Whiskey is part of our Western heritage; it captures the flavors of the grains grown across Midwestern landscapes, the pioneer spirit of early settlers, and a touch of outlaw pride that kept distilling alive during a sad, sad part of American history, a time called Prohibition. Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, which was bought by Proximo Spirits two years ago, has capitalized on the popularity of whiskey -- especially the kind made in small batches -- and as a result needed extra space to continue its growth. Now the company has almost finished its expansion project, which will mean more options for Denver whiskey aficionados and craft cocktail hunters.
Once the Rackhouse Pub exited the building (and the neighborhood, for that matter) early this spring, Stranahan's managers had the square footage they needed to stretch their legs and get a little more comfortable. The former bar, kitchen and dining room have been partitioned into several new spaces, the largest of which, according to General Manager Pete Macca, is being used for the storage of raw materials, cases of filled and labeled bottles ready for shipment, and a new bottle filler, which will up the daily production quota.
The remainder of the space has been designed "to increase synergy with the tour process," Macca says. That means a new tasting room is being added that will be the final stop of the tour after exiting the bottling area. Tastings currently take place in the general store (where branded merchandise and bottled whiskey are also sold), but when the build-out is complete, guests will have two separate areas for imbibing and buying merchandise like glassware, clothing and, of course, whiskey, which comes in the standard 75 centiliter size as well as a 1.75 liter bottle exclusive to the distillery location.
Fortunately for those accustomed to pulling up a bar stool in the cavernous warehouse space, there's still an opportunity to do that. Stranahan's is already offering craft cocktails, with recipes created by mixologist Josh Ford, and neat pours of the whiskey on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 8 p.m. Brand Manager Marlene Steiner says Ford "focuses on farm-to-glass cocktails with emphasis on local produce."
"We all feed in ideas to Josh, whose goal is to keep it simple while highlighting the flavor of Stranahan's," she adds. As an example, she offers a taste of Stranahan's infused with honeycomb from Sweettooth Farms, an apiary that provides honey-drenched honeycomb on a seasonal basis. In keeping with that focus on local farms, the cocktail menu will change based on seasonally available ingredients.
Although Steiner does not have a firm date for completion of the new space, once finished -- sometime later this summer -- the lounge will be open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Thursday to Saturday; food, including items like slow-smoked barbecue, will be available from 9Pan Catering. Tour participants will also be able to purchase cocktails in addition to the complimentary sample provided as part of the tour.
Despite its growth -- including taking on the bottling of Tincup American Whiskey (another product from parent company Proximo Spirits) -- Stranahan's still maintains its volunteer bottling program. "The volunteer component is important to us" as a way to maintain community ties, Macca says. Volunteers receive lunch and a bottle of Stranahan's in exchange for a day's labor, and Macca says that every volunteer he's talked to has had nothing but praise for the experience.
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Also still part of the fun is the Snowflake series, which offers first-come, first-serve bottlings of ultra-small-batch blends to customers who follow Stranahan's on Facebook. Knowing the release date is key: The distillery just released a bottling of whiskey aged in port and sangiovese barrels from Denver winery Balistreri Vineyards that sold out in two hours.