Let me first make multiple apologies. First off, I haven’t posted in a good while. To be honest I’ve been in a rough state for the last month or so. It started when I sprained my ankle hiking, and intensified when after a weekend in Montreal I came down with a chest cold. Which I took to Charlotte the next weekend and let intensify with the help of some super powered allergies. Believe it or not, I have taken many days off the drink in the effort of trying to heal these ills. Then again, as you can gather by my travels I did have some pretty good drinking time in there, over the course of a very tight schedule. None of this was conducive to me writing reviews. My second apology is that I didn’t make any acknowledgement of the 4th of July. I’m sorry, I was just enjoying it too much, with the barbecue and beer and Sam Elliot in The Frogs, I kind of forgot. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, onto business, and a post 4th celebration of a couple fascinating American pioneers—George Stranahan and Jess Graber.
The George Stranahan epic begins in Aspen, Colorado in 1990 when he started the Flying Dog Brewpub. Now, us younger lushes take a good brewpub for granted, so let us acknowledge that when Flying Dog was founded in 1990 it was one of the first brewpubs in the Rockies since Prohibition. The avid reader or writer may also find it intriguing that among the bars regular patrons was an aging political journalist and lunatic named Hunter S. Thompson, well known for violence, drugs and insanity. As Flying Dog grew, it became a bit more than your average brewpub, gaining mass distribution, but always keeping its gonzo edge with obscene names like “Raging Bitch Pale Ale” and “Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout.” Since those early days there’s been a move to Frederick, MD and the loss of the Hunter himself, but Flying Dog keeps going strong, and so has George Stranahan.
The way I see it, George is probably a good deal of drinkers, or at least the ones that count. He can’t be tied down to one fuel. Sure, I love craft beer too, and I know there’s enough variety in that world to keep my palate entertained forever, probably—but a man needs more than one hobby. Like I imagine many of my readers are, George shared his love of beer, with a love of whiskey. If you don’t like whiskey, you may be on the wrong blog. In 1998, serendipity struck in Colorado. On what we’ll pretend was a stormy night with dramatic flashes of lightening and shit, George Stranahan’s barn took alight. As they tend to do, brave and daring firefighters answered the call to save this barn, and among them was a young volunteer, Jess Graber. Somehow, amongst the smouldering ruins, Stranahan and Graber bonded, and developed a brotherhood that can only be explained by a blood borne element…whiskey. From the smoke of Stranahan’s barn rose a greater Phoenix, conjured by Stranahan and Graber, and Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey was born. I’m not going to go too in depth on Stranahan’s, mostly because I’ve never had it, but we’ll pretend that it’s because I’m saving it for another article…should someone send me a bottle. Hint hint, nudge nudge. What I will say is what I know; they were a pretty early player in the microdistillery boom, with a unique product that came from aging barley based whiskey in charred oak in a fusion of single malt and bourbon styles. Like Flying Dog, Stranahan’s was a breakaway success.
Like Stranahan, it seems Graber is not a man to rest on his laurels, and his newest creation is a tribute to a different generation of Rocky Mountain pioneers. Tincup, so Jess declares, is a whiskey made in tribute to the prospectors of the Colorado Mountains, the whiskey drank, and the tin cups they drank from. We’ll start with the obvious on Tincup, and judge the apple by looking at the tree…or something. Anyways, it’s a damn cool bottle. Inset in the glass we are advised (in case we didn’t know) that this is Colorado whiskey, made from pure Rocky Mountain water. The big stand-out and, if we’re honest, the gimmick; is the little tin cup that perches on the top of the bottle, stamped with the pick-ax company logo. Yes, it’s a bit of a gimmick…but its damned cool, and a rather unique approach to branding your company. I may have to drink a few more bottles just to have a set of these little things. Inside the bottle, so I’m advised by the neck tag, is Rocky Mountain bourbon (though they don’t call themselves such) from a corn, rye and barley mash, which spent an unspecified amount of time in American White Oak. So, we must ask ourselves—how far does the apple fall from the tree? (That is really a meaningless maxim to reference in this situation.)
The nose on this actually makes that cliché ring a little truer; it smells quite a bit like a sweet, heavily spice apple crisp. It’s a touch mouthwatering, and notice I avoided making some kind of American as apple pie statement? On sipping this whiskey I find it to be quite delicate, with a rather light body that opens up well with a warm caramel center, just a hint more of crisp apple or pear and a nice backing of earthy cinnamon / nutmeg from the rye. The finish is correspondingly delicate, with not a hint of burn at the mellow 84 proof, and just a touch more spice, some lingering oaky dryness and a hint of a brown sugar and dark fruit taste that holds to the tongue.
Overall, this whiskey is a very well balanced, rather unique expression, with a nice interplay between airy flavors and rye spice. With a bottle down I’ve found that this whiskey holds a light dash of bitters beautifully, and is gentle enough that even casual whiskey drinkers could enjoy a few fingers neat. In the end, Tincup comes as a pleasant surprise at a democratic price point, and pays a fitting tribute to the tin cupped Rocky Mountain miner, and even more so to the pioneering “spirit” of those early brewers and distillers of Colorado, including George Stranahan and the brains behind this fine product, Jess Graber himself.