Breckenridge and Stranahan's forge a new beer from a well-built partnership

Breckenridge Brewing will release the first batch of Stranahan's Well Built E.S.B. next week, a beer aged in Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey barrels for three months and brewed in conjunction with the high-end distillery, located just down the street. It's the first collaboration between the two companies since they signed an agreement that gives Breckenridge exclusive rights to use the Stranahan's name on its beer labels. It may also be the first commercial collaboration between a brewery and a distiller in the U.S.

Bottled in 750 ml bottles with cork-and-cage seals, the 7.8 percent ABV beer is based on Breckenridge's Extra ESB, a strong Scottish ale. It will retail for around $15.99 per bottle and could be available in Colorado liquor stores as soon as Monday.

"They make great beer and we make great whiskey," says Peter Macca, the general manager of Stranahan's, which was purchased last year by New Jersey-based Proximo Spirits and has since ramped up production nearly three-fold.

And Breckenridge will need all the barrels it can get. It made 200 cases of the beer for this release, but the arrangement with Stranahan's calls for the brewery to bottle 1,250 cases of Well Built E.S.B. (which takes its name from the distiller's catchphrase) by the fall of 2013, with releases once a quarter.

For now, the beer will only be distributed in Colorado, but if sales go well, Stranahan's and Breckenridge could expand that distribution to other states and possibly add a second barrel-aged beer (probably its Vanilla Porter) to the lineup.

Stranahan's, which now has eleven employees, has increased whiskey production from ten barrels per week to about thirty, and plans to keep growing into the high forties, says Macca. The whiskey is aged for at least two years before it's bottled. The barrels themselves are only used once before they are sent to a barrel broker.

Before it was sold to Proximo, Stranahan's had sold its barrels to numerous breweries in Colorado and around the country, all of which valued them for barrel-aged beers. Last fall, however, Stranahan's decided to find a single commercial partner for its barrels in order to better control the use of its name, so it approached its neighbor.

"There was absolutely no way we were going to say no to this project," says Todd Usry, Breckenridge brewery director and brewmaster. The goal wasn't "to be the coolest kid on the block," he stresses, but to create a terrific beer and a Colorado partnership.

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