Postcard From Colorado

2 October 2013
Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey

Drinking whiskey at a bar where Butch Cassidy once did

I’m currently traveling through the wilds of Colorado, and along the way. I’ve encountered a handful of surprisingly well-crafted wines, most notably from Sutcliffe Vineyards.

But when I stopped by a former mining town-turned-resort where the notorious criminal Butch Cassidy once drank, I decided it was time to order some whiskey. It just didn’t seem quite right to have a glass of Riesling standing atop Cassidy’s signature carved into the bar (see right).

I wanted something local, and Erik the bartender recommended Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. Stranahan’s distillery is located in Denver, and the whiskey is distilled exclusively from barley grown in the nearby Rocky Mountains. (The water also comes, of course, “from the snow-packed peaks of the Colorado Rockies.”)

Sampled neat, the whiskey had an appealing nose of corn and vanilla, but a generally dry character. It started smooth and oaky, followed by a blast of rowdy spice and a fascinating herbaceous and slightly bitter finish.

At 94 proof, this is a strong, serious whiskey that any manly mountain man would enjoy. I suspect even Butch Cassidy himself would have approved.

A Single Malt From The Schliersee

22 May 2013
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Slyrs WhiskeyWhile perusing the surprisingly extensive cocktail list of a hotel bar in southern Bavaria, an unusual Rusty Nail caught my eye. This classic cocktail traditionally combines Scotch whisky and Drambuie, but for this “Bavarian Rusty Nail,” the bartender utilized locally distilled single-malt whiskey and whiskey liqueur. (I use “whisky” to refer to the Scottish beverage, and “whiskey” if it’s distilled elsewhere.)

Now, I have encountered all manner of unusual German spirits, ranging from pleasant fruit brandies to noxious herbal concoctions originally intended to be medicinal. But a Bavarian single malt? I asked the bartender about it, and he had actually visited the Slyrs distillery, set in a small town on the Schliersee (Schlier Lake). This venture, conceived by Florian Stetter after a visit to Scotland’s Speyside region, began producing whiskey in earnest only recently, in 2007. But the spirit, aged in new American oak barrels, left the bartender impressed.

Intrigued, I ordered a glass of the Slyrs whiskey neat — I wanted to see what this spirit could do on its own. Because the distillery is so new, you won’t see any Slyrs whiskey older than three years, and indeed, the whiskey tasted young and brash. A light bronze color, it had a fresh, herbaceous nose with notes of vanilla. On the palate, herbs and racy spice quickly supplanted the initial caramel richness, leading into a surprisingly long finish of new wood.

Unfortunately, this fun, zesty whiskey has yet to cross the Atlantic — I couldn’t find anyone selling it in the United States. But should you happen to find yourself in Bavaria, don’t hesitate to slap on some Lederhosen and ask for a glass of Slyrs.

Our Handy Local Distillery

2 May 2011

When two friends and I entered the diminutive Koval Distillery, a heady aroma immediately struck us. I thought it smelled like yeast, Andrew sensed vinegar and Mark caught a whiff of elephants. Something special was brewing here.

Chicago’s first legal distillery since before Prohibition opened just 2.5 years ago, in a charming old brick building next to some commuter railroad tracks. Robert and Sonat Birnecker decided they wanted to start a family business, and since Mr. Birnecker had learned the craft of distilling from his grandfather in Austria, they opened Koval.

Now, they work to rejuvenate the boutique distilling traditions lost to the ill-advised experiment of Prohibition, creating unique, painstakingly handcrafted whiskeys and liqueurs. All are organic, and all are kosher.


Summer Special

15 April 2011

While sitting at the bar of a neighborhood restaurant recently, I noticed the owners perusing a book of 300 cocktail recipes. I asked, indicating the book, if they were trying to expand their cocktail menu.

“Yes, we’re trying to decide on a new cocktail to offer as a summer special.”

A wonderful idea. I find it delightfully restorative to relax on a bar’s patio, languidly sipping a glass of something cool and bright. I offered a couple of my own suggestions (see below), and returned to munching on my pork cutlet.

Then I overheard something a little startling: