People Line Up for Days to Drink This Whiskey

Stranahan’s annual Snowflake release is worthy of its Swiftie-like devotion

December 21, 2023 2:42 pm
A bottle of Stranahan’s Snowflake Batch #26: Pyramid Peak, a rare bottle only sold at the distillery in Colorado
Stranahan’s Snowflake Batch #26: Pyramid Peak — this picture might be the closest you'll ever get to the bottle

What we’re drinking: Stranahan’s Snowflake Batch #26: Pyramid Peak

Where it’s from: This American Single Malt whiskey distillery was founded in 2004 and served as Colorado’s first (legal) whiskey distillery since Prohibition. The Denver-based Stranahan’s is a loose offshoot of Flying Dog and was named after that brewery’s founder, George Stranahan (and originally crafted with help from FD’s head brewer).

Why we’re drinking this: Fans of Stranahan’s will camp out days in advance to grab a bottle of Snowflake, an annual release that sees the distillery utilize an array of rare and globally-sourced cask finishes with its American Single Malt. (We profiled the crowd and Snowflake back in 2018 — relive our adventure here. Admittedly, it’s more of an organized festival vibe these days.)

Some of the campers waiting out for A bottle of Stranahan’s Snowflake Batch #26: Pyramid Peak
Some campers wait for days to buy up to two bottles of Snowflake.
Nikki Rae

This year saw the process overseen for the first time by Justin Aden, who was appointed Head Blender in spring 2023. Aden studied Microbiology & Molecular Genetics at Michigan State before becoming Distillery Operator and Research Scientist in the school’s Artisan Distilling Program. He most recently served as distiller, blender and head of operations at Valentine Distilling Company. He’s following some big footsteps — the last two blenders were Rob Dietrich (now at Blackened) and Owen Martin (now with Angel’s Envy). But Aden’s already brought his own approach to the new batch of Snowflake.

“Normally you go into the annual release with a pretty good idea of what you’re starting with,” Aden tells us. “That was a unique challenge because I started in May and we had to have this out by Thanksgiving. I had no preconceived notions, so that was kind of positive, as I was completely unencumbered. And Snowflake is the opportunity to kind of show off.”

What stood out to Aden were some agave spirits barrels — and Stranahan’s already had great success with this year’s other annual release, Diamond Peak, which saw their five- to eight-year-old American single malt spend an additional two years in extra añejo casks that previously held Reserva de la Familia by Jose Cuervo (it made our 25 best bottles list).

To Buy This Excellent Whiskey, You May Need to Line Up for a Week
The cult (and long lines) behind Stranahan’s Snowflake

Instead of tequila, this time it was a whiskey aged in mezcal barrels that caught his attention. “There was an herbaceous minerality to it,” he says. “It haunted my dreams. And I figured if I could figure out how to build on it, we’d have something special.”

To counterbalance the mezcal, Aden chose liquid aging in Islay peated whisky quarter casks that had seen some previous use. He also utilized some of the distillery’s whiskey which was aged in ex-rum, ruby Port and sherry barrels to round out the flavor. 

How it tastes: This iteration of Snowflake comes in at 47% ABV, like the previous releases, and is non-chill filtered. The herbaceous and vegetal notes of the mezcal barrels are present here, as is the (slight) smokiness from the Islay casks. It tricks the mind a bit at first, but quickly the fruity elements make an appearance. You’ll pick up notes of grilled pineapple, berries and some of the sweet/grassy rum notes, along with traditional whiskey characteristics of caramel, butterscotch and vanilla.

The flavors and aromas arrive in layers, and the liquid does change as it sits for a bit. Overall, Pyramid Peak is wonderful and complex — and proves that American Single Malts seem uniquely suited for interesting barrel maturations (and that agave barrels are underutilized in the space.)

Justin Aden, Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey New Head Blender
Justin Aden, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey’s new Head Blender

Fun fact: Aden’s suggestion for drinking whiskey? Open a bottle, drink down to the shoulder, then put it away for a few weeks before trying it again. “Nobody really has science on that,” he admits. “I have a couple of degrees in chemistry and still haven’t figured out why that works.”

Where to buy: Well, there’s always next year, but you can taste various iterations of other Stranahan’s rare and exclusive whiskeys at the distillery. And during December, there will be pours of Pyramid Peak available on public tours.


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