Not every whiskey is heralded by an overnight, alcohol-fueled outdoor sleepover upon its release, but Stranahan’s Snowflake is not every whiskey. The annual release of the spirit has become a major event for the Denver-based Distillery, which invited me to experience the most recent Snowflake release on December 2.
2017’s Snowflake, dubbed Quandary Peak, was the 20th such release. Every batch is different, just like a… snowflake. The whiskey that makes up Quandary began with a two-year aging in American Oak barrels, and was then transferred into either rum, cognac, sherry, wine or tequila barrels for finishing.
The stuff is scarce: just 1,600 bottles of Quandary were produced, and all were sold out by noon on the day of its release. But plenty of distilleries produce sought-after, small-run spirits. So what is it about Snowflake that prompts the first whiskey seekers (or “Stranafans,” in local parlance) to get in line three full days before its Saturday release, and to drive down from as far afield as Seattle?
To my eyes, a big part of that was community. I arrived at the distillery at 4:30am to observe a long line of RVs and tents that wrapped around the building. While some were sleeping, a great deal were awake and pulling from bottles in lawn chairs, or partaking of free chili in a tent also housing a live bluegrass band. It was something like Black Friday meshed with a block party, and all about whiskey.
For an event that entailed predawn drinking, the release was remarkably organized. At 6am tickets were distributed to all those in line, who could choose a maximum of two to redeem for bottles. At 8am the distillery opened, and the line gradually filtered inside for more morning cocktails, live music, and finally, Snowflake.
Snowflake pours a deep, burnished amber in the glass. On the nose it has sherry, raisin, dark cherry and baking spices. Its mouthfeel is round, silky and warm from the start, and it kicks off with butterscotch, sweet cream and a hint of caramel. It gets warm at the center, where the spice springs into effect and the palate dramatically shifts to a dry, oaky, salt-soaked finish that ends with a light and acidic kiwi sweetness. The finish is incredibly long, and the salty, woody nature of its climax lingers on the tongue like a garlic-heavy meal.
The two sides of Snowflake, the creamy sweetness and the shockingly dry spice, feel like two distinct whiskeys have collided at light speed. It’s well-worth seeking out on the secondary market—but you’ll have more fun trying to score its successor in-person next year.
— 47% ABV
CE Rating: ★★★★