Ah, the après ski hour.
Some people head for a refreshing, cold beer or warm hot chocolate after a day on the slopes. My drink of choice is – surprise! – whiskey. And since I’m in Colorado, I figured I would go local. Rocky Mountain water. Cowboy tradition. Seems fitting.
I only knew of two Colorado whiskies, and I like them both – Stranahan’s and Breckenridge bourbon. Little did I realize that whiskey-making has a larger presence in the Centennial State. At a liquor store outside of Denver, I found myself facing an entire wall of whiskey from local distilleries.
A Coloradan steered me away from the imposters – made in Kentucky or elsewhere, but slapped with a Colorado label – and pointed me toward three very interesting choices.
After a morning of skiing, I decided it was time to warm up with a tasting.
I started with Peach Tree Distillers’ Colorado Straight Bourbon Whiskey made in Palisade. They claim this is “Colorado’s First Bourbon,” so it seemed like a good first stop on my tour of local whiskey. And it was a good choice – just the right touch of comforting warmth to cozy me up from the inside.
This tasted like classic bourbon to me – smooth and a little sweet. The corn definitely came through. The website said it is “Colorado sweet corn” with such pride that I wanted to say it was the best corn taste ever, but really, it just seemed like a good corn taste.
My fellow tasters were torn on this one, with one declaring it his favorite after tasting all three, even though he thought it lacked the barrel flavor of a bourbon aged longer. Another taster called it “common” and her least favorite.
Next stop was Buena Vista for some Single Malt Whiskey from the Deerhammer Distilling Company. It was, appropriately for the day, called “Down Time.” It is billed as being a hybrid of production techniques from both Scotch and bourbon. It is made with 100% malted barley like a Scotch and uses Scottish-style stills, but also uses American bourbon yeast and is aged in new charred American white oak barrels like a bourbon.
The first taste seemed very woodsy, maybe the oak. But then there is a rush of a second taste – a whisper of peat. I tried it again just to see and the same thing happened – an initial taste and then a second wind of smoke. I think they kind of hit on this hybrid idea – it’s like drinking Scotch in a barn. This was the most interesting and unique of the three.
Fellow tasters were torn on this one, as well, with one calling it “thin” and “uneventful” and another declaring it “very smooth, like buttah.”
The last stop was Denver for Leopold Brothers’ American Small Batch Whiskey. This one was much lighter – even a fruit taste to it, like pear. And the rye definitely came through with a just a touch of a licorice aftertaste. The website says they use early distilling techniques to bring out the flavors of the ingredients more than the barrel.
All the tasters called it lighter than the others with one saying it had “more character.”
These whiskies taste fairly new and lack the complexity of bourbons that are aged longer, but any cowboy out there would be lucky to have one of them around the campfire. And for those of us skiing instead of riding horses all day – my legs were sore when I came in and now I don’t feel a thing.