Monthly Archives: March 2009

Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

stranasI apologize to my readers for the recent lull in my posting schedule.  I spent ten days down in Austin then another ten recovering – in not much of a mood for liquor.  The blog may have also experienced some down-time lately, hopefully that should be fixed now.  This week, however, I have something a little different: a “Colorado whiskey” – namely Stranahan’s.

Anyone who has read this blog before might have noticed that I like to cheer on whiskies that originate from outside the Kentucky/Tenessee region.  I like to imagine that the further one gets from the heart of bourbon production, the more willing one is to experiment with production.  While this is blatantly not true – with the wonderful experimentation going on in Kentucky and some traditional products coming from elsewhere – it’s at least an interesting draw into new ground for me.

Stranahan’s is made like a bourbon, except with an all-barley mash instead of a corn-centric one, and aged a “minimum” of two years.  Let’s see how it pans out.

Stats:

$50-60

- 94 proof

- Made by Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey

Presentation:

The large metallic silver top defines this bottle’s appearance.  It may look like a shot glass and/or serving suggestion, but at this price point, I hope that’s not the case.  Otherwise the steeply angled labeling is simple, with an emphasis on hand-marking.  The background is faux aged and the descriptive paragraph very short.  One appealing aspect is the “Comments” section of the label where “listening to the Pogues” is written in, a charming addition if it’s genuine. These guys might just be small enough for that to be real.

Tasting:

To the nose Stranahan’s comes across with hot asphalt, watermelon, honey, and salty ocean wind.  The latter two Scotch-like notes are probably a result of their common use of barley.  The scent is smooth and without any significant alchohol character to it.

Tasting it again draws likeness to Scotch.  It opens with a big, bright lemony sensation that falls back into a dandelion bitterness that lingers for a bit before fading into a long, dry, warm finish that never really releases that first lemon aspect.

Over all:

I am impressed with Stranahan’s.  If you like your sweet bourbons you won’t be too pleased here since the barley doesn’t have that kind of sugary character, but it is different from any other American whiskey I’ve had lately – in a good way.


Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey

fgbI met Ralph Erenzo – co-founder of Tuthilltown Spirits – at a tasting at Fermented Grapes this weekend. I’ve tasted TS’s barley Single Malt before and I’ve been curious about their Four Grain Bourbon more or less since.  So, after tasting some of TS’s apple vodka and Baby Bourbon (as well as a pleasant conversation with Ralph) I took home a bottle.

Stats:

- $35-40
- 92 proof
- Made by Tuthilltown Spirits

Presentation:

As I’m sure I wrote before with the Single Malt, Tuthilltown Spirits squat little bottle with wax-dipped top is attractive for its lack of affect and medicine-bottle look, while avoiding the kitch and nostalgia of other American whiskies.  My only complaint is the wordiness of the paragraph on the back, which belies the rest of the packaging’s simplicity.

Tasting:
On the nose FGB is very muted.  There’s a bit of spicy, pepperiness from the rye as well as a sweet maple syrup scent.

The first sip enters smoothly and sweet, then develops a full-mouth grainy, grassy taste.  It’s here where it reveals some youth though (it’s aged less than a year in small barrels) and a little tartness, but it slowly moves into a medium-length peppery finish.

Over all:
Tuthilltown’s Four Grain Bourbon is pleasantly full.  If I didn’t know it had been aged less than a year (Mr. Erenzo let that out) I probably wouldn’t have been able to guess.  I’m looking forward to what they produce in the future.


Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky

wasmundsI picked up Wasmund’s at Astor Place last week because it is a non-bourbon American whiskey that I’ve never heard of before.  That intrigues me.  I’m always looking for people who are innovating and trying new things in the spirits industry here in the US, even if that means attempting to recreate another nation’s approach, as the “single malt” moniker implies.

Another intriguing element of Wasmund’s is its age of…wait for it…four months.  Four months!  There I was, looking at a bottle filled with brown whiskey that’s four months old?  At the very least, this would be an experience similar to Georgia Moon or perhaps last week’s brandy, both young spirits.  At best, the creator had worked some distillation magic and produced a fine, but extremely young drink.  Either way, it would be interesting.

Stats:

$30-40

- Made by Copper Fox Distillery

- 96 proof

Presentation:

Wasmund’s label is nothing special.  It displays its name in bold red letters at its curved top, below which are depicted an axe & chopping block (having recently chopped some wood chips), a copper pot still, and a trio of casks.  In no fewer than four more fonts, the label describes where it’s from, that it’s non chill-filtered, that it’s a single malt whisky (no ‘e’), and that it’s falvored and colored with applewood, cherrywood, and oak.  In the background there’s a stylized fox.

There are too many fonts to allow me to enjoy this label.  The color scheme (red, black, tan) is attractive enough, and – individually – the graphic elements are passable, but over all it comes across as cluttered and unfocused.  They would be better off focusing on the fox logo as a central element and cutting down the font-madness.

I have seen worse, however.

On the back label, creator Rick Wasmund makes the case for his whisky.  He describes following a traditional Scottish method, except replacing peat with fruit woods: interesting.  He also says that the spirit is aged in casks along with wood chips: that explains the mere four months of aging!

Aging with wood chips is a common practice amon home-distillers who lack access to proper casks to mature their product, but I can’t recall any other commercial brand that uses this practice.  In theory it makes a lot of sense: whiskeys reach maturity as a result of its contact with the wood, therefore if you increase the exposed surface area of wood, you wll reach maturity faster.  Having been founded only in 2000, Copper Fox is a young operation, and most likely saw this method as a way to bring the product to the market in a shorter time frame – namely, four months.

Clever.  Whether or not this turns out well, I applaud Mr. Wasmund for his willingness to experiment and question orthodoxies in the American whiskey industry.  We need more people trying more methods in order to stay relevant and to push our industry further.

Tasting:

To the nose, Wasmund’s is largely made up of smoke, rubber, wood, and alcohol.  The wood scent is not the familiar oak; this must be the apple and cherry woods described.  Yet, the youth of this whiskey comes through in the harsh alcohol scent that accompanies it.

On tasting, the prominent sensation is something like salt cod, beyond which lies that non-oak wood, a bit of smoke, and a general impression of the ocean.  The finish is long, hot, and peppery.

This is surpisingly mature for a four (!) month old whiskey, but still clearly young.  The flavors come and go with a speed and clarity that belies their variety and its heat, if nothing else, betrays its youth.

It is also definitely in the Scotch style.  That oceanic sensation is a reflection of this, perhaps owing to the smoking of the barley before fermentation.

Over all:

This is not my favorite whiskey.  It is, however, a good effort at breaking the accepted practices of whiskey making in America.  We should judge practices like aging with wood chips by the spirits they produce, rather than by the processes we are familiar with. In that light, though they are far from where they could be, I encourage Mr. Wasmun in his efforts, and hope to see other varieties from Copper Fox soon.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.