Distillery 291 “Colorado Rye Whiskey”, 50.8%

This single barrel is a bit of an oddity in my book. A distillery I’ve never heard of selling single barrel rye whisky at pretty steep prices. Or at least, in Europe the bottles go for pretty steep prices.

This specific one, without a barrel indication on the front label that I can spot (here, to be precise), was made from a rye malt mash, an underwent an ‘Aspen Stave Finish’.

Here’s me being an idiot once more though. I initially figured ‘aspen staves’ were just some undisclosed kind of tree they got from Aspen, the skiing town. Obviously, giving it about 1 second of thought, it is quite a bit more likely they actually used staves from the aspen tree. Look at me being anything but a botanist.

Anyway, I got a sample of this, because it was so obscure to me.

The distillery is founded by Michael Myers, a photographer originally from New York. He indicated that, after watching the events of 9/11 first-hand, he decided New York wasn’t the place to raise his family and he set out for Colorado Springs.

Ten years ago the distillery was founded and has been making all whisky himself, instead of starting with sourced spirits. Everything is made in quite small batches with inspiration for the mash bill coming from Thomas H. Handy Rye, one of Buffalo Trace’s Antique Collection.

The whiskey ages in 10 gallon barrels (less than 40 litres) for around a year. The aspen staves come into play after this initial maturation. With this being a single barrel product, that means there’s not even 60 bottles per batch.

What’s also interesting and something that would immediately disqualify the product as whisky, had it been made in Europe, is that in the mash a portion of boiled IPA is used. The alcohol is cooked off and the remaining liquid is used in the mash. Distillery 291 is the only one doing this, and they dubbed this the ‘El Paso County Process’.

Image from Distillery 291

Sniff:
A very fruity distillate in the way the new oak combines with the sweetness found in the spirit. There’s hints of acetone and paint, but also apricots, cherries, green tree bark and some wood smoke.

Sip:
The palate brings a bit of a fatty grain style with hot pepper and lots of ‘fresh wood’ sharpness. Not necessarily virgin oak, since I guess the aspen staves come into play here too. Brown sugar, cherries and some vanilla.

Swallow:
The finish brings the woodiness again, but slightly sweeter this time. Red chili pepper, wood spices, brown sugar and caramel. Some cherry syrup even.

Obviously, this is quite a weird product with all its gimmicks and trickery. Had I been more of a purist I would have said this doesn’t really qualify as whisky within any other whisky category I know. However, I’m not that purist. And I love this whisky.

It’s quite young and therefore fiery, but with all its sharpness, the combination of fruit, spices and raw spirit scents I think it offers far more depth and layers than you’d normally expect. Very, very good stuff indeed!

88/100

Samples are still available through Whiskay.

About Sjoerd de Haan-Kramer

I'm very interested in booze, with a focus on whisky. I like to listen to loads of music and play lots of Magic: the Gathering, and board games too. I'm married to Anneke, have two daughters Ot and Cato, a son Moos and a cat called Kikker (which means Frog, in Dutch). I live in Krommenie, The Netherlands.
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