Last month, after Jake Norris left Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, the homegrown company that was" target="_blank"> sold late last year to Proximo Spirits, Rob Dietrich was named head distiller.
After I chatted with Jake Norris about why he left, I decided it was important to talk with Dietrich. And in an interesting parallel to my punk-rock riff that started out this series, it turns out Dietrich has punk-rock roots. Here's what else he has to say:
How does it feel to be the head distiller at Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey? I'm really excited for the opportunity. Obviously, Jake leaving was a big blow and I will miss him, but I'm confident we can carry on where he left off.
What's your reaction to Jake's departure? I will miss him. Jake is a legacy. We both have an outlaw outlook about making whiskey. I have really big shoes to fill. Jake taught me everything I know about making great whiskey. He inspired me to learn more on my own. He is a close friend.
What is your history with SCW? I met Jake through our mutual love for vintage motorcycles and five years ago he hired me to work at Stranahan's. Before my recent promotion, I was the barrel manager. I was in charge of filling, organizing the inventory, helping Jake with selection of barrels, batching (the process of mixing the barrels before bottling), and cutting to proof.
Tell us about yourself outside of SCW. I'm a Colorado punk-rock kid. I believe very strongly in supporting everything local. Art, music, agriculture, etc. Vintage motorcycles are one of my big passions; I like to take international riding trips. The last one I was on I rode through Argentina, Chile and into the Andes. I am also a filmmaker. I am currently making a documentary with some friends called Going Nowhere: The History of Denver Punk. As well, I am a veteran of the 10th Mountain Division and did three combat tours, two in Somalia and one in Haiti.
Will the purchase by Proximo change the whiskey? Any possibility the blend will get younger? My priority is SCW. I fucking love this whiskey. As far as I have been told, the blend will not get younger and if there is any compromise, I won't put my name on it.
What are your thoughts on purchased whiskey or another whiskey product with Stranahan's name? My priority is Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey. I don't know anything or want to know anything about any other products. I take great pride in my moral standing and I would never compromise the integrity of Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey.
Dietrich's words were raw and from the heart, not the measured responses you would get from a brand guy. That's where real whiskey comes from: the heart and sometimes your balls (oh, and grain). I have seen big companies purchase and adulterate small brands before, increasing production and lowering quality; only time will tell where Proximo takes SCW. With Dietrich at the helm, though, I feel fairly confident that they won't fuck with it.
It's also important to note that I work for a lot of big companies, and they make some of my favorite spirits in the world (Ardbeg, El Tesoro, Tanqueray). So I'm willing to give Stranahan's the benefit of the doubt. As long as the product in the bottle remains the same, I'll still happily serve it at my bar. But if Dietrich leaves...
This is the fourth installment in Sean Kenyon's series covering the departure of Jake Norris from Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey; the final (we think) installment will feature local distillers and bartenders talking about Stranahan's. In the meantime, read Kenyon's interview with new Stranahan's general manager Pete Macca here, his interview with Jake Norris here, and his riff comparing the early days at Stranahan's to punk rock here.
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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.