There’s an annual holiday tradition here in Denver that has nothing to do with hanging ornaments or lighting candles: In early December, dozens of people grab tents, layer on long underwear, and line up outside Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey’s Baker distillery. They brave freezing temperatures and the elements for a day or more just to get their hands on a rare whiskey: Snowflake, a small-batch release that changes every year and is only available to the public on that single day in December.

Like most things in 2020, the release of Snowflake’s newest batch has been postponed (until February). Thankfully, the whiskey gods aren’t leaving our cups empty. For the first time, Stranahan’s is opening its Snowflake vault to the public, virtually auctioning off 25 bottles of previous expressions. All of the proceeds will be donated to the Colorado State Fire Fighters Foundation, and Stranahan’s will match the total up to $25,000.

“It’s a dual purpose,” head distiller Owen Martin says of the tweaked event. “We wanted to make sure we’re keeping that tradition alive even if it’s not the traditional release.” And the longstanding distillery wanted to give back to the community during a tough year.

Five bottles from each of the last five years will be available for your bid(s) during the Snowflake Vault Auction. They are:

  • Mount Bross (Batch 22, 2019): finished in maple syrup, bourbon, and wine barrels
  • Mount Elbert (Batch 21, 2018): finished in eight different types of barrels—the most ever
  • Quandary Peak (Batch 20, 2017): finished in three rum casks
  • Crestone Peak (Batch 19, 2016): the first rum barrel-finished Snowflake (Martin calls it one of the “most balanced” expressions)
  • Longs Peak (Batch 17, 2015): the first beer-barrel-finished Snowflake (with barrels from Breckenridge Brewery)

Interested in snagging one? Visit between December 5 and 10 to place your bids. Winners must be able to pick up their bottles at the distillery.

These rare American single malts have been released every year since 2007. Each one-of-a-kind blend is named after a Colorado fourteener. The whiskey is first aged two or more years in new white American oak barrels before being finished in a variety of barrels (wine, sherry, cognac, and rum barrels have all been used in the past) from Colorado and around the world. The one consistent thread: Some portion of every blend is finished in a wine barrel from Denver’s family-owned Balistreri Vineyards. “A lot of these Snowflake releases were the first time we used a certain type of barrel…It’s about experimenting,” Martin says. “It’s about the fun, different barrels we finish [the whiskey] in—blending something that’s more than the sum of its parts.”

The distiller is happy to let Batch 23 mature a little longer, and he won’t give too many details away before its February release, but says he “wanted this year’s flavor profile to be bright and sweet—to be a counterpoint to the sour year we’ve had.” One of the strongest expressions will come from apple-brandy-finished casks.

Mark your calendars for December 5 to get your mitts on one of these rare releases. Any one of them would make a great gift—if you’re willing to share.

Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer
Daliah Singer is an award-winning writer and editor based in Denver. You can find more of her work at