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Move over, barley, and make room for rye—Colorado is quickly developing a reputation for whiskey to rival that of its beer. Case in point: Distillery 291. In the past few weeks alone, the Colorado Springs producer has raked in big accolades, garnering two medals at the Denver International Spirits Competition—a double gold for its small-batch rye and a gold for its one-year-aged bourbon—as well as two World Whiskies Awards from UK publication Whisky Magazine, first for best American rye in late February and then for best rye on the whole darn planet in late March.
What’s especially remarkable about the latter is that it also topped the national category in 2016, while Denver’s Laws Whiskey House took both the U.S. and international titles in 2017. In other words, says 291 founder Michael Myers, “Colorado craft has been awarded best American rye whiskey for three years in a row and best world rye whiskey for two years in a row,” besting “big boys” like Knob Creek and Buffalo Trace. “They still make amazing whiskey,” he adds. “We’re just playing at the same level.”
While all his products contain state-grown corn, Myers’s flagship rye and bourbon are distinguished by their Colorado-proud finish on toasted aspen staves, a process that follows aging in virgin white oak to “add a little spiciness,” he says, “and push some of the caramel notes to maple.” The 291 portfolio also includes acclaimed special releases such as Bad Guy, a four-grain wheated bourbon; High Rye, whose mashbill contains more of its eponymous grain than standard bourbon; and Experimental, the most recent edition of which, aged for 333 days, earned a runner-up nod for U.S. Microwhiskey of the Year in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2018. (If the World Whiskies is the Oscars, Myers says, Murray’s ranking is the Golden Globes.)
Though Myers has no current plans to expand his product line, he is increasing distribution, both within and beyond Colorado—“but slowly,” he says. “We’ve always meant to grow the company organically.” After all, he’s got the state’s reputation as well as his own to consider now: “A lot of people in Colorado put as much energy and work into making the best whiskey as I do daily.”
You’ll find the brand on the back bar of several Denver establishments, including Hearth & Dram, Mercantile Dining & Provision, and Ste. Ellie; Myers recommends his rye in a Black Manhattan with Averna, bitters, and a maraschino cherry.
If you go: Distillery 291, 1640 Tejon St., Colorado Springs, 719-323-8010