Stranahan’s Whiskey: The Long Missed Learning Experience 

Stranahan's Whiskey BarrelI feel like I’m already at a pretty nice saturation/steady state as far as beer knowledge goes. I don’t feel the need to deliberately seek out new information, at least. Sure, the occasional new concept comes up, but as most of the developments in craft beer over the last couple years have been recombinations of existing themes (Belgian IPA, anyone?), I’m now able to have a relaxing beer life, unburdened by the task of having so much new stuff to learn and free to just enjoy the stuff.

It’s satisfying, but the thirst for learning continues, so where to next?

I’ve been a fan of whisk(e)y since before I was allowed by the powers on high to drink it, but I’ve only recently started taking the time to dissect my drams the way Mel and I pick apart every pint and dish that settles in front of us. Unfortunately, my knowledge of whisky is still lacking. What’s the process? How does one drink it properly? Is it spelled with an “e”? I won’t indulge the cliche and discuss that last part, suffice to say that as I’ll be talking about an American distillery here, that “e” will be present.

Thus far, my only exposure to good whisky has come from Scotland. Because of that, I quickly gained a bit of a prejudice against American whiskeys, a prejudice that Stranahan’s, a small distillery hidden on the outskirts of Denver, CO, was fortunately able to break. Americans, it turns out, can make one hell of a whiskey when they want to.

Stranahan's Whiskey StillWe took an enlightening and informative tour of Stranahan’s distillery the day before the member’s session at GABF. I’d forgotten how much appreciation I could gain for something I enjoy just by finding out how it’s made. As I would do the process a grave injustice by paraphrasing (distill some unhopped beer, drop it in a barrel, come back in a couple years), I’ll leave that story for the experts, but after seeing how much hands-on care this little distillery affords its precious barrels of nectar, I have a newly found admiration for the skill of a trained and practiced distiller.

Stranahan's Barrel RoomAfter the tour, our guide Kristin brought us to a bar in the bottling room, where she passed out tasters and explained in detail how to taste whiskey: Part your lips when you smell it so you aren’t overwhelmed by alcohol vapors; Hold a small sip under your tongue to shock the alcohol sensitivity away; Add scant milliliters of water to bring out flavors you might otherwise miss. I was already able to pick up notes of apples and smoke, but after taking those tips into account, suddenly a new bouquet of tastes and aromas emerged. Banana. Cinnamon. Cayenne. This is what American whiskey can do? Why didn’t anyone say something?

Ray at Stranahan's Tasting RoomUntil our walk through Stranahan’s, I was a mere whiskey liker. With the knowledge (and the bottle :D) I left with, though, I think I’ve just found myself a whole new world to explore and appreciate.