When Stranahan's original owner Jess Graber started bottling an exclusive bottle of whiskey called Snowflake in 2007, whiskey fans from all over aimed to get one. This year marks the 22nd batch, Mount Bross, which will be released on Saturday, December 7, at 8 a.m. However, the only way to get a bottle is by waiting in line at the distillery (200 South Kalamath Street) to buy yours (with a limit of two bottles per person), and you'd better believe people camp out to get this whiskey.
"This year, we used nine barrels to create Snowflake, and a panel of ten to fifteen distillers tried each blend before deciding on the final one," says lead distiller Owen Martin, who has worked on the last four Snowflakes and took the reins this year from former master distiller Rob Dietrich. "We spend pretty much January to June sourcing casks, then go through four or five iterations to get an idea of what we want, and then play with the components."
Mount Bross has a bourbon undertone, making it smooth and sweet, with baking spice notes and a round, candied fruit finish. We were lucky enough to experience this tipple firsthand during a vertical tasting of a handful of Snowflakes throughout the years, with 2019's added on as a surprise sample. While the Mount Bross we tried wasn't 100 percent finalized, Martin said it tastes pretty darn close to what the end product will be.
Through the years, Snowflake has evolved from a special spirit that incorporated a few whiskeys aged in wine barrels to something that combines qualities from about nine barrel varieties, ranging from mead to rum to maple syrup to beer.
Last year's rendition, Mount Elbert, focused on spirits aged in barrels that contained chocolate stout from Boulder Beer, merlot, muscat, port, syrah, two different madeiras, zinfandel and rum. The flavor was a sweet mix of dates, milk chocolate and brown sugar. It was rich and bold, the perfect dram to have after conquering the real fourteener.
We also tried Creston Peak, batch 19 from 2016, which featured whiskey aged in barrels that once housed syrah amador, rum, old vine zinfandel, madeira and whiskey from four- and five-year-old Stranahan's barrels. The end product had nuances of pepper, the fruity zest of green pear, and highlights of almost-burnt caramel.
The year before that was Mount Evans, number 18, a blend of whiskeys aged in three different madeira barrels, port and a four-year-old Stranahan's single barrel. Though it didn't have as many components involved, it offered a smooth sip tinted with the flavor of cinnamon, marshmallow, currant and a hint of butterscotch.
Mount Bierstadt, number 16 from 2014, had notes of smoky tobacco, nutmeg, coconut and a bit of dried fig. This came thanks to the blending of whiskeys aged in oloroso sherry casks, cognac barrels, cherry wine-soaked wood and a four-year-old Stranahan's single barrel.
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Each bottle of Snowflake bears the name of a Colorado fourteener, and this year's Mount Bross is named for the 22nd-tallest peak in Colorado, perfect for the 22nd batch. Like the others, this whiskey features American single malts and is aged for about seven years in new white American oak barrels with a number-three char inside. From there the whiskey went into barrels that once stored sangiovese, bourbon and cognac. There was also some four- and five-year-old whiskey that had been finished in maple syrup and port casks that got mixed into the blend. While this is the newest rendition of Snowflake, it comprises some of Stranahan's most mature spirits to date.
The tasting offered a glimpse into how Snowflake — and Stranahan's itself — has evolved and how flavors and processes might continue in the future. One whiskey, many barrels and a new sensation with each one. If you want to make an effort to obtain a bottle of the 2019 Snowflake this year, we suggest arriving at the distillery before the sun comes up to secure your spot — or camp out like some of the true die-hard fans, who show up two or three days in advance. Just make sure to bundle up: Whiskey warms the soul, but it won't keep out the Denver winter chill.