Not too many people would happily wait in 25-degree temperatures for a bottle of American single malt whiskey, especially a Southerner like me, would they? The better question is should they? And the answer is a resounding yes.
At Colorado’s first legal whiskey distillery, Stranahan’s, I recently found myself in line among 1,000 unique individuals from across the country—aptly nicknamed “StranaFans"—all of us in Denver to purchase a bottle of rare American single malt called Stranahan’s Snowflake.
It’s only released one day each December, solely at the distillery. Aside from the elusive nature of getting your hands on Snowflake— sold for $100 per bottle, two bottles max per person, first come, first serve—it’s all about the memorable experience of camping outside the distillery for your reward.
Wyoming resident Russell Cowdin owns Snowflake batches 12 through 21, and once stood in line for 38 hours in sub-zero temperatures to get bottles.
“This will be my 10th release,” he told me with a hint of pride. He arrived about a week ahead of the scheduled release this time around. When I asked him about what makes Snowflake more than a whiskey, he said, “because it takes so much time, effort, energy and determination to get it.”
He’s right. On top of the elusive nature of Snowflake, which sells for anywhere between $200 to $2,500 on Craigslist, there’s a special je ne sais quoi to the crisp, cold mountain air and the way fans have turned the release into a full-fledged “thing,” which grew organically from a Facebook invite years ago.
Now, there’s Snowflake Village, a spacious tent filled with people playing corn hole, an energetic live band, and an Airstream serving up warm whiskey libations.
And there’s Snowflake itself, which master distiller, Rob Dietrich, makes each year by gathering samples from each of his cask-finish barrels and creating the whiskey by taste, so that no two batches are ever alike.
“We’re a little outlaw in Colorado,” says Dietrich, who himself went rogue by leaving a lucrative music industry job to start making small-batch whiskey at Stranahan's about twelve years ago. “We don’t have to stick by scotch guidelines or bourbon guidelines. We do things a little bit different out here.”
That means sourcing barley and even snow melt from Colorado and, says Dietrich, “taking a 100 percent malt barley and making a single malt but aging it like a bourbon. We’re aging it in brand new white American oak with a No. 3 char. We only use those barrels once.”
This year’s Snowflake is aged for a minimum of two years like Stranahan’s Original. However, it’s finished in nine flavorsome casks consisting of Syrah, Muscat, chocolate stout, California merlot, Old Vine Zin, Port, rum, and two Madeira casks. Left completely enamored of it, I’m pleased to say I’m officially a StranaFan.
Southwest Airlines offers the best deals directly to Denver. Depending on the time of day you arrive, traffic can be horrific. We recommend taking the RTD train that takes you directly to The Crawford Hotel, rooms from $199.