Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey recently invited me to take part in the pilot session of their new program, The Whiskey Workshop. The workshop is designed as a 2-day getaway for whiskey lovers and distilling nerds. My invitation was fortuitous, as I like to claim both designations. The idea is based on the belief that said lover-of-libations wants more than they can get from a standard visit and tour of the distillery. The Whiskey Workshop offers a day of learning and unprecedented access to the brewhouse and distillery as well as access to the knowledge of the employees that work there. You can also expect gracious hospitality and tastes of some pretty delicious things.
The problem with drinking with professionals is that they never have the haggard look of a professional drinker in the morning.
The invited test subjects met on a Wednesday night at The Brown Palace hotel for drinks and an introduction to the distillery staff who would be guiding us the following day. We were treated to a few Colorado Sidecars, a drink that one of the staffers at the Churchill Bar came up and subsequently won awards with. In this iteration, the traditional brandy is replaced by Stranahan’s to nice effect. I could have used more tartness, but who am I to argue? I followed that up with a few more whiskies and one-too-many Manhattans. Luckily, my room was right upstairs. I love staying at the Brown Palace. The rooms are tight but they still feel pretty nice. Then again, that could have been a side-effect of all the whiskey.
The following morning came mighty early and we met up in the hotel lobby. The problem with drinking with professionals is that they never have the haggard look of a professional drinker in the morning. It sets me on edge when no one looks appropriately hung over. Come on people, this is a whiskey outing! Anyway, I will not bore you with the ridiculous Jeep/Valet situation and just say that I made my way to the distillery in time to cram down breakfast and grab a seat to catch the start of the day’s presentations.
It felt a bit like sitting in class for a little while. A class with a really great subject. The members of the Stranahan’s management crew took turns offering various concepts about the history and technical aspects of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. The lectures were varied and covered the subject matter fairly well. Rob Dietrich, head distiller, walked us through distillation and maturation content and showed that not only does he know his stuff, he really cares about what he knows and the application of this knowledge.
We spent a little time in the bottling area after our lectures. Stranahan’s has always been bottled by teams of volunteers. The waiting list to be in on one of these sessions is currently 9,000 people deep. Never having the chance myself, I was interested in trying it out. In so many words – the bottling is work. The kind of work you wonder why someone hasn’t invented a machine to do it (they have). Since I was only there for about a half-hour, I am probably not the right guy to bolster the working man and the ideal of the impassioned volunteer. Instead I will mention sheepishly that I went and had a delicious lunch. After lunch we extensively toured the brewhouse, distillery and rackhouse, where the barrels of maturing whiskey are stored in a climate controlled area.
Given that this was a pilot weekend, I think a lot of little odds and ends could use a lot of improvement. The lectures were good but I think that certain things were crammed in in a weird way but never fully explored. My contention (as someone who has had to learn to make my own academic lectures less weird) is that if you are going to introduce obtuse content, then give it its due. If an interested party is going to pay for a getaway means to me that things should be exceptionally tight in execution. Wendy Tucciarone, PR rep for Stranahan’s, agreed. Her intent is to make this an experience for a small group a few times a year that will be extraordinarily popular. I think they can get there.
I had to slide my little gripe in the middle here as the events that happened after the tour warrant no complaint at all. At least, none that my memory can recall
Finally, some whiskey. We sat down to five pours of whiskey and and began a sensory panel led by Rob. We tasted through two production batches of SCW and one 4 year single barrel as well as two Snowflakes, SCW’s limited edition releases aged in various wine barrels after blending. The Tempranillo barrel Snowflake was awesome, but alas we will never see it in a bottle as it is Dietrich’s current nemesis and he feels that it is not right for sale. A shame. The most interesting to my palate was the single barrel. The flavors were weird, complex and not particularly refined at all. Loved it. Sensory panels are a great time when moderated well and this felt like something that I would be happy to pay for: tasty whiskey and quality discussion.
After the tasting we left for dinner. Now this was something. The chef and crew at the Rendezvous Cafe at the History Colorado Center served up a many course tasting menu of treats that incorporated Stranahan’s Whiskey or smoke from used SCW barrel staves. These were seriously delicious and ranged from smoked cheeses to pecan pies to marinated lamb. Really, a whiskey lover’s dinner in a completely unexpected environment. Dinner could only be topped by good company. I luckily sat myself next to Colorado History Center’s CEO Ed Nichols. He is a great guy who can tell a story.
So that was the day I had. I will let those of you who pay for this in the future be the final judges. At this point, is it a finished product? No. It isn’t. It does have the potential to be an excellent few days spent in an interesting environment with folks who genuinely want you to enjoy their product.