Bourbon may already be your brown spirit of choice, but if you’ve never tasted single pot still whiskey, the time is now. Talnua Distillery in Arvada, the only dedicated single pot still spirits producer in the country, turns two today, March 17, and its new three-year-old, triple-distilled, single pot still American whiskey, Founder’s Reserve, is very special indeed.
Talnua’s story began back in 2011, when founders Meagan and Patrick Miller were on their honeymoon in Ireland. They fell hard for the pot-distilled whiskeys they tasted on that trip and on many subsequent visits to the Emerald Isle, so much so that Patrick eventually decided to leave his work as a chemist in the oil and gas industry to learn the art and science of distilling. He worked for Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey for a few years, and in 2018, he and Meagan took over an industrial space in Arvada that had housed a rum distillery. On St. Patrick’s Day 2019, Talnua opened the doors to its charming tasting room, located in the same space as the production facility, with four spirits: two triple-distilled single pot still whiskeys and two single pot still gins.
Today, the Millers lead a mighty team of seven in producing several new spirits in the Gaelic single pot still style, from new whiskey and gin expressions to a rich coffee liqueur based on Meagan’s recipe. And, despite pandemic challenges and restrictions, the future is bright for the brand, thanks to the arrival of new equipment, which arrived in November and went into production three weeks ago: three shiny new copper pot stills reign over the facility from their perch on Talnua’s mezzanine—you can see them gleaming and, well, distilling from the tasting room bar—and five new fermenters are on hand, as well.
The three copper stills—which Patrick has named Urth, Verthandi, and Skuld after the three Norn sisters that represent the past, present, and future—are the heart of Talnua’s operations. It’s through those stills that the all-Colorado-barley wort (or barley tea, as Patrick describes it) is distilled in the Gaelic single pot style, which means that a lone distillery is producing a spirit using one kind of grain. The grain bill is also important, in that traditional Irish single pot still whiskeys must contain at least 30 percent malted and unmalted barley; Talnua’s spirits are a 50-50 blend, and the barley comes from Root Shoot Malting in Loveland. (A Fort Lupton rancher comes by the distillery to pick up the spent barley for feeding his livestock.)
Historically, the unmalted barley in Irish single pot still whiskeys is the key to their distinct style, velvety texture, and flavor. “Single pot still whiskey came about thanks to tax evasion,” says Maya Oren, Talnua’s general manager (and resident whiskey history pro). After the British imposed a malt tax on the Irish in 1682, distillers in Ireland began adding more and more unmalted barley to their grain bills to avoid paying the tax, thereby bringing a rich, almost oily texture to the resulting spirit. Triple distilling reigns in that unmalted barley texture, brightening the whiskey and leaving behind an appealing softness.
Patrick’s brand new releases—the three-year-old Founder’s Reserve Single Barrel ($100) and the two-year-old Olde Saint’s Keep ($85)—are both exceptional. The older of the two spirits, a creamy, toffee-like delight, was put into its virgin American oak barrels before Talnua even opened; Oren says that friends and family helped. The Olde Saint’s Keep, which is released annually on St. Patrick’s day, has big stonefruit and baking spice notes, having aged in similar oak barrels but then finished for nine months inside Pedro Ximénez and amontillado sherry casks. Both became available for preorder today; there are only a few hundred bottles in existence, so pre-order to put your name on one right away if you don’t want it to disappear like so much gold under a rainbow. (Sorry, had to!)
You can also visit Talnua for its COVID-respectful anniversary celebration on March 20 and 21 to get a few tastes for yourself and sip on any of Talnua’s lovely cocktails, designed by bartender Adam Gamboa. The Millers extended the party to include this weekend thanks to the Snowpocalypse of last weekend, and there, you’ll find live pipe bands, food trucks, and all the single pot still spirits your whiskey-and-gin loving soul can handle. You can also order bottles and drinks to go.
Coming later this year will be a new cask-and-stave series of aged whiskeys from Talnua, for which Patrick partially ages his spirits inside sherry, port, or bourbon barrels with oak staves, removing the staves after about six months to let the whiskey finish aging for two to three more years. Other barrel experiments are in the works, too, as Talnua continues to establish its unique single pot still niche, an Irish-American spirits producer with roots planted deeply in Colorado.
If you go: Talnua Distillery is releasing its Founder’s Reserve whiskey on March 17, from 3 to 9 p.m., with themed cocktails and Irish tunes. Its second anniversary celebration continues on March 20 from noon to 10 p.m. and on March 21 from noon to 9 p.m. Talnua’s regular hours are Thursday and Friday from 3 to 9 p.m., Saturday from noon to 9 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. 5405 West 56th Ave., Unit C, Arvada, 303-431-4949