There are people who know a lot about drinks — and then there are bartenders. While it might be new to most of us, Stranahan’s single malt whiskey has long been an underground favorite of the men and women behind the stick, its unique “sash” label standing for years as a quiet, bar-top signifier for those in the know.
Stranahan’s reputation? An extremely approachable American single malt. While the style is often associated with Scotland, single malts — a whiskey from a single distillery that is made of 100 percent malted barley — can be made anywhere, and can be enjoyed by anyone, however they want to drink them. For bartenders, much of what makes Stranahan’s a fave is that accessibility: While Stranahan’s is famous among industry folks for performing well in cocktails, it’s also known as a whiskey you can just as easily sip neat or over a large ice cube.
But even those “in the know” don’t know absolutely everything — certainly not when it comes to Stranahan’s. Below, find nine facts that even many bartenders don’t know about one of our most approachable single malts.
1. There’s a Free Toy Inside
Inspired by the Old West barroom practice of covering opened bottles with a small tin cup, each bottle of Stranahan’s has a metal cover over its corked cap — in this case, a cap made of stainless steel, not tin. While the bottom is embossed SCW — for “Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey” — the inside is etched with liquid-ounce measurements for pouring and mixing drinks. The full volume is a perfect 2.5-ounce pour. That’s right: it’s actually a jigger.
2. It’s a Real Barn-Burner
In 1998, a barn fire brought volunteer firefighter Jess Graber out to a Colorado country property owned by George Stranahan, a physicist and the founder of Flying Dog Brewery. Although the barn was lost, the two bonded over their mutual love of great whiskey, after which they began experimenting with their own production. A few years later, they moved into a space next to Flying Dog in Denver, where the first batch of Stranahan’s Colorado whiskey was distilled in 2004, going out in bottles two years later.
3. It Was the First of Many
With its first bottles hitting the shelves in 2006, Stranahan’s was not just the first legally produced whiskey in Colorado since Prohibition — it was also among the vanguard of the American craft whiskey movement. And as a member of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission, Stranahan’s is still working to lead and promote the understanding of U.S. single malt whiskey. (It’s not just from Scotland!)
4. It’s a Destination
Because its availability was primarily limited to the Centennial State, Stranahan’s has long had a reputation as a producer to plan road trips around, with its public tours occupying a top spot on the vacation wish lists of many whiskey aficionados, and its popular cocktail lounge recently ranked the best whiskey bar in the U.S. on Yelp. And not just in Denver: Stranahan’s one-off whiskey tastings have also brought out big crowds in cities like Austin.
5. It Has a Posse
Starting since Stranahan’s first launched, bottle labels are handwritten and applied by volunteers at the distillery’s weekend bottling parties. The list of volunteers — a.k.a. “the Crew” — now includes over 25,000 Denver locals. Each bottling day, a lucky few are selected at random for the chance to help out at one of two four-hour sessions. In exchange, those volunteers get a meal, a bottle of whiskey to take home, and a truly cool experience. The hand labelling of the “sash” labels makes each one unique, often with its own message. Don’t be surprised to find a note that says what kind of music the Crew was listening to on bottling day, or “Go Rockies!”
6. No Two Are Alike
On one day every December, fans line up outside Stranahan’s distillery, with many staying in tents on the sidewalk overnight. Their goal? Scoring a bottle of Snowflake, a special, small-batch release that changes every year. Since 2007, these limited-edition single malts are only sold on a single day, each version named after a different Colorado “fourteener,” meaning a mountain peak over 14,000 feet. With this year’s release (understandably) postponed, the distillery came up with a great substitute for 2020: opening the vault for a public auction of five previous editions of Snowflake. All proceeds benefit the Colorado State Firefighters Foundation, an organization close to Stranahan’s heart, with the distillery matching those donations up to $25,000.
7. It Offers Familiar Flavors
There’s a reason why many drinkers find Stranahan’s extremely approachable. Yes, it’s a single malt, meaning that it is made with 100 percent malted barley — unlike bourbon, it contains no corn, rye or wheat. But like bourbon, Stranahan’s single malt is aged in new, charred, American oak barrels. That gives it a set of flavors that should taste like home for many American whiskey drinkers, as well as the elegance, balance, and extreme sippability of a great single malt.
8. The Angels Score
Most drinkers have heard of “the angels’ share,” the amount of whiskey that is lost to evaporation from the cask as the spirit ages. The actual rate of evaporation depends on a number of factors, including humidity, heat, barrel size, location in the warehouse, and elevation. Stranahan’s setting in the Rockies means that its whiskey experiences a greater loss due to evaporation than most distilleries, which results in a more concentrated flavor profile. Or to put it another way: Because of Stranahan’s mile-high aging, the angels enjoy a very generous pour.
9. It Has an Untapped Resource
Many legendary distilleries cut the high-grade spirits coming off their stills with plain old tap water before it is sent into barrels, and again use tap water when they cut those barreled whiskies down to bottling strength. (Worth noting as part of that process: Stranahan’s are all non-chill-filtered.) Hailing from Colorado, Stranahan’s has plenty of options for great aqua. But instead of just opening the tap, Stranahan’s actually cuts its whiskey with Eldorado Natural Spring Water, the same pure, bottled water found throughout the Rockies.
So if you want to use ice that matches your single malt perfectly, you know what to do.
This article is sponsored by Stranahan’s.