November 5, 2018 Joe Barwin
Heart of the Rockies: We chat with Colorado's 291 Distillery.
Distillery 291 is a small batch whiskey distillery nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. They're out there, distilling grain to glass, trying to replicate the taste, smell and folklore of the American West. Though its DNA is hearty and rugged, these whiskeys sip like a sophisticated, refined, old friend from Kentucky.
We sat down with 291 to learn a little about about what makes their process so special.
Why is the Barrel Proof Rye your "Colorado" Whiskey?
I wanted to make a western whiskey -- the kind that a cowboy would get in the old west when he would walk up to the bar and pound on it and say give me a whiskey. I wanted that whiskey to be called a Colorado whiskey, simple straightforward and reflecting the fact that it was made in Colorado. I also wanted that whiskey to be a rye whiskey, with enough spice to get your attention and stand out from the crowd. Finally, I like the barrel proof because it is delivers all the flavor without being watered down.
Do you find the Aspen Staves add particular flavors to the whiskey?
We began adding the aspen staves because I knew I wanted to add some Colorado notes. I found a friend who would chop the wood for me so we could toast the staves ourselves on a Weber grill. It turned out that the aspen was a great complement to the whiskey, adding spicy and smoky notes and shifting the caramel notes to maple.
How did beer make its way into your production?
When I first started distilling, I tried distilling a fully finished beer to see what kind of flavors it would create. I found that the distilled product was really harsh and offensive, but when I spilled the stillage down the drain, I could smell that all the flavor was actually in the stillage. So now, we boil a fully-finished beer boiled to remove the alcohol and use a percentage of the leftover beer stillage to mash into the grains to then be fermented and distilled for finished whiskey. We call it the El Paso County Process to reference our Colorado Springs roots and also pay homage to the Lincoln County process, which is an element of the Tennessee Whisky distillation process.
101.7 is a unique bottling proof, how did you end up there?
My original goal was to reach bottling proof of 100, but I was inexperienced and missed the mark slightly. However, the whiskey tasted great and I liked the idea of not having a perfectly round number. So I kept it at 101.7. I guess it's part of the rebellious element in "rugged, refined, and rebellious".
You've won a lot of awards, the bottles are running out of room for stickers! What do you hear most often from folks who like your whiskey?
They say "Wow!" They say it is their favorite. They say they can't believe the World's Best Whisky is made right here in Colorado. We just say thank you, put another sticker on the bottle, and have another drink.