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. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Volunteer firefighter Jess Graber met the owner of Flying Dog brewery in 1998 when he responded to a fire at George Stranahan’s property. There wasn’t much to be done for the structure, but as the fire burned itself out the two made conversation about their shared interest in whiskey. They decided to experiment a bit, distilling some leftover liquid from the brewery, and were pleased with the results. Graber refined his recipe over several years, ditching the old beer base along the way, and by 2004 he and Stranahan had gone into the spirits business together, launching Stranahan’s with distiller Jake Norris. The whiskey was a hit, and has since grown into a business successful enough to interest Proximo Spirits’ acquisition in 2010.
Today, Stranahan’s head distiller Owen Martin is guiding the distillery’s single malt production. Single malt (meaning a whiskey produced from malt barley at a single distillery) is most widely associated with Scotch, though it has been embraced by Japanese, Irish, and other World distilling traditions. In recent years, American distillers have begun to explore the category. Because the category is still young here, and the United States is a very large country boasting numerous distilling traditions, there is not yet a consistent definition for the category. There are, however, organized efforts to establish a commercially comprehensible, and legally relevant standard definition.
Stranahan’s produces an impressive range of single malts, the most recent of which adds an interesting wrinkle via a sherry cask finish. They transfer a portion of their four-year aged Rocky Mountain Single Malt into casks with 40 years of previous experience aging Andalusian Oloroso for finishing. There is plenty for the curious whiskey drinker to explore here, from the effects of aging at Colorado’s altitudes to the character imparted by these venerable old casks.
Tasting Notes: Stranahan’s Sherry Cask
Vital Stats: No age statement given, 94 proof, $70
Appearance: Clear, copper-gold with medium legs.
Nose: The wine cask is front and center, with dried fruits, cherries, and tannins.
Palate: Rich, chewy sweetness of honey or caramel. Figs and walnut bitters transition into flavors of chocolate and leathery wine-tannins. There is a light, earthy spice that fades slowly on the finish.
This was something of a Jekyll and Hyde experience for me. On the vast majority of sips, I felt this was a very solid whiskey with well integrated, complimentary flavors that brought something unique to the table. But every 5th sip or so, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the cumulative effect all these flavors produced was something akin to cherry robitussin. It would be uncharitable to define my experience with Stranahan’s Sherry Cask Single Malt by this intermittent experience, but it did result in me trimming down my overall rating for a bottle that I otherwise liked very much!