Is Stranahan's the punk rock of whiskey? Ask the bartender...

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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.

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12 comments
Maureen
Maureen

If I read an article about whiskey, I don't want the first five paragraphs to be about the goddamned writer, for Christ's sake.

Charlie
Charlie

Great writing. As a fan of many truly great made small batch spirits I wonder if success always spoils things. My new fav, Dry Fly out of Washington is growing similar. They better not sell out ! I might have to by a dozen cases to say I knew them when. Keep up the great stories. ~ Dr. CK Walker

Conk
Conk

Well said.  Cheers

Barrfly2
Barrfly2

Well put and great article! I have supported them since the beginning and poured many a free shot to customers for the cause on their behalf. Sad because it can only change for the worse now that true greed has most likely has taken over. They will make and sell more whiskey though. Business is business; I agree.

It was fun having a local whiskey while I lasted.

KB
KB

While the product may have remained the same (so far), the restaurant inside is definitely not punk rock.  We stopped by on Friday during happy hour, only to be surrounded by babies and a giant +50 crowd there for a singles mixer.  The wait staff ignored us, the brie came out cold and we left not wanting to return ever again.  I will still buy the whiskey but i'll drink at home considering a totally unsatisfying journey to the home of Stranahan's.

Mantonat
Mantonat

In the process of learning about bourbon, I discovered that many of the products I love are actually owned by larger corporations. It does take away a little from the mystic of the DIY distiller, but as long as the liquid in the bottle maintains its uniqueness and quality, I can't complain too much.

Your punk analogy is great, especially the comparison to the Misfits. The great part about music though is that those original recordings will always be around to listen to, even if the live shows are not. Maybe I should start stocking up on Stranahan's bottles to drink when I am old in case the whiskey becomes a cover band of its original glory days.

SmokingLoon
SmokingLoon

In business, as in bars, it is often more important to watch what people are doing rather than listen to what they are saying.

Joey B
Joey B

Great story Sean; I really enjoy your stuff.

EJ
EJ

There are many other great local whiskeys, e.g. Leopold Bros, Peach Street, Breckenridge...

And even though Stranny's is owned by an East Coast company, they still make the stuff here and employ a good number of our local brothers and sisters.

Seven2
Seven2

That's unfortunate, I usually have a great time at the Rackhouse.  Either way, they're not actually owned by Stranahan's.  It is a separate company that has leased the space.

Sean kenyon
Sean kenyon

Mantonat,I agree. This is a 3 part piece and I express the same sentiment on day 3. Some of my favorite spirits in the world are made by big companies. Doesn't make them bad, it just gives them more distribution and production. I love stranahan's, and don't want the juice to change.

Thanks for reading...

sean

J.
J.

For now.  I expect them to set up shop with Flying Dog in MD at any moment now.

Great sorrow over what is becoming of Stranahans.

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