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The Broncos might not be too good these days, but their bourbon holds up.
Named the official bourbon maker of the Denver Broncos, Breckenridge Distillery is in its second year of partnership with the franchise, working with alumni stars to craft two Broncos blends—one dubbed Orange and the other Blue—that are only available in Colorado. The players’ creations compete to gain the most people’s choice votes in the distillery’s annual competition, and the winner returns to help make a new bourbon the following year.
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Last season, former Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer’s Blue blend was the official winner of the inaugural battle, when he went up against former running back Reggie Rivers’ Orange blend. This year, a new challenger entered the game: former star linebacker Karl Mecklenburg. As reigning champion, Plummer joined Breck Distillery head distiller Hans Stafsholt’s team to produce a new Blue blend with flavors of orange blossom honey, oak, and white pepper. Plummer and his team face off against Mecklenburg, who teamed up with the crew of Bryan Nolt, the distillery’s founder, to craft a new Orange blend. Mecklenburg and Nolt’s iteration fuses notes of burnt marmalade and raisin with brown sugar, vanilla, spice, and smoke.
Consumers can vote for their favorite of the two concoctions online or via a QR code on the bottles, which can be purchased at liquor stores throughout Colorado. Pours are also available at the Breck Distillery bar at Empower Field at Mile High, and the winner will be announced at the end of the season.
“It’s a real science, truthfully,” says Mecklenburg, who was known as “the Albino Rhino” during his 12 years with the Broncos, during which he notched 79 sacks and made it to six Pro Bowls and three Super Bowls (1987, 1988, and 1990). “I didn’t realize how much goes into making whiskey. Each vial of base whiskey has a different taste and scent—cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla. What the masters do is put complementary flavors together and come up with the best blend. [This year], I believe we’re the winners.”
The former linebacker’s confidence in his bourbon significantly outweighs his outlook for the winning potential of the men in orange this season. However, he believes the team has the talent to turn things around.
“Like all Broncos fans, I’m a little frustrated right now,” he says. “But unlike a lot of Broncos fans, I anticipated this. I played 12 years with Broncos and had two coaches. We had two losing seasons in those years. I knew exactly what the guy next to me was going to do. When you have all new systems, a new coach, new terminology, new quarterback, new general manager, it’s tough to compete against things that aren’t new. When there’s a lot of changes, it’s hard to compete with teams that have been together for a long time. It takes time.”
In the meantime, at least there’s bourbon.
“The good thing about bourbon is you can drink it either to celebrate or to drown your sorrows,” Nolt says, adding that there is a correlation between the Broncos’ success and the bourbon’s success—and it’s not always pretty.
“There’s two demographics buying the Broncos Blends,” he says. “There’s the people who love Colorado, who know there’s a lot of great things in Colorado. They think: ‘We’re going to buy this, have people over for games, and show everyone how great it is. We’re going to buy it for gifts.’ For those people, it doesn’t matter how the Broncos are doing. Then the other demographic is people who are way into football. We lose about 20 percent of the market [sales] when the Broncos aren’t doing well.”
But regardless, you can expect a good pour no matter the score from award-winning Breckenridge Distillery, which signed a five-year contract to be the Broncos’ official bourbon partner, beating out international brands like Jameson. And if fans want to try this season’s star blends, they better act fast. The distillery produced 15,384 Orange bottles and 20,580 Blue bottles. So far in the people’s choice contest, Orange is in the lead with 1,309 votes, beating Blue’s 1,195.
“People love [the Broncos bourbon] and have really gotten behind it,” Nolt says. “You can only get it in Colorado. It’s been a huge success. It sells out. What we have bottled is it. When it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Fans (and commiserators) can get their hands on the Orange or Blue bourbons at the Breckenridge Distillery bar at Empower Field or at local liquor stores for around $50 a bottle. Voting is open through the end of the NFL season online or via a QR code on the bottles.