Beer Man

Breckenridge Brewing lands exclusive rights to use Stranahan's whiskey name on its beers

Breckenridge Brewing has struck a deal with Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey that will allow it to become the sole brewer in the nation that can use the distillery's name on its barrel-aged beers. While other brewers in Colorado can still buy and use Stranahan's barrels, only Breckenridge will be able to advertise that fact on its labels.

The first beer that Breckenridge will bottle under the agreement is called Stranahan's Well-Built ESB, taking its name from the high-end whiskey-maker's catchphrase, "Well Built." It was poured into twenty Stranahan's barrels in November and will age for three months before being released in 750 ml bottles in mid-February 2012.

For its first batch, Breckenridge is only making 200 cases of the beer and plans to distribute it only in Colorado. But the brewery's deal with Stranahan's calls for it to bottle 1,250 cases of Well-Built ESB by the fall of 2013.

"They came to us and were looking for someone to create a beer for them," says Breckenridge brewery director and brewmaster Todd Usry.

"They liked our proximity to them and they wanted to this to be a collaborative effort between neighbors," adds Usry. Breckenridge is located at 471 Kalamath Street, while Stranahan's is at 208 South Kalamath, a building it took over in 2010.

The deal is a boon for Breckenridge, one of Colorado's oldest and most successful breweries, but one that had lost some of its cachet in recent years as other breweries like Avery, Oskar Blues and Great Divide pushed the limits on flavor and style. Recently, however, Breckenridge has been exploring new beers in its taproom and with some limited releases like Summer Cab Ride, which it sold out of this month.

"This is further evidence that we are no longer sitting around and hoping to ride on the coattails of the great old brands that have carried us through the years," Usry says. "And we are not just looking for occasional credibility pieces. It's the whole culture."

Usry says the brewer, which merged its financial operations with Wynkoop Brewing's parent company this year, has been using its original brewery in Breckenridge for research and development. "We are not trying to just create buzz on the brewery, we are also trying to have fun," he notes. "It's put a lot of fun back into job."

For Stranahan's, the deal also made a lot of sense. "They make extremely high quality products and are local to Denver and share the same values that we do," says Elwyn Gladstone, senior vice president of marketing for Proximo Spirits, which bought Stranahan's from its founder, Jess Graber, late last year.

The arrangement allows Stranahan's to protect its well-regarded name by partnering with a single company. But it also lets other Colorado brewers continue to purchase the barrels, which they value because of of the rich flavor the barrels impart on their beers. Great Divide recently purchased several dozen Stranahan's barrels.

Prior to Proximo's involvement, Stranahan's had allowed at least fifteen well-respected brewers in Colorado and elsewhere -- including Dry Dock, Avery, Oskar Blues, Great Divide, Cigar City and Deschutes -- to use its name on their labels.

Breckenridge is using its small-batch Extra ESB for the Well-Built, beer that is brewed with all European malts that were selected in part because of the way their flavor interacts with the oak barrels. "The malt flavors that you get from those English malts are really bready and biscuity and different than what is made form domestic malt," Usry says. "This is a big, rich beers, and it has a different mouthfeel experience."

The brewery used the same beer to make Twenty, another special release that was aged in Stranahan's barrels and made to commemorate Breck's twentieth anniversary.

Much of this story originally appeared in today's Cafe Bites, our weekly e-mail newsletter devoted to Denver's food and drink scene, which arrives in e-mail boxes every Wednesday afternoon. You can subscribe here.

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Jonathan Shikes is a Denver native who writes about business and beer for Westword.
Contact: Jonathan Shikes