Editor’s Note: These whiskeys were provided to us as review samples by Distillery 291. 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 links 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.
To me, one of the most fascinating things about Distillery 291 is that the founder made his first still out of photogravure plates. Early photos were transferred from film onto light-sensitive gelatin paper, that was then adhered to a steel plate. The steel was etched in platinum chloride bath, so the areas where light came through would be eaten away and the dark areas would remain raised. The technique worked, but it was a bit all-or-nothing, with not much room for gradations.
William Henry Fox Talbot revolutionized photo printing in 1858 when he instead used a copper plate first dusted with powdered resin. The plate was heated, the resin and gelatin bonded to preserve all the delicate nuance of the image. Photogravure was born (and would continue to evolve into more delicacy in the coming decades).
Back to our founder! A fashion photographer in New York, New York, Michael Myers’ life was rocked by the events of 9/11/2001. He was looking for something new, and he knew he liked whiskey. So, he decided to give making it in Colorado a try.
After looking at many stills and finding a design that was kind of close online, Myers reached back to his many terms of mechanical drafting in high school. By mapping the still out visually, he could solve the challenges of his own particular space.
As most artists do, Myers had artifacts from his previous projects. Photogravure plates are made of thin copper, so Myers could gently roll them into a shape befitting a pot still. Next, he had to find someone to weld them together, and he was lucky enough to find an expert TIG welder to do the job. Legend has it he pulled the very first batch off that McGuyvered still ten years after the 9/11 attacks. The etchings from their first life remain.
Distillery 291’s wares are newly available outside of Colorado, so let’s find out how these liquids of humble origins taste.
Tasting Notes: Distillery 291 Bad Guy Bourbon
Appearance: This liquid is a very clear amber that coats the glass, beads and forms average tears.
Nose: Peach skin and molasses, redolent of fresh pencils and sandalwood. A tiny compost funk floats in the background with a far-off wisp of smoke. A drop of water draws out blown roses and cinnamon. The longer this whiskey sits in the glass, the more burnt-sugary it is.
Palate: Spice comes on hard like loads of black pepper. Tongue tingling and throat burning, I add the aforementioned drop of water. That reveals a sweet and fruity underbelly with a heavy tannic twang.
Tasting Notes: Distillery 291 HR Bourbon
Appearance: This liquid is a very clear amber that coats the glass… beads… and finally collects into legs.
Nose: Fresh hay and meatiness meet me first. A tang of Elmer’s Glue and unripe cherries are not far behind. Nutmeg underpins the whole affair. Pencil shavings creep out as the glass sits.
Palate: Those cherries taste riper on the palate. Cigar box and black pepper come along to fill out the mid-palate. A drop of water brings out chocolate and agave syrup plants itself on the finish.
Tasting Notes: Distillery 291 M Colorado Whiskey
Vital Stats: Distillery 291 M Colorado Whiskey is 126.9 proof and made from an undisclosed malted rye and corn mash bill, aged for an undisclosed length of time in new American oak, finished first with Aspen staves and then finished four months in ex-whiskey, ex-maple syrup barrels. Find a 750mL bottle in select markets for $107.99.
Appearance: This liquid is a very clear, deep amber that coats the glass and materializes into broad tears. Almost looks thick.
Nose: Brandied prunes come through as ethanol hits me in the eyes. Cherries and vanilla sugar come in around the edges.
Palate: Dang, it’s high proof, but chewy. Clean sweetness pulls through on the mid-palate and manages to make the finish. It could be the sweetest whiskey I’ve ever had. I first tasted this before I had researched, and the sweetness was disorienting and overwhelming. I re-tasted and found knowing about the maple barrels didn’t improve my experience. Allspice rolls through as I’m sipping.
Final Thoughts: Distillery 291’s goal is to make whiskey for the west. The Old West. According to my imagination, they’ve achieved something like that. Their whiskeys are burly and bold. If that’s something you go in for, you’ll love ’em. If you like drams with more balance and nuance, these are fun for a try, but not something you’ll need for your whiskey den. The proof doesn’t seem to be preserving something magical, as it is with the best high rollers.
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In 2014 I founded Portland Bitters Project with the vision to create the best bitters on the market. Now our bitters are enjoyed around the country and internationally to make expressive, delicious cocktails. I teach at two Portland colleges and visit private groups, distilleries and maker's spaces to spread the...