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In 2007 Rob Dietrich and his Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey team came up with an idea: Why not take their American single malt whiskey and cask finish it in wine barrels from all over the world? This weekend will mark the distillery’s 10th year of producing this specially-aged whiskey—dubbed Snowflake, because no two batches will ever be alike.
“We just started messing around with some things,” master distiller Dietrich says of Snowflake’s genesis. “Instead of changing the way we make whiskey, we decided to try and do different cask finishes. It’s really where we could be innovative. We’re making our Rocky Mountain single malts, and it’s a local process. This is where we could get a little global with it and use different barrels from around the country and around the world.”
To achieve Snowflake’s cask finish, the whiskey ages in barrels that once held port, rum, Malbec, Tempranillo, or Cognac—or even a combination of all of the above. According to Dietrich, Stranahan’s has about 60 different barrels of whiskey aging to pick from at a given time. Dietrich typically chooses a combination of hooch from six or seven barrels to ensure that Snowflake comes out differently every year.
And while the whiskey is never the same, Snowflake’s popularity is unwavering. About 600 people camped out several days in advance last year—in 18 degree weather, no less—to get their hands on a bottle (each individual is limited to two bottles).
Dietrich says that Snowflake really took off in 2011, when he first began marrying different barrels together for custom blends rather than distrubiting a single-barrel version. “That’s when people started showing up a little earlier. We’d open the doors at 10 a.m., and there would be line of maybe 10 to 15 people. That number just started growing every year,” he says. “[Now,] people literally fly or drive in from out of state, and actually camp out.”
Dietrich is expecting somewhere between 500 to 700 people to show up on Saturday, December 2 for the 2017 Snowflake release. Those looking to get their hands on one of the 1,600 bottles better get ready to wait. Folks usually start lining up and camping out on Thursday morning, and the $100 bottles are generally sold out by noon on Saturday.
“Most people will buy two,” he says. “Some people will keep one and then sell the other bottle. I’ve seen bottles of Snowflake on Craigslist, which is illegal, but they’ll sell it for $400. It’s kind of cool in the sense that it has its own little underground thing.”
Dietrich likes to name each Snowflake after Colorado fourteeners, and this year’s is dubbed Mt. Quandary. It was made with a blend of three rum cask finishes—and Dietrich says it’s his favorite one so far.
He plans to sleep at the distillery Friday night on a cot in his office. He’ll wake up at 3 a.m. to head out and greet those waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m. Starting at 8 p.m. on Friday evening, coffee and food trucks will be on site to serve those camping out.
If You Go…
Where: 200 S. Kalamath St., 303-296-7440
When: Stranahan’s doors open at 8 a.m. on Saturday, December 2, but Snowflake hopefuls will likely begin camping out by Thursday morning. Dietrich says arriving by 6 a.m. on Saturday is probably a safe bet to score a bottle.
How Much: $100 per bottle