Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Stranahan’s. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
The story of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey sounds like a legend. A volunteer firefighter met a brewery owner when the latter’s barn caught fire. Chatting about homemade distillers, the brewery owner offers up kegs of old beer to distill. After refining his technique, and shifting to his own mash, the firefighter founds Colorado’s first distillery since Prohibition, with the brewer’s blessing and his last name for the company, in a neighboring building for the distillery. In 2003, Stranahan’s opened its doors beside Flying Dog Brewery in Denver, Colorado, and soon became a popular, nationally distributed brand.
Stranahan’s is a member of the American Single Malt Whiskey Commission. The Commission is an organization of American whiskey distillers whose members produce and label their Single Malts according to strict guidelines, not unlike Scotch whisky regulations. Whiskeys labeled as “American Single Malt” must be made from 100% malted barley and be distilled at one distillery in the USA. Does it make the whiskey better? That, of course, is debatable. But it does better inform the end consumer, and I’m 100% onboard with transparency. So bravo to that.
In 2010, Proximo Spirits purchased the distillery. They decided to expand the production (which, keep in mind, wouldn’t hit the shelves for two to five more years) while narrowing distribution to within Colorado. Whether purposefully or not, these moves created a cult brand overnight.
Proximo Spirits is best known for its line of Jose Cuervo tequilas, which supply the finishing casks for this Stranahan’s Extra Añejo Tequila Cask American Single Malt Whiskey. The whiskey was finished for up to two and a half years in casks of Reserva de la Familia Extra Añejo tequila, Jose Cuervo’s ultra premium line made from 100% blue agave aged for 10 to 12 years. Tequila cask finished whiskey is not out of the norm, but it’s rare so far to see “extra añejo” casks used, given its newness. First introduced in 2006, extra añejo is considered the crème de la crème (crema de crema?) of the tequila world with the longest minimum aging requirement, high impact oak flavors, and commensurately higher price tag.
The distillery describes this whiskey’s flavor profile as showing floral, herbal, and caramel notes and leaving a lingering note of agave sugar on the finish. As befitting its Colorado location, it’s cut with Eldorado Springs water from the Rocky Mountains. Tequila fans: plan your road trip sooner rather than later, as this was released in May and is available exclusively at the distillery.
Tasting Notes: Stranahan’s Extra Añejo Tequila Cask American Single Malt Whiskey
Vital Stats: A blend of six- to nine-year-old whiskeys aged in new American oak barrels, char #3. 45% ABV, mash bill: 100% malted barley, SRP $69.99/ 750ml bottle. Batch 003. Bottle 1185. Colorado.
Appearance: This is golden yellow with a coppery undertone.
Nose: At first sniff, the nose seems a little shut down and almost reductive. It’s hard to discern much. With a few more sniffs, I start to pick up a whiff of tequila barrels, and flavors seem to suddenly explode from the glass. There are unusual fruit and spice notes like grilled cherries, cracked black pepper, and old lemons. On the chemical side of the spectrum, I pick up notes of nail polish remover, pool water, and oiled wood. Underneath are sweet vanilla base notes and a touch of burnt rubber. It’s a musky whiskey that seems heavily influenced by its tequila-laced sleep.
Palate: It’s oily and sweet in the mouth with a fiery burn and lightly abrasive tannins that feel like hot peppers on the palate. In the flavor department, this is not a subtle whiskey, but not in a tutti frutti-vanilla bomb sort of way. What flavors does it evoke? Well, saying it tastes like tequila isn’t enough to do it justice, but all I can write are analogisms for said spirit: iodine, musk, agave syrup, old leather, plain yogurt, fresh plucked succulent leaves, and smoked sea salt. Writing this feels a bit like describing tequila to an extraterrestrial. The flavors linger ever so long on the palate, but again with that heavy-handed tequila note and a portent of morning regrets.