Golden Moon Distillery bottled and released its newest product last week: Colorado Single Malt Whiskey. The new spirit is modeled after single malt whisky made in Scotland but with a few modifications to give it a Colorado identity. Distiller Stephen Gould produced only one barrel of the new whiskey — resulting in 384 bottles — as an initial run for what will later be larger batches. And those first bottles are already winning awards. At the 2016 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, held earlier this month, more than 1,850 spirits were judged. Golden Moon Colorado Single Malt Whiskey earned a prestigious double gold medal.
“It’s cask number one,” Gould says. “We had to crack that first cask to get into some of these competitions. We wanted to release some of it to the public because people have been screaming for it. It’s been selling pretty well.”
Gould experimented with malt whiskey back in 1990, distilling a few prototypes; however, his interest in other spirits led him in different directions. But over the past 26 years, Gould has visited Scotland a number of times and explored single-malt distilling much more deeply. During that time, he earned a certificate in cereal distilling from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, which is the same base credential needed to run a distillery in Scotland.
When Gould was formulating a single-malt whiskey recipe, he gave a lot of thought to the main ingredient: malt. “We’re in malt country,” Gould says. “More grain is malted in Colorado than in most places around the U.S. because of the beer scene. As a result, we thought to ourselves, 'What would really be a distinctly Colorado product?'”
Generally, for a whiskey to be called a single-malt, it must be produced in only one distillery from only one type of malted grain. The malting process entails soaking grain in water until it begin to germinate, then applying heat to stop the germination process. According to Scottish laws, a single-malt whisky must be made only from malted barley using pot stills at one distillery and must be aged at least three years in oak barrels holding no more than 180 gallons each.
Gould sources his grain from surrounding states, but it’s all malted in Colorado. “To get things started,” he says, “we wanted to dial in the processes — yeast strains, et cetera — to create a product that was really unique to Colorado. Golden Moon’s Colorado Single Malt is based on a two-row brewer’s malt, not a typical distiller’s malt. We’re actually using a malt that’s not designed for making spirits at all.”
Scottish single-malt distillers also use two-row barley, but kernels are smaller, with a slightly different chemical makeup, grown specifically for distilling purposes. “We get more of a malty note than your classic Scotch single-malt,” Gould explains. “I’m doing something that’s not a Scotch single-malt.”
Gould also adapted an uncommon yeast strain specifically for his new whiskey. “It locks in flavor congeners,” he says, “which is better for the style of whiskey we’re making, than the typical strains of yeast that would be used in Scotland — or even used here for bourbon or rye makers.”
Golden Moon's whiskey is also aged differently than its Scottish cousin. Gould uses a mix of barrels made from new American and new Hungarian oak, which are charred on the inside. He blends the contents of those barrels, pouring them into used wine barrels for further aging.
“We are having barrels specifically made for us in Serbia that are Hungarian oak barrels, from Hungarian and Serbian forests,” Gould says. “It’s sort of a midway point between American oak, which is very coarse-grained, and French oak, which is very tight-grained. I like the terroir of those forests. I like what it does to the whiskey.”
For the initial batch, Gould only aged the whiskey for fifteen months. As he expands his distillery, he plans to age it for three to five years — and to make a lot more of it. “This stuff is really young,” he says, adding that most whiskeys made in Colorado aren’t much older than fifteen months.
Gould bottles the whiskey at a strong 92 proof. “It’s a little higher than normal,” he says. “We wanted it to be a little fiery. I actually prefer my malt whiskeys at 92 proof. I was trained in Scotland, and I think that if you dilute a malt whiskey to 80 proof, you’re just going to end up selling yourself short.”
While Gould changed a few things to make his whiskey a local one, there are some things he did not change. “We’re not using anything artificial,” he says. “No colors, no flavors, no artificial enzymes. It’s all natural enzymes occurring in the barley.”
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“We’re already winning awards with it,” Gould says. “We’re getting rave reviews. We took a silver medal, with very solid tasting notes, last week at the American Craft Spirits Association, with what is a young prototype. I’m very pleased with that.”
Since Golden Moon can’t ship the whiskey and it’s not available at liquor stores, the only place to purchase a bottle is at the distillery itself or at the company's nearby Golden Moon Speakeasy. If you want a bottle, go soon, because Gould says people have been showing up every day at the distillery just for the new release.
“This is what you can do with a classic single-malt approach, local ingredients and a little creativity,” Gould says. “It’s a whiskey-lover’s whiskey.”