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Friday, August 23, 2013

NOT Single Malt Report: Breckenridge Bourbon Whiskey

In late September last year, Kristen and I traveled to Breckenridge, Colorado for the wedding of Andrew (Kristen's brother) and Leslie.  Seriously, with the two of them you will never find a pair of more humble, healthy, good-looking, athletic, warm, and intelligent people.  Actually, add Kristen to that list as well.  Three beautiful people; it's apparently a good idea to have the Midwest in your genetic structure.

Also this:

While in beautiful Breckenridge, we had an opportunity to wander around the town.  The sun was out, the temperature was brisk, the leaves were changing.  It was so nice to have some real weather!

It was here in Breck that we sampled all of the wares from Breckenridge Distillery.  Though there wasn't a bad booze in the bunch, we agreed that the bourbon was the best.  Now I have bottles, one of which was a gift from Andrew and Leslie!  I'd gone through almost an entire bottle without taking official notes.  So, now it's time.

Distillery: Breckenridge Distillery
Type: Bourbon Whiskey
Region: Breckenridge, Colorado
Age: minimum 2 years
Mashbill: 56% corn, 38% rye, and 6% malted barley
Maturation: new American White Oak 53 gallon barrels
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Sku over at Recent Eats reviewed this bourbon back in June and noted that the current juice in the bottle is distilled in Kentucky.  While the Colorado distillery distills their own stuff, "they haven't marketed any of it yet".  The folks at the distillery shop were very forthcoming and told me the same big-rye mashbill that Sku lists on his site.  But they also told me the bourbon was made there in Breckenridge.

Now, this is an ongoing quirk with many American craft whiskies right now.  We're starting to see bourbons come from all over the country, but many of them are taking stock they've purchased from other distilleries (in Kentucky and Indiana), add their local water, then not being 100% up front (as in listing the information on the up front label) about it.  That's how we're getting bourbon from all over, especially from places that do not have a working distillery.

So one of two things are happening here with my Colorado-purchased Breck bottles:
1.)  They haven't marketed the Breckenridge-distilled bourbon outside of Colorado, but are selling it in Colorado.  Thus my bottles contain actual Colorado Bourbon, or
2.)  Sku's info pertains to the entirety of Breckenridge's current bourbon product.  Thus my bottle contains Kentucky-distilled bourbon with Colorado water added.

I'm leaning towards #2.  Here's why:

The bottle-printed label reads (italics added for emphasis), "A handcrafted bourbon whiskey made at 9600 feet with snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains;" and, "Produced and Bottled by Breckenridge Distillery."  Meanwhile the official website says, "...the perfect Breckenridge snowmelt water used for proofing. The natural minerality of our water source ensures the luscious mouth-feel, depth of flavor, and long finish."

Because there's no reference to the whiskey being distilled in Colorado and there are repeated references to their local water source, I believe they are indeed producing the whiskey in my bottle.  Producing.  As in, the bourbon is from elsewhere, but they use real Rockies water to proof it down.

But the whisky politics ends here because if you arrived at this page the real question you have is, "But is it good?"  The answer is, yes.

It has a deep copper color in the glass.  The nose starts with molasses, lemon pulp, bubblegum, and brine.  Curiously, the malt shows up even at its low percentage.  Also some pencil shavings, maybe something like pork fat mingling with mild rye spice.  But the real big buff rye bursts out on the palate with a zippy zing (technical term).  It's a little tart and a little bitter but nicely so.  There's some salt, cherry cough syrup, black pepper, brine, and a brief mango moment.  It's sweet but never too much so.  The texture is quite silky considering the low-ish ABV.  It finishes with the pepper and salt, black cherry syrup, and a bold tartness.  There's some dryness to match the sweetness.  And the whole experience lingers long considering (again) the 43% ABV.

I'd recommend this neat, BUT this stuff makes a great mint julep thanks to the zing from the rye.

The bottle says that the whiskey has been aged for a minimum of 2 years, thus it can't be called Straight Bourbon Whiskey (which needs 4 maturation years).   (Florin proved the preceding sentence wrong, in the comments section below.) The Breck won't blow your mind with its complexity since it's still a youngin' proofed down to 43%.  But all that rye helps make it a tasty Summer (or Autumn or Winter or Spring) treat.  In fact, could this be the highest-rye bourbon mashbill on the market?

If you're a high-rye bourbon fan you may want to give the Breck bourbon a try if you see it at a bar.  I agree with Sku that $40+ is a lot to charge for a new-to-market 2 year old bourbon, so I'd never shout "Must Buy!" about it.  But I do like the bourbon.

Availability - an increasing number of US retailers
Pricing - $40-$50
Rating - 84


  1. I think it would be smarter for distilleries to market their sourced stuff under different labels. Trying to pull a transition in the same bottles is going to be... tricky.

    With that said, I tried some of this at a tasting last year and had similar feelings. It's pretty good, but not mind-blowing. Wouldn't pass if someone gave me a bottle, but I'm not going to search it out either.

    1. Yeah, it's going to be a challenge when they start pushing their own juice, unless they start easing it into the mix trying not to change the brand nose-palate too much. At least High West keeps their products separate.

  2. A year ago or so I tried to figure out the issue of who made what's in the bottle. I also noticed the crafty ad notes that seem to imply that it's distilled there without actually saying it. So I wrote directly to their distillery manager (don't remember name/email, I don't have the exchange in my records anymore unfortunately). I asked point blank if they distilled the bourbon from the bottle I bought at Hi-Time Wines. He wrote back promptly and said that initially they had sourced some bourbon in KY and they were blending it in with some of their own, but that at the moment (as of a year ago) they were bottling their own. I believed him, since it's unlikely for people in his position to lie, but it would be nice to have a clear confirmation on their bottles or on their website.

    1. Oops, looks like you just answer the challenge I posited in my comment above. Thank you for the update on your findings.

      To be honest, this was one place I fell short in this post. I should have gotten a response from Breckenridge before posting the report. I liked the rye and didn't think it was that big of a deal, but the more I wrote the more the whiskey source became a problem in my mind. I'll reach out to them too and return to the subject with more info when/if I have it. Thanks.

    2. Michael, one more thing: 2 years is enough for them to call it "straight bourbon", see e-CFR 5.22.b.(1)(iii). I can see two possible reasons not to call it "straight bourbon": most likely, it is (or was or will be in the future) a blend of straight whiskies from different states, such as KY and CO to pick two states at random; or, less likely, that they use additives (caramel, sugar, etc.) which are not legal in straight whiskies but they are in non-straight whiskies, as per e-CFR 5.23.a. If I remember well there is a similar case with Breaking and Entering, where the bourbon is old enough to be called straight but for obscure reasons it's not.

    3. Good point about the blending of bourbons from different states. e-CRF 5.22.b.(5)(i), in fact. :) I will update the post.

  3. Chuck Cowdery's latest post is about Breckenridge. It's an interesting read. I'm inclined to believe that this is likely a blend of their produced bourbon and a bourbon produced at LDI in Indiana since they are now stating there is no Kentucky made bourbon in their product.