Review: Distillery 291’s “White Whiskey” Proves That Age Is Sometimes Just a Number
In defense of unaged, new-make, award-winning whiskey, hailing from Colorado
What we’re drinking: A range of whiskeys from Distillery 291, including two white whiskeys.
Where it’s from: Based in Colorado Springs, CO, 291 is the brainchild of Michael Myers, a former New York City fashion and beauty photographer who changed locales and professions right after 9/11 (his first whiskey came off the still exactly 10 years later, on Sept. 11, 2011).
Why we’re drinking this: We continually love whiskey from Colorado (“Honestly, it’s the altitude” is Myers’s guess on the state’s proficiency) and 291 has taken home several awards, including a World’s Best Rye from the World Whiskies Awards and multiple Double-Golds at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Last summer, the distillery introduced The Whiskarita® — only the fifth cocktail to be trademarked. And it utilized 291 Fresh, an “Aspen charcoal mellowed” un-aged whiskey distilled in a copper pot still and made from a corn, malted rye and malted barley mash.
And 291 doesn’t just have one new-make whiskey — they actually have two (White Dog, crafted from a rye malt mash). And while other distilleries have dabbled in new-make product — and 291 won a 2021 World Whiskey Award for theirs — it’s a pretty uncommon trend.
Part of that reasoning is that most distillers believe 60-80 percent of your whisk(e)y’s flavor comes from the barrel and maturation process. Thankfully, some brands (particularly Waterford) are starting to concentrate more on the raw ingredients, terroir and other aspects of the whiskey-making process that happen before aging.
“I had wanted to make a spirit that was not used regularly now, since before Prohibition,” explains Myers. “And I wanted to make an American white spirit in place of vodka or gin. Around the time I was coming out with 291, some craft distilleries were putting out white dog, and Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam and Buffalo Trace were putting some of their un-aged product out … but then there was a lot of bad white whiskey out there and it turned people off. But we just kept selling it and using it to make cocktails.”
I was curious as to what the new-make product tasted like, along with some of 291’s core and more experimental products, many of which are finished with toasted aspen wood staves, even if only for the briefest of times. “Even adding those staves for just a few hours, you’ll add some slight smoky and spicy notes, and the caramel notes become a bit more maple-y,” as Myers tells us.
How it tastes
291 Fresh: Crafted deliberately to replace vodka, rum, or tequila in a drink (hence the trademarked cocktail), Fresh is 90 proof and crafted from a corn, malted rye and malted barley mash. Indeed, it’s floral and fruity and really close to a blanco tequila.
291 White Dog: Not exactly un-aged — this one is aged in an American white oak barrel for less than two weeks. A 101.7 proof spirit made from malted rye and corn mash, this one is a bit peppery, with hints of lemon, anise and strawberry, and also a slightly creamy mouthfeel.
We were also able to try new-make of a four grain rye whiskey and a new-make wheated bourbon; they were wonderfully grain-forward and more robust, but alas, not for sale … yet.
Their aged product is also fantastic, and lands less on the sweeter side for a bourbon; their Barrel Proof, single barrel bourbon is spicy and actually feels more like a rye; meanwhile, their most-awarded whiskey, Bad Guy, is a wheated four-grain bourbon where each grain seems to take prominence depending on your sip. It’s a smoother ride but also a complex and ever-shifting one.
Fun fact: Myers actually built this first still from copper photogravure plates he had used in his photography.
Where to buy it: Available in 18 states, you can also buy 291’s products here.
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