On Saturday 2 December 2017, at 8AM, the doors to Stranahan’s distillery in Denver, Colorado opened to the public for one of the whiskey world’s most exciting annual events. Guests began queuing as early as Wednesday. Tents and sleeping bags wove around the facility, across a parking lot and down the road. This was the release of the 20th iteration of Stranahan’s Snowflake, a limited edition American single malt whiskey and brainchild of Master Distiller Rob Dietrich. It is released once a year and only available at the distillery, with a two-bottle limit per person. There’s a strong secondary market for this expression, with the 2008 listed on Craigslist for $1500 on the day of our visit. But those who’ve trekked long and far—like line-leader Mike Kirchhoff (who drove in from Iowa and picked his friend up in Madison, Wisconsin on the way) and previous line leader Russell Cowdin (who was third in line this year)—mean to not only covet it, but also drink it.
It’s tough to pinpoint what exactly has led to the exponential growth of the event but it’s clearly attached to the spirit’s magnificent taste (which we were fortunate enough to experience). This year, Dietrich spent months experimenting. The final whiskey has been finished in a momentous seven casks. The likelihood that something this complex would actually work without seeming overcrowded or muddled is slim, but an honest assessment reveals what Dietrich refers to as a “creamy bread pudding” profile. From vanillas to baking spices and almonds, there’s also an undertone of dark red fruits. If one takes enough time, the essence of all the casks—three distinct rum barrels, and one each of Cognac, Madeira, Sangiovese, and port—can be pulled forward. It’s most unfortunate that Stranahan’s only produced around 1,400 bottles, something that also contributes to the rush.
According to Kirchhoff, who is on his third year in the line, “There are people who collect it unopened” and then there are people who want to drink it. He is the latter. “I’ve got about 100 different bottles of bourbons, scotches and whiskies,” he says. “What I like to do is have friends over for tastings. This is kind of like the belle of the ball. Stranahan’s and especially Snowflake—it’s the star of the show.” He also does mention that he will crack one open the minute he gets the two bottles, and that there’s a tremendous amount of camaraderie in the line. (He has even hosted parties inside and out of his rental trailer while waiting.) When pressed about other whiskey events like this in the States, he explains there’s no other like Snowflake.
Perhaps even more extraordinary than everything else, the bottle price has been, is and will continue to be $100. Dietrich (aka Whiskey Rob) explains, “The very last cask I put in here was the Sangiovese. I really enjoyed the flavor profile individually. I was building this. I was tasting it. It was good but not quite there so I would walk away. I would start messing with it again, trying to figure out what was missing. I added that Sangiovese and it was just magic. That was it.” It’s 94-proof but very little heat is felt—just the dessert flavors. Dietrich refers to his blending as a process like painting, and with the artistry at play here, we agree that it’s a valid statement.
Images by Cool Hunting