Is Stranahan's the punk rock of whiskey? Ask the bartender...
Growing up in New Jersey, I was a punk-rock kid. I started with Iggy and the Stooges, the Ramones and the Clash, and moved on to Bad Brains, Fear, the Misfits, early Bad Religion, then into NY hardcore, Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, etc.
As the '80s progressed, so did my punk-rock fervor. I read grassroots fanzines like Maximum Rock and Roll and went to hundreds of shows. The bands were on our side: They were representative of how we felt and who we were. Their music was raw, unrefined and had meaning; we made a connection. But as soon as one of our favorite bands made it to the big time -- got mainstream radio play or signed to a record contract -- we would refer to the musicians as "sellouts" or "poseurs." And we'd always talk about them in the past tense, as in "back when they were hard."
I don't want to talk about Stranahan's in the past tense.
Eventually, I exchanged my mohawk and combat boots for a cocktail shaker and spoons. Spirits and cocktails became my passion.
I moved to Colorado in July 2000, and soon after met a bartender/country-music DJ/ whiskey freak named Jake Norris one night at Swanky's. He was trying to convince me not to punch his friend, who was being an ass to my girlfriend. We settled on peace and drank some whiskey together.
A couple of years later, Jake told me he was starting a whiskey brand with a volunteer firefighter named Jess Graber and Aspen entrepreneur George Stranahan, whom Jess had met while fighting a fire at his barn. He wanted to know if I wanted to buy a small barrel from their first run for $250 -- the barrel sales were helping with their startup costs, and I could own a piece of history. Unfortunately, I didn't have the money at the time. But a couple of years later, the first barrels of Stranahan's were bottled.
To me, Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey was the straight (straight whiskey)-up punk rock of spirits. It was completely new (stylistically new to the United States with U.K. roots, much like punk rock), unique, local and made by guys who really gave a fuck. It was raw and beautiful, hand-labeled with notes like "listening to the Dwarves" on the bottle. They didn't have a lot of money, but they had a huge groundswell of support among Colorado bartenders. In true DIY/punk-rock fashion, they held volunteer bottlings at the original distillery on Blake Sreet. At these bottlings, local restaurant-industry people would bottle, label and package Stranahan's. Instead of whistling while we worked, we all drank the runoff from the bottler. Jake would buy food, we'd listen to good music, and a great time would be had by all. As a bonus, everyone left with a bottle of Stranahan's, and they could always say that they'd bottled Batch # X.