Like a true drinks obsessive whenever I travel, I make time to research the budding distilling and brewing scenes wherever I happen to be visiting. What seems like a lifetime ago now, I was regularly travelling around Colorado – at the time, micro-breweries were starting to pop up across the Rocky Mountains – an early signal of the craft beer explosion which about to occur across the USA. But, there was to the best of my knowledge, no active whiskey distilleries around the turn of the millennium. Fast-forward to 2019 and not only are there now over 60 producing sites, there’s even a helpful ‘Colorado Spirits Trail’ map to guide tourists around a rapidly growing array of vibrant distilling communities. That’s an amazing whiskey-based holiday right there.
Stranahan’s is likely the best-known Colorado distillery – particularly outside of the US. It was founded near the heart of Denver in 2004 by Jess Graber and George Stranahan and has a key point of difference to many US distilleries, in that it only produces whiskey from malted barley – I.E. single malt. The distillery releases an array of small batch produced whiskeys – utilising a variety of barrel types that includes cognac, rum and ex-tequila (for the available only one day a year ‘Snowflake’ release) to oloroso sherry casks and more traditional virgin American oak for their more commonly seen expressions.
Diamond Peak is the distillery’s flagship product. The single malt is aged for at least 4 years in a small selection of new American oak barrels with a mid-char (#3) and delivered at 47% ABV. My batch for review today is from the latest batch (#21) – it was bought in the US for $70. Over in Europe, I can find little current supply of Diamond Peak at anything approaching a tempting price – you certainly don’t want to be paying the £140 that Hedonism wines seems to think is a reasonable. Each bottle comes adorned with a black metal 3 ounce (8cl) cap that doubles as a jigger
Nose: Quite temperate and mellow - roasted cashews and banana bread sit alongside cinnamon apples. Ex-bourbon aromas cut right through the heart with sweet split vanilla pods, oaty cereals, crème brulee and rice pudding. In the background, vegetalness with mushrooms and plenty of charred wood. Dilution reveals cacao nibs and chopped walnuts alongside dusty wood and earthiness.
Taste: The arrival is surprisingly light-weight, offering sweetness, but little in the way of body. Apples, overripe bananas and overt cask influence are first up – caramelised pan sugars sitting with cinema popcorn and vanilla cream. There’s a decent development, which leads into macerated cherries, chocolate sponge and coffee and walnut cake. In the back-palate, more of a spice-driven outlook – cinnamon rolls and a sprinkle of anise. Water doesn’t reduce the already thin-ish body further (thankfully), but does add some ‘green’ oaky flavours – sap and resin with leaf mulch, twigs and braches.
Finish: On the short side presenting gooey caramel, vanilla and fading cask spicing.
Stranahan’s Diamond Peak is an interesting whiskey that seems to straddle a variety of facets of the category. On the one hand it’s well composed and easy-drinking, offering a much wider array of corn-based flavours than I’d expect (it’s a single malt, not a bourbon), on the other, there’s plenty of bourbon style sweet spicing – albeit delivered in a toned-down and mellow approach. There’s a lot less punch here than in the standard version of Stranahan’s. Given Diamond Peak’s credentials this is somewhat unexpected, and may feel a little over-timid for some palates.