Cigar Aficionado

Derby Day Picks

I always get a lot of calls during Derby Week asking for my picks, and this year among my top contenders is a controversial choice: Colorado. 

No, Colorado is not a thoroughbred raised in the Rocky Mountains, nor the British Ascot champion of the same name—after all, he raced in the 1920s. In fact, I'm not talking about a horse at all. (Face it. No one in his right mind has any faith in my handicapping ability, anyway.)

This two-year-old is a whiskey named Colorado that's made in the state of the same name. I just got a taste of it and have to say it's impressed me more than any of the recent small American craft distilling efforts I've tried. So when people ask me what I'll be drinking this weekend as I watch the Run for the Roses, I throw this in as a contender.

Properly, it's Stranahan's Colorado Straight Rocky Mountain Whiskey and it only relates to Bourbon on the levels of being straight (aged in new charred oak for a minimum of two years—some of the mix is as old as five) and being an American original.  This whiskey is made from pure barley (four strains, all from Colorado) and is distilled in what master stillman Jake Norris calls a pot-column still, a fusion of the two basic types.

We did a preliminary tasting and were impressed by what fine flavors Stranahan's has gotten out of such little time in the craft (the company started distilling in 2004).  The nose is full of maple and vanilla, and smacks almost of Cognac. That brandy thing continues on the palate, but with a large dose of licorice and hard candy. It finishes with orange peel and banana.

I wouldn't, however, peg this for making the classic Mint Julep—partially because it's too expensive ($50 to $60, visit, but also because it's too sweet for such a sugary drink (see recipe) And, of course, I'm not going to forsake my classic Kentucky Bourbon friends as I watch the telecast from Churchill Downs. If you read me often you can probably guess I'll be joined by some of the following this weekend: Woodford Reserve, Russell's Reserve from Wild Turkey, Jim Beam's Knob Creek, Old Rip Van Winkle, Maker's Mark, Evan Williams Vintage and one of my new favorites Eagle Rare. Giddyup, horsey.