Something Different - Colorado steps up with exceptional whiskey offerings

By Dr. Howell F. Wright

Are you a dedicated Scotch - only drinker? Or not so much — maybe that’s your father’s (or grandfather’s) drink. Along the way, did you settle on bourbon or gin, rum, vodka or tequila, as your drink of choice? Well, in either case, let me tease your interest, at least a little, by introducing you to some delightful Colorado single-malt whiskeys. 

Scotch has a long history and stringent standards that all other malt whiskey producers know they’ll be compared with. But we Americans, maybe especially Coloradans, can find that tradition a little stuffy. We want a wide range of fresh, exciting products. We’re home to a booming, no-holds-barred craft beer industry. Why should we expect anything less from our craft whiskey distilleries? We needn’t! In fact, you’re likely to be surprised by the tremendous variety of flavors in Colorado’s fine single malt whiskeys.

Probably the best known Colorado malt whiskey is produced by Stranahan’s in Denver. On my tasting table right now is Diamond Peak. Made with 100 percent barley, it has strong caramel, vanilla and dark chocolate notes. If you’re looking for an easy-drinking spirit, start your exploration of Colorado malts here.

A great example of flavor innovation comes from Woods High Mountain Distillery. Their Tenderfoot Whiskey has elements of smoked cherry wood and chocolate malted barley, with a bit of malted wheat and rye rounding things out. All the ingredients are malted, and the whiskey is mashed, fermented, distilled, aged and bottled at one distillery, thus exemplifying a Colorado single-malt whiskey. Their recipe provides a smooth roundness with a little bite off the tongue. Sharing a dram with friends and enjoying a good cigar are great pairings for this whiskey. 

Two more malt whiskeys for your tasting studies are Deerhammer’s Down Time Single Malt Whiskey and Spirit Hound’s Straight Malt Whiskey. The first is aged for just one year, but has a smooth, full flavor characteristic of an older whiskey.

Spirit Hound’s malt, as the term “straight” implies, is aged for two years, yielding strong notes of caramel and vanilla from the extra time in American white oak barrels. If you are in the Longmont area, stop at the Still Cellars tasting room, where they are bringing freshness to malt whiskey with all organic ingredients.

With any whiskey, the question comes up: Serve whiskey before, during or after a meal?  The answer: “What tastes good at the time?”  

My last suggested Colorado malt should be sampled at each of those dining stages: Downslope’s Malt Whiskey has 95 percent malted barley with five percent peaty malted barley. The kicker is maturation for three years in sherry barrels. The resulting expression carries an unmistakable nose of warm raisins and fruit cake. 

Dr. Howell F. Wright, Col. USMC(Ret.), is producing the first Colorado Whiskey Summit in Estes Park. For more information, check out