I feel a small amount of guilt in writing this, the second post in a row not really about beer. However, it needs to be said: craft spirits is blowing up, son!
Look, we’re all beer nerds here; you don’t read a beer blog hosted by RateBeer.com without being somewhat nerdy about beer. We all wonder why the balls any self respecting adult, craft-beer-aware or not, would order a bottle of Bud at a bar featuring 25+ craft taps. But I’m going to go ahead and make a statement that might ruffle feathers.
It’s 2013. If you’re a beer nerd and unfamiliar with craft spirits (specifically the malt-based whiskey [and all derivations]), your nerdiness is incomplete.
Imagine a person who calls themselves a beer nerd who has never had Sierra Nevada Pale, or Sam Adams Boston Lager. Excuseless, right? Well, that’s kinda how I feel nowadays. Barrel-ageing has been going on for some time now in craft beer, so I know you’re familiar with whiskey, bourbon, rum, gin, etc. Also, you should be 21 or over…so there’s that.
I’m not saying you need to actively like/drink liquor the way some of us do for beer. I’m just saying, if you love this malted-barley-based beverage called Beer, you would do well to familiarize yourself with whiskey. Admittedly, I’m biased. I don’t much care for gin, vodka, tequila, or rum outside of a cocktail recipe. But being such a fan of malt, I have dived into the familiar-yet-different world of craft whiskey. Different in that my palate is confused and has to be re-calibrated (all meant in a good way) as I explore everything malted-barley can be; familiar in that craft whiskey and craft beer share so much story and history. And challenges. And drinkers.
Take Colorado’s most famous whiskey: Stranahan’s. If you’re a big enough beer nerd you recognize the name most likely due to a “Stranahans Whiskey Barrel Aged _____” from your favorite local brewery. Well, like craft beer, it’s really new. As in, their first batch was on store shelves in 2006. And like craft beer big-boys, they’ve also had to retreat from out-of-state markets as they double and quadruple their production growth to meet local demands.
But one look inside at The Rackhouse, a pub (gastropub?) that shares the same building space as Stranahan’s, will reveal a wide crossover of interested clientele. Many patrons saddle up to the bar for a bourbon aged stout, and a bourbon. Friends and strangers alike share craft beer and a wide variety of spirits and specialty cocktails distilled in the centennial state. The American craft beer drinker’s palate is the opposite of bored; it’s curious. Curious for more. New hops, new styles, new incarnations of old styles and mashed up recipes. It makes sense that a knowledged and curious beer drinker will gravitate toward craft spirits.
And I’ll use that segue to talk about something that’s getting me as excited as a beer nerd’s first trip to GABF. And for all intents and purposes, a week-long booze festival centered in Denver is a very apt comparison.
April 1-6, Denver, Colorado plays host to DSTILL, a week of tastings, events and workshops featuring American craft spirits and cocktails. Award-winning distillers from across the nation and master bartenders will pair up to bring the artisanally-inclined consumer a true taste of hand-made. But the highlight, the extravaganza, is the night when craft distillers from all over, as well as strong representation by co-hosts The Colorado Distiller Guild, put all their liquor in the same building, and send their distillers and reps to get geeky with you. The American Craft Spirit & Cocktail Showcase, which is going to happen April 3, is your chance to try all manner of small-batch craft spirits, from coast to coast, from coffee liqueur to barrel-aged gin, from straight whiskey to non-Mexican tequila (shocker!). You will also be privy to specialty cocktails from the master barmen and women of the Colorado Bartenders Guild, and inspired bites from Denver’s independent restaurant scene.
(updates to events and workshops are still being added, but you can get tickets to the April 3 showcase here: www.dstill.co)
Given Colorado’s blooming distilling scene and cocktail culture, I hope this becomes an annual thing. There are plenty of bars that carry small-batch spirits, but there is still a sizable amount of public unawareness that needs addressing. Honestly, half the reason I’m going is to educate myself, having only tried about 5 different distilleries, ever. Many craft distilleries are popping up throughout the nation, even as some breweries are getting in on the fun. Much like the origins of craft beer, it just takes a few fests and word of mouth to get the ball rolling.
And I am absolutely on this ball. A lowball. With three fingers of whiskey.
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