For a growing number of true whiskey aficionados, the annual release of Stranahan’s limited-batch “Snowflake” is a cause for celebration, pilgrimage and many hours spent in the cold. Each year in December, hundreds of Stranahan’s fans camp outside the distillery, hoping to score one of the 1,600 “Snowflake” bottles released. We decided to give the 20th edition a shot.
The Snowflake blend has been dubbed as such because each year the batch is completely unique, straight from the mind of Stranahan’s master distiller Rob Dietrich. Each year, Dietrich develops the batch through a freestyle process in the comfort of his own home — using a process of taste and smell that he likens to making a good pot of chili.
Dietrich names each batch after one of Colorado’s 58 fourteeners — this year’s extraordinary edition being Quandary Peak. The ridiculously smooth batch is a blend of the already excellent American single malt, aged in seven different barrels — three rum, a cognac, a port, a Madeira and a Sangiovese (the last of which Dietrich attributes to tying the whole flavor together).
As hundreds lined up around the block — some arriving as early as Wednesday morning for the Saturday morning release — what could have been utter chaos was channeled into a beautifully organized pre-dawn tailgate, complete with multiple bands (including local bluegrass trio 300 Days), food trucks and of course plenty of whiskey.
The morning of the release, live bluegrass blasted from a heated tent as attendees reloaded on coffee, whiskey and barbecue — much-needed fuel for the dedicated group. Many of the guests seemed to know each other — or were certainly willing to get to know one another. Each year, Stranahan’s does something special for the first 10 guests to arrive, and a highly competitive group of familiar faces continue to make up the cast year after year. This year, the guy who has been first for the last five years was dethroned by a group of Wisconsinites dedicated enough to set up camp midweek.
“Life is way too short not to have adventure in everything you do,” said Brent Shulze, a local musician who had been enjoying the celebratory atmosphere since early Friday evening. “I could have slept, but I wanted to drink whiskey with strangers in an alley instead.”
Dietrich was well in the mix, greeting and making merry with fans. Despite being the man-of-the-hour, the distiller took great care to socialize with attendees — a community Dietrich says has been growing organically since the first release in 2007. A deep passion for whiskey seems to inform everything the whiskey maker does — an enthusiasm bordering on obsession was shared by all.
Dietrich has helped transform Stranahan’s into the national powerhouse it is today, starting on as “the original night ninja” at a time when there was “a lot more guitar pickin’, a lot more dog scratchin’, a lot more whiskey drinkin’.” Utilizing his extraordinary palate and deep dedication to the craft the man has been diligently making the kind of whiskey that will give American single malt the global identity and competitive edge it has been seeking in a market dominated by Scotch and Japanese counterparts. If this weekend’s event was any indication, he is succeeding.
All Photography by Alden Bonecutter.