...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Single Malt Report: Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, batch 93

Another sample from WhiskyJoe!
Yes 'm.  I'm the third blogger to review a Stranahan's batch in a week's time.

Bourbonguy reviewed batch 95
Smokypeat reviewed batch 116
Smokypeat liked his, Bourbonguy not so much.

There was a lot of great word of mouth (courtesy of Jim Murray and Whisky Advocate) about Stranahan's a few years ago, but the whiskey wasn't being sold in California.  In fact, back then my easiest method to buy it was via European retailers, which is silly.  Anyway, my brother-in-law lives near Boulder and I've been looking forward to visiting the distillery, and maybe even purchasing a bottle in the meantime.  But that would be a blind purchase, something I'm not crazy about doing, even to support a small business...

...but wait, it's no longer a just small business.  In 2010, Stranahan's was purchased by Proximo Spirits, the folks who also sling Cuervo, Three Olives, Ron Matusalem, Kraken, Boodles, 1800, Hanger 1, and more.  According to Wikuhpeediuh, Proximo increased Stranahan's production by 150% after their takeover.  The actual production quantity remains small because it's a small distillery.  So it's still micro, though its ownership is macro.

The batch I'm reviewing today was bottled in August 2010, four months before the takeover.  I'm limiting my intro here because of the plentitude of notes...

Distillery: Stranahan's
Ownership: Proximo Spirits
Region: Denver, CO, USA
Type: Single Malt
Batch: 93
Bottled: 8/15/10
Age: a range of 2 to 5 year old whiskies, thus two years old
Mashbill: four types of Colorado barley
Maturation: new American oak
Alcohol by volume: 47%

I opened my sample (obtained via a swap with WhiskyJoe) a couple days ago with quite some optimism.  But I was immediately struck by a number of issues in the whiskey that turned me off.  Some air helped things out...

Day 1 (sampled neatly) --

The color is a medium gold.  Acetate hits first in the nose, reminding me of budget-priced high-grain Irish blends.  Then comes high-VOC paint, banana peels, and toffee.  Had to give it ten minutes of air before I could continue.  Then came new oak char.  Then orange peels, vanilla, cotton candy, angel food cake, and walnuts.  The toffee returns, but with a floral note in tow.  Bananas show in the palate as well.  It's very sugary, but grows sourer and tangier with time.  Notes of vanilla merengue, Peeps, caramel, and Mallow Mars-type "marshmallow" filling.  The long finish brings with it barrel char, vanilla beans, and banana candy.

I was very thankful that some air opened up the nose.  The palate was still vague and plain.  And the banana notes were a big turnoff.  I have serious issues with banana candy.  But, my wife had a sip and she thought it was okay.  So I saved the second half of the sample for the next day:

Day 2 --

Ah, the acetate thing is softer in the nose, where it's more like glue.  It's quiet though.  Maltier notes are showing up now.  It's still very candied -- cotton candy and cinnamon candy.  There's some baking spices, caramel, toffee, and floral notes.  Lots of sweetness in the palate again, sometimes granulated sugar, sometimes Nutrasweet.  There's some pepper and tangy lemons; toasted coconut meets a light bitterness.  After some time, carpet and cardboard notes arise.  The finish is remarkably long, tangy and very peppery.  No banana candy!

The nose is still sugary.  Whipped cream, creamsicles, caramel, and cinnamon.  But be careful with the water because it nearly kills this one off.  The palate has a nice bitterness to it, met by walnuts, toasty oak, and citric acid.  The finish has been silenced.  Now it's mostly acid and tannins.

The extra air and oxygen space in the sample bottle improved things considerably.  I do not recommend water with this batch, especially because it kills off the best part: the finish.

In the comment section of Smokypeat's review, Rob Dietrich provided some info about the whiskey.  He mentions that there's a mix of 2, 3, 4, and 5 year old barrels within.  My skills are not so sharp as to discern the difference between 2 and 3 year old stuff.  But, two and five?  Maybe.  I'll try to create a humiliating blind taste test some day...

Anyway, there's a lot of very young spirit in this batch.  This is a familiar tune.  The recent growth of new small American distilleries has resulted in an lake of young bottled spirit.  It's born of necessity, investors require revenue so producers put what they have on the market.  The fault in that approach is a brand can be destroyed by premature products.  Young whisk(e)y isn't necessarily bad, but there's very little of it that's reliably good.  As I just wrote on Facebook, I'm looking forward to what the market will look like in ten years.  Who will be still around?  The key isn't for a company to sell someone one bottle.  That customer needs to return for a second and third.  Marketing will nab the first sale, quality will win every bottle after that.

Stranahan's has already been around for ten years.  So they're doing something right, aside from getting a major buyer.  They release their products in small batches, so there will be variation.  This particular batch doesn't inspire me to run out a buy a bottle.  But it didn't scare me off.  I'd love to see a five-year old whisky from them someday.

Availability - Colorado, New York, and (possibly) California
Pricing - $50-$60
Rating - 78 (up from 70 on day 1)


  1. I have seen a bottle recently in BevMo, so I can confirm it's available in California.

    I had a bottle of batch 44, distilled 6/10/2007, and it looks like it prompted more extensive notes from me than usual, here they are below. Reading them I can taste the whisky again. I was looking for the "bitter" in your notes, and you found it too - though for me it was a defining note for this whisky.

    "Very, very good whisky! It has great personality, and very distinctive taste. Nose: Very spicy, rye-like, pine, pinesol, but also with lots of sawdust, and woody sweetness. Taste: spicy, rye-like, freshly cut oak, a bitter sweetness specific to young whisky, but with a different tinge, well integrated. I feel that there is a flavor here that I miss. Finish: sweet, bitter, lingering. Comments: this sweet bitterness is not for everyone, and it's not even for me much/most of the time. But this whisky is so well put together! I'm not sure about the mash, and initially I had mistakenly thought it's single malt. I would guess there's a good amount of rye in it. This whisky is among of handful of small American distillers with great and new things to say - including St George, McCarthy's, and High West (yes, I know they are blenders)."

    1. Florin: You said "great personality, and very distinctive taste" and "I feel that there is a flavor here that I miss." those were the exact things that kept making me raise its score. When I was not drinking it, its kind of unique flavor was still calling to me. Thats when I knew that they really did have something here.

      Michael: I also agree that it needs air. If I was to have reviewed this from a sample bottle I am sure my score would have been significantly lower. After my first pour I was not liking it at all with too much heat and wood. But then I noticed that given time even some of those early pours were really getting better. I moved my review of the Laphroaig CS ahead of this so I could continue to monitor how the bottle was developing. Seemed to get better and better.

      This sort of discovery is exactly what scares me about starting to review more from samples. That and the fact that if I do like the whisky I am left with only a review and no bottle to break out later.

      I also wonder how the batches compare. Mine is so new and certainly completely under the control of the new more corporate owner. Maybe they are somehow improving each batch. It is still a relatively new distillery in the grand scheme.

      Thanks so much for mentioning my review in your post and also on Twitter.


    2. @Florin -- There does seem to be a bit of batch variation going on, which is understandable and makes the stuff seem more handmade. Your batch sounds very good. I might, MIGHT, be going to the distillery in November. It would be great if they had tastings of the batch they're selling at the shop. They could sell me on it that way. Also, Kristen liked this one more than I so maybe I can buy her a bottle. :)

    3. @John -- Samples can be difficult to review from. The larger the better (of course!) because it allows us to spend more time with it. I am a staunch believer that whisky changes considerably with air, so when I review samples I take a looooooong ass time with the whisky. Being able to review a full bottle is excellent and become my favorite posts to write. Full bottle reviews are still a relatively new thing, as all the pros and major bloggers have been reviewing samples (and often those provided by the companies themselves). On the other side of things, there have been a few samples I've purchased that I've loved and which inspired me to chase down my own bottle.

      If I do get a chance to go to the distillery this year or next, I'll try to review a new batch. We shall see how that turns out...

  2. Good review, it's nice to see other viewpoints though since we were all trying different batches, who knows how much they relate to one another. Still fun to read though.

    I bought my bottle because I at that point in my life, I bought bottles from distilleries as souvenirs as a matter of course. I still have a bit over half the bottle almost two years later (which is very unusual for me). It's just not in line with my tastes I guess.

    Oh and thanks for the shout out.

    1. No prob! I think my opinion fell somewhere between yours and John's. At first try, I was definitely in your court. Air helped it, but it sounds like your bottle had plenty of air before your review. Since our batches were close together, I wonder if yours was more similar to mine than John's.

      Any chance you can blend it with some bourbon or rye to perk it up?

  3. According to Ralfy, Stranahan's has to keep their barrels wet (on the outside) otherwise the high altitude and weather will cause all the contents to evaporate. I think this means that the wood dries out creating openings for liquid to leak hence keeping the wood wet to promote expansion.

    This does explain why they are bottling young. Incidentally, visiting the distillery allows people the chance to buy their Snowflake bottles which are one-off experiments. These are often single barrels that have gotten unique maturations or finishings.