, and they’re making impressive new whisky, definitely one to keep an eye on. Recommended.

Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky – 2014 Odyssey Barley, Batch #2, +/- 2017

46% ABV

Score:  84

* That’s obviously a pretty gross simplification of the whole thing. If you’d like to learn more about what happens during the fermentation process, and let’s be honest here, who wouldn’t want to learn more about what happens during the fermentation process, I highly recommend starting with these two excellent articles from Chemistry of the Cocktail and Whisky Science. 






George Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to MGP Ingredients and Gregory White PR for the sample.

The “Repeal” part of the George Remus Repeal Reserve refers to the repeal of Prohibition. The George Remus part refers of course to George Remus, the legendary, infamous bootlegger and murderer who made a huge fortune during the early part of Prohibition. By the time Repeal Day on December 5th, 1933 rolled around, Remus had pretty much lost all his money, spent far too little time in prison for a heinous crime, and had re-invented himself as an innocuous straight businessman.

Repeal Day marks the end of a colossal American social blunder. The 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution repealed Prohibition’s 18th Amendment to the U.S Constitution. Today, the date has provided alcohol marketers another wonderful opportunity to romanticize an odd, occasionally violent and tragic bygone era in hopes of selling more alcohol. Ironically, there are now probably more than a few people waking up feeling miserable on the Day After Repeal Day wondering if repealing the prohibition was such a good idea in the first place.

The George Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey is the second bourbon released by MGP Ingredients’ George Remus brand. The first, the George Remus Straight Bourbon Whiskey, is the standard widely available bottling, while the Repeal Reserve is a more limited edition. First released at the end of 2017, this one consists of three different bourbons, a “medley” as the company calls it. Half is made up of 2005 distilled bourbon made with MGP’s 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley mashbill. Another 35% is made up of 2006 distilled bourbon with the same mashbill. The remaining 15% is a 2006 distilled bourbon made with their high rye mashbill which is 60% corn, 36% rye, and 4% malted barley. Some quick math would suggest that this one is made up of 11 and 12 year old bourbons. While that may well be the case, none of the official literature mentions “11 years old” or “12 years old,” instead just focusing on the year distilled. While I do find that a bit odd, I’m going to operate on the assumption that the Remus Repeal Reserve is that old because I just really don’t want to be that cynical or conspiratorial.

The Nose:  A very solid, rich nose. Warm caramel sauce, sticky figs, and orange blossom honey, along with ripe green apples and juicy tangerines. Beyond that, there’s sweet corn and vanilla ice cream, fresh-baked rye bread and a few candied nuts tossed about. The oak is strong but well-integrated – polished boards with vanilla bean, cinnamon candies, and a bit of coolish mint.

The Palate:  Fairly dry and quickly spicy. Some of the sweeter elements from the nose are still around but they’re less sugared – the caramel is now a little burnt, and the fruit a little under-ripe. The rye is much more prevalent here, toasted grain with a sharp herbal, minty quality. Nutty toffee notes and bitter baker’s chocolate lead to more complex oak notes, nicely tannic, with strong cinnamon, clove, ginger and fine ground pepper.

The Finish:  Long and spicy. Brown sugars and vanilla bean fade and leave lots of cinnamon, oak, and slightly menthol-ish mint to fade more slowly.

Thoughts:  Very good. This is well-put-together stuff with a complex and robust flavor profile. It does strike me as more grain forward and vibrant than I’d expect from a 11-12 year old bourbon, but this works that grain and vibrancy well. The palate in particular is pleasingly rugged with the strong rye notes and heady bit of oak and spice. I really love this over ice – that oak and spice holds up well and a more pronounced fruitiness comes out. As per usual, I think the $75 price tag is steep for this, but clearly I’ve lost touch with the market as I say that pretty much every review, don’t I? It’s no secret that MGP makes really good whiskey, here’s another really good example. Recommended.

George Remus Repeal Reserve Straight Bourbon Whiskey, +/- 2017

47% ABV

Score:  87



Minnesota Spirits Fest 2018

Minnesota was perhaps a little late to join the swell of craft distilleries in this country. It wasn’t until 2011, when legislation passed significantly lowering the fee to open a distillery, that the state’s own craft spirits boom finally got its fuse lit. It was about time, too as Minnesota has quite a bit to offer a homegrown distillery. With an abundance of different grains, oak for barrels, botanicals, and fruits, it’s a state full of natural resources just begging to be made into booze. Fast forward to 2018, and it seems as if the scene has reached a moment of stability; products have been developed, and are on the shelves of stores and bars, cocktail rooms are open and hopping, and some long-term goals are actually in sight or have even been met.

Which makes the timing of the recent Minnesota Spirits Fest event pretty spot on. Sixteen distilleries set up shop in the Museum of Russian Art and poured spirits and cocktails to a sold-out, presumably thirsty crowd of 300. This great event was put on by the Minnesota Distillers Guild and was sponsored by the very active, enthusiastic, and presumably very thirsty local chapter of Women Who Whiskey. The space, an old church transformed into a museum, was a novel, possibly brave choice from an art conservation standpoint, and gave the event a rather luxurious feel. I will not write at length about the basement gallery, but will say that for a good 30 minutes, I was so truly captivated by the Matryoshka exhibit that I didn’t drink a thing.

Outside of that, however, I spent a fair amount of time drinking. My overall impression of the spirits on offer was one of high quality and successful experimentation. There was a lot of local-ness happening, and not just because the stills are located in state. Those natural resources I mentioned earlier are definitely living up to their boozy potential. Rather than rambling on and on, and getting overly verbose and long-winded and garrulous, I’m just going to mention, in no particular order, a few of the many highlights of the evening…

  • Isanti Spirits‘ Tilted Cedars Gin is always a pleasure, as is their Rye and Sunken Bobber Bourbon. Isanti’s Rick Schneider was excited to point out that his bourbon is now a straight bourbon and both whiskeys are being matured only in full-sized barrels.
  • Dampfwerk Distillery’s absolutely beautiful bottles are full of relatively fresh interpretations of old world brandies and liqueurs, including the standout Helgolander, a medicinal German-style bitter, and the surprising Rabbit in the Rye, a spiced, herbal treat built on a sourced Tennessee whiskey base.
  • Twin Spirits Distillery’s Mamma’s Moonshine is a fairly novel spirit distilled from honey that offered a clean, subtle, smooth take on its base ingredient. Very exciting to learn that owner and distiller Michelle Winchester has been experimenting with several different woods with which to age this one.
  • Du Nord Craft Spirits’ Fitzgerald Gin is their flavorful, macerated take on the London dry style. I also had the chance to try a nearly straight-from-the-barrel, un-labeled bourbon that was pretty damn bold and heralded good things to come as did the news that owner and head distiller Chris Montana is planning on experimenting with some very unusual grains in the near future.
  • I’ll refrain from making any “holy spirit” type jokes…

    Far North Spirits has been a consistent leader in this nascent movement. Along with their excellent estate-grown, grain to glass gins and ryes, they have just bottled their first bourbon, the Bødalen, a vibrant, high-rye balancing act of good distillate and youthful oak.

  • Duluth’s Vikre Distillery has a trio of really good, really interesting gins lead by their Boreal Cedar Gin. They also have Emily Vikre, their co-founder and “arbiter of taste.” In addition to presiding over the many spirits made at Vikre, Emily has created a line of blended whiskey called Honor Brand. The first release, Hay & Sunshine, is an interesting, well-put-together mix of bourbon, Scotch, and Rye.
  • The Brother Justus Whiskey Company is named after a Benedictine monk who reputedly lived in Stearns County, MN during Prohibition and helped many a farmer-turned-moonshiner make their stills. This newish distillery has been flying under the radar and has only surfaced very recently. Their Minnesota-grown single malt spirit was surprisingly, pleasantly, sweet and smooth.

All in all, this was an excellent event, a perfect snapshot of where craft distilling is at in the state. It was obviously good to see so many people enthusiastic about home-grown spirits. It was also great to see the camaraderie between the distilleries; there’s a lot of mutual support and admiration happening which can only benefit the scene. I’m definitely looking forward to this becoming an ever-evolving, yearly showcase.



Stranahan’s Sherry Cask Colorado Single Malt Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Stranahan’s and Exposure PR for the sample.

Ok, I’ll try to make this will be the last time I mention that great 2016 trip to Stranahan’s. One of the highlights of that first Cask Thief event was trying some three year old whiskey that had been aged for an additional two years in a 40 year old Oloroso sherry butt. It was a rich, complex young whiskey that seemed to balance the Stranahan’s house style and the sherry well. At the time, I reported that the distillery hadn’t done much experimenting with sherry casks and unfortunately, there wouldn’t be anything like this on the shelves in the near future. Shows how much I know…

Stranahan’s Sherry Cask Colorado Single Malt Whiskey was first released late in 2017 and will be part of the core lineup alongside the Original and the Diamond Peak. This one was created from four year old whiskeys that had been finished for an undisclosed amount of time in 40 year old Oloroso butts. Note that while a lot of sherry-matured whiskeys make use of new oak casks that have been seasoned with new, base-level sherries, this whiskey rested for a while in old casks that had held sherry for a loooooong time. One of the reasons I was excited about the sherry cask I tried at the distillery was, to me, the Stranahan’s flavor profile of strong oak, dark fruit, vanilla and chocolate would seem to play very well with the influence a sherry cask might impart. So, with that in mind, I’m glad to see this new addition to the Stranahan’s range hit the shelves.

The Nose:  A surprising amount of sherry right off the bat. There’s candied almonds, fudge brownies with nuts, spiced orange, cherry pie filling, and raisins. Notes of fruitcake, lemon oil polish, and subtle malt syrup follow. Subdued oak with a bit too much of that lemon furniture polish applied, along with baking spices – vanilla bean, nutmeg, clove and candied ginger – and a faint hint of oiled leather.

The Palate:  Initially quite zippy with a familiar oily mouthfeel and…lots of sherry. More candied almonds, cherry cough syrup, plump raisins, and juicy citrus. After that, maple extract, burnt sugar, a bit more dry fruit cake, along with salted mixed nuts, and melted dark chocolate. Stronger youthful oak –  grippy, rough-sawn boards.  Hot cinnamon, vanilla bean, clove, ginger, and black pepper. This gets a little hot and quite bitter towards the end.

The Finish:  Slightly numbing and a little too bitter with cola, burnt sugar, tannic oak, woody cinnamon, ginger and black pepper dust.

Thoughts:  Fairly decent, but also a little confusing. For a slightly older than four year old whiskey, I thought this lacked the richness of the Diamond Peak. And at the same time thought it was a little too influenced by those old Oloroso casks. The nose had an interesting complexity, with a paler, more amontillado-like feel. The palate was more Oloroso-like, though still relatively fresh and lively seeming. The wood influence grows throughout and, by the finish, gets to be a bit too astringent. As I said, the Stranahan’s profile seems a great match for sherry cask maturation, but in this case, the sherry influence felt perhaps too heavy, and overwhelmed the richer aspects of the four year old malt, amplifying some of the younger, woodier harsher aspects. While this one is not quite there, the general idea is a worthy addition to the brand and I’m certainly looking forward to future batches.

Stranahan’s Sherry Cask Colorado Single Malt Whiskey, +/- 2017, Batch #1

47% ABV

Score:  80


Stranahan’s Diamond Peak Colorado Single Malt Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Stranahan’s and Exposure PR for the sample.

During a trip in 2016 to Denver’s Stranahan’s Distillery, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Rob Dietrich, the head distiller. Rob’s a character to be sure, and he’s a good storyteller. Over the years, he’s effectively been the face of the brand. He began working at Stranahan’s in the early days of the company, and when the distillery was sold to Proximo Spirits in 2010, he took over the lead role from the departing Jake Norris. In my write-up of that trip, I mentioned that, as much of a character as Rob is, he’s also pretty humble about it all – he sees himself more as a steward of the brand than a “master distiller.” That does not, however, mean that he hasn’t left his mark. When he became the head distiller, Stranahan’s had just the one yellow-labeled Original expression. Under Rob’s guidance, three other expressions have joined the range.

The first of these, Stranahan’s Snowflake, showcases the whiskey after it’s been finished in a variety of wine and spirits casks. It began life as a twice-a-year special release, and today is a coveted limited edition, sold at the distillery only on one day in December. Rob’s second creation, this Stranahan’s Diamond Peak Colorado Single Malt Whiskey, debuted in 2015 and from the beginning was slated to have much wider distribution. Compared to the Original, the Diamond Peak is sort of a distiller’s reserve/select kind of thing – this is Dietrich’s interpretation of the Stranahan ideal. The whiskeys used are at least four years old in contrast to the Original’s two-to-five year old age range. As with the Original, whiskeys used in the Diamond Peak have been matured in new American white oak barrels that have first been toasted, then charred to a #3 char.

The Nose:  A fairly rich and fruity nose. Initially, there’s tart apples with caramel sauce, cola, clover honey, and a bit of overripe cantaloupe. Close behind, French vanilla ice cream, and semi-sweet chocolate chips in warm chocolate chip cookies. There’s just a hint of slightly sweet, slightly beery toasted grain. The oak is polished and integrated with warmed cinnamon, vanilla bean, subtle clove and faint peppercorns

The Palate:  Really nice, creamy, oily mouthfeel. Much of the sweetness from the nose carries over – dark honey, vanilla syrup, cherry cola, and bruised apples. There’s lots more chocolate here, both milky and dark, with hints of nutty fudge and gingerbread. The oak is sturdy and strongly tannic with lots of cinnamon and vanilla bean, clove, candied ginger, and nutmeg.

The Finish:  Lingering and more-ish. A bit of that cola-esque sweetness fades early, leaving cocoa nibs, grippy oak, ground pepper, and baking spices to fade more slowly.

Thoughts:  Really good stuff. The Diamond Peak is my favorite Stranahan’s expression thanks to its balanced mix of dark sweetness and vibrant oak. This one progresses nicely, nose to finish, from a sweet fruity whiskey, to a spicy oaky one, with enough youthful complexity to keep things interesting along the way. While the average price of around $70-$75 is about $20 more than the yellow label Original, the Diamond Peak would be my pick if you’re looking to check out the brand. Recommended.

Stranahan’s Diamond Peak Colorado Single Malt Whiskey, Batch #21, +/- 2017

47% ABV

Score:  85


Stranahan’s Original Colorado Single Malt Whiskey – Review

*Sincere thanks to Stranahan’s and Exposure PR for the sample.

The summer before last, I had the opportunity to visit Denver, CO and Stranahan’s Distillery for their first Cask Thief event. It was a great opportunity to see a bit of the area and get to know this elder statesman of American single malt whiskey a little better. Granted, Stranahan’s isn’t really all that old, having got its start in 2004, but the American single malt scene is a fairly young one, so in that regard, the distillery is an old-timer. At the aforementioned event, we had the chance to try, straight from the cask, several different, somewhat unusual barrels which painted an even more complex picture of the whiskey being made there.

Here we are a year and a half later, and with the release in late 2017 of Stranahan’s Sherry Cask expression, I figured it was as good a time as any to revisit this stalwart craft brand starting with their flagship yellow label Stranahan’s Original Colorado Single Malt Whiskey. Over the years, this whiskey has been released in batches and has had both its age and flavor profile evolve somewhat as the maturing stocks grow. Stranahan’s borrows more than a bit from beer brewing in its production, especially in the wort and wash phases which in general favor a more sanitized, filtered process versus what you regularly see in single malt Scotch production. Distillation occurs in squat, hybrid pot/column stills, while maturation happens in new American White Oak barrels that have been first toasted, then charred (at a #3 level char for those counting) by Independent Stave. Currently, the Original is made up of whiskeys ranging from two to five years old. Please note that there is a bit of variation between batches, and while I was not given the exact batch number for this sample, it’s from either #190, #191, #192, 193, or #194. I know…that doesn’t really narrow it down. In any case, they’re now on batch #202, so do with that what you will.

The Nose:  A fruity sweetness and quite a bit of wood influence. Honeycrisp apples dipped in warm caramel sauce along with candied orange slices and a bit of cherry cola. Vanilla bean ice cream, cocoa powder, and a hint of lemon zest. The oak is rather prominent and a little edgy with hints of fresh sawn boards. Baking spice notes, almost gingerbread-esque, with sticky vanilla bean, warm cinnamon, faint clove, and nutmeg, along with a faint whiff of dried mint.

The Palate:  Lightly oily mouthfeel, with lots of sugared sweetness initially. Toasted marshmallow, more caramel apple, vanilla syrup, and crème brûlée. The chocolate is back as well, but it’s darker now, and barely sweetened. The strong oak carries through, too with rough sawn boards, tannic and grippy. There’s continued vanilla bean, clove, and cinnamon with Tellichery peppercorns and a hint of star anise. A subtle, almost herbal grainy quality carries through to the finish.

The Finish:  Burnt sugar sweetness, more marshmallow and caramel, fade first, with tannic oak, vanilla bean, cinnamon, and peppercorns lingering the longest

Thoughts:  The Stranahan’s Original is still a good whiskey. It’s a young, oaky whiskey, but it manages to not seem as young as it is, and pulls off its barrel-forward flavor profile by incorporating a balanced, sweetness, and just enough hints of the raw distillate to keep things interesting. It’s not the most earth-shattering, complex whiskey in the world, but it remains straightforward and distinctive, nicely establishing the distillery’s house style. Price seems to vary pretty widely for this one, from around $45 to $65 with occasional options outside that range. I think it’s a good whiskey to explore on the low end of that scale, but on the higher end, I think I’d opt to shell out a bit more for the even more refined Diamond Peak.

Stranahan’s Original Colorado Single Malt Whiskey, +/-2017 (See above for batch # info)

47% ABV

Score:  83