In October of 2017, I visited Denver for the first time. I was there to cover the madness that is the Great American Beer Festival, the standard bearer for U.S. beer festivals featuring 800 breweries from across the country. There were more than 3,900 beers available for the 60,000 attendees to sample, but outside of the convention center was where I really found what I was looking for. Because, as it turns out, you don’t need to sample 1,000 beers over the course of a weekend to experience what’s on the cutting edge of the industry. You just need to taste what’s being made in Colorado.
I made a return trip to Denver eight months later, this time for Stranahan’s Cask Thief whiskey festival. It was there that I met Rob Dietrich, Stranahan’s rebellious master distiller, who quickly reinforced the notion that Colorado was a hub for alcohol innovation right down to the taxonomy of its whiskey.
“Whether they like it or not, we’re going to keep calling it American single malt,” Dietrich says while we sip on the original Stranahan’s single malt in the distillery’s barrel room. American single malt isn’t a government-recognized category, but Stranahan’s, the first legal distillery in Colorado since Prohibition, labels it as such nonetheless. That flies in the face of bourbon as the American spirit and anyone who creates guidelines for what American whiskey should be. “We’re a little outlaw out here in Colorado.”