Late last year Proximo Spirits, distributors of 1800 Tequila, Kraken Rum, Three Olives Vodka, Hangar One and other labels, purchased Denver's homegrown brand, Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. Once the sale was complete, original owners Jess Graber and George Stranahan moved on; head distiller Jake Norris stayed with the company.
But in August, Norris -- the final connection to the original team that created Stranahan's -- left the brand. Last week, I reached out to Pete Macca, a former assistant brewmaster with Anheuser Busch and now the general manager of Stranahan's, to discuss the changing of the guard at Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey (SCW):
Can you tell me about Jake's departure? Jake has an entrepreneurial spirit and has elected to pursue other interests; we appreciate all that he has done for SCW and wish him the best.
Who will be the head distiller? Rob Dietrich, who has studied with Jake for the last five years, will be taking over. He is a solid candidate and a great person to follow in Jake's footsteps. Will anything change about the whiskey? I am extremely confident that with Rob stepping in after five years of working with Jake, nothing will change. The SCW mashbill (percentage of grains used to ferment) won't change, where we purchase grain won't change, the process of making and aging the whiskey will not change at all.
Stranahan's has been available only in limited quantities for the past year, is there more on the way? Yes, we've scaled back distribution to only Colorado for now, with a few cases going to New York, where our corporate offices are located. I think some goes to Chicago as well. That should increase the amount available here in Colorado.
I know that Stranahan's is a blend of 2- to 5-year-old barrels, is that correct? Yes.
Are you running short on some of the older barrels since your production was much lower four to five years ago? By the nature of the business, there is always less of the older barrels in the warehouse.
Will your blend ratio get younger as a result? That may happen, but we are trying to maintain as consistent of a blend ratio as possible to match our current flavor profile. Each SCW barrel is unique and tasted individually. There are subtle nuances from batch to batch, and I think that's what makes Stranahan's unique. Rob has learned the art of blending from Jake so nothing will change.
Do you plan on purchasing any whiskey to make up for the shortfall? Not at all, SCW will remain the same. It will never contain any whiskey made outside of this plant.
Do you have plans for purchasing or making whiskey for any other products? That is a possibility; Proximo is a dynamic company and we are constantly building our portfolio. There may be another whiskey at some point, but no other whiskies will be made here at SCW. Will those whiskey products have the Stranahan's name? It's possible, but it hasn't been decided. If it does have the Stranahan's name on the label, it won't say Colorado because it won't be made here.
Will the popular Snowflake program continue? It will, under Rob's direction.
Will you continue to do volunteer bottlings?Yes, we plan on continuing volunteer bottlings.
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Tomorrow: Rob Dietrich and other local distillers and bartenders talk about Stranahan's. Read Sean Kenyon's interview with Jake Norris here, and his riff comparing the early days at Stranahan's to punk rock here.
Sean Kenyon knows how to pour out both drinks and advice. A third-generation bar man with 25 years behind the bar, he is a student of cocktail history, a United States Bartenders Guild-certified Spirits Professional and a BAR Ready graduate of the prestigious Beverage Alcohol Resource Program. You can often find him behind the bar at Euclid Hall and here most weeks, where he'll answer your questions. Post them in the comments section below.