The lights flashed on the stage at Red Rocks Amphitheater. A soft melody began to play, echoing in the dark, empty space. The only other sounds came from the clinking of glass and murmurs of marvel drifting up from the small group of bartenders, media and other lucky folks who got to be part of a magical evening. No, the host wasn't a rock star, band or trendy pop idol, but rather Stranahan’s Rocky Mountain Single Malt Whiskey, in honor of the release of the distillery's first sherry-cask whiskey.
The maestro of the evening was Stranahan's master distiller Rob Dietrich, who shared the journey of this thirteen-year-old company while perched on the stage at Red Rocks. As he swirled the reddish-brown liquid under the warmth of a heat lamp, Dietrich waxed poetic about the oloroso sherry barrels in which his whiskey rested after four years of aging. The sherry barrels, he said, helped refine and polish the spirit and impart a dried fruit and toasty brown-sugar nuance. On the tongue, the smooth single malt tasted like dark-red berries mixed with a hint of nutty caramel.
Dietrich discovered the power of the oloroso sherry barrel while working with the annual Stranahan's Snowflake release. As he played around with different cask finishes for that limited-edition tipple, he fell in love with the way the Spanish staves reacted to the Colorado whiskey. Each barrel comes from the Andalusia region of southwestern Spain, an area famous for sherry; the sweet spirit rests in wooden vessels there for sometimes more than forty years. Not only is the resulting sherry excellent, but the amount of flavor that soaks into the wood proves immense, perfect for imparting a sweet, fruity and rich essence into another beverage.
The outcome proved tasty, to say the least — and warming, which was perfect if a cold hunk of rock in Morrison was your selected seat for sipping. Not that I'm complaining; the stage of the iconic amphitheater was decked out with heaters and each guest was also provided a tartan blanket with the Stranahan's logo stitched on one side. Not only that, but the launch party was complete with a three-course dinner paired with three Stranahan's creations: the classic single malt, the Diamond Peak (single-cask bottlings of the whiskey), and the sherry cask version. As I dined on rare beef with sauteed mushrooms, a cup of parsnip soup and gingerbread waffles, I sampled all three pours. The food was good, the whiskey better and the setting unforgettable.
While having dinner on the stage of Red Rocks is priceless, you can get a bottle of Stranahan's Sherry Cask for $79.99 from select retailers and at the distillery.
Stranahan's is located at 200 South Kalamath Street; the lounge is open from noon to 9 p.m. Thursday through Monday for whiskey pours and cocktails, and the general store is open until 5 p.m. on those days. Contact the distillery at 303-296-7440 or visit the Stranahan's website for more information.