Distillery 291, in Colorado Springs, is experiencing a wave of attention in 2017. With a plethora of domestic and international awards, a feature cameo in the documentary “The Whiskey Film” and the distinguished title in “Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible” (2018 edition) of runner up, U.S. micro-distillery of the year, it’s fair to say they’re having a moment, that translates more into a stepping stone of things to come.
“It’s awesome, it’s amazing,” says Michael Myers, owner of Distillery 291. “To make micro distillery runner up is huge for Jim Murray.”
291’s special release labels rank high with an impressive 96 points for “E” Batch #2. The “E” represents experimental batches, and according to Murray, is “exceptional, enthralling, eclectic, engrossing, engaging, edifying, enticing, entirely extraordinary…encore!”
Each new label is entirely singular encompassing it’s own unique flavor profile. Batch one, is a rye, batch two is a bourbon and batch three is 100 percent rye.
“It’s our bourbon recipe just cooked differently,” explains Myers. “So half of the fermentation was cooked up and half was cooked down. Meaning, cooking up is low temperature water, add grain, raise the temperature, add more grain until you come to a boil. Cooking down is bringing it up to almost a boil, add grain, cool it, add grain, cool it, add grain. Cooking that way changes the flavor of the grain, drastically.”
Each year Distillery 291 submits a variety of their whiskeys for Murray to taste, annotate, score and review in his respected publication. Although the specialty bottles receive high praise Myer’s says that 291 flagships, like the Colorado whiskey and bourbon, also warrant a ride to obtain proper judging.
The Colorado rye, which Myers refers to as his “go-to whiskey” is special because “it’s what I set out to make,” says Myers simply.
Philip Rawleigh, Distillery 291’s brand ambassador, describes the whiskey as “deep in maples and vanillas with Luxardo cherry, cinnamon and some really nice baking spices.”
It serves as a base for 291’s classic old-fashioned made in the tasting room with Fee Brothers Old Fashioned aromatic and grapefruit bitters garnished with a Luxardo cherry and a lemon zest twist. Write that down.
Distillery 291 has a knack for creating some seriously high-proof whiskeys which leads us to our personal favorite, Bad Guy. Intensely warming at nearly 120 proof, Murray calls it “a massive and desirable whiskey that tastes “toasty” like “slightly burnt fudge” that melts into “a calmer honey effect.”
291’s barrel proof Colorado whiskey, aged less than two years, garners a vibrant and prophetic message from the 2018 edition of “Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible” about the product and the direction of the company.
“That a distillery can produce a young rye malt whiskey at this standard and as something this magnificent as their 333 days bottling shows that Distillery 291 are way up there among the elite in US micro-distillery movement,” says Murray.
There’s no exact definition of what constitutes a “micro-distillery” but it boils down simply to boutique numbers, how many 9-liter cases an establishment produces annually. Distillery 291 accounts for 1,600 in 2016 and predicts a total of 2,000 in 2017.
“To get that kind of accolade from Jim Murray and to have a business model where our whiskey ages less than a year and it’s winning major awards…It’s a big deal and it’s a good business model” says Myers. “It allows us to grow and not sit on a lot of inventory. Not that I wouldn’t want to move into bigger barrels when we can, but right now this is working and helping us as a craft distillery.”
Distillery 291 continues to intentionally, yet cautiously, broaden their reach with select distribution in Wyoming and California, with a recent shipment of 100 cases to the greater San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. Trips to Kentucky, Texas, Tennessee and opportunities in the tri-state region on the East coast (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) signify a steady press forward while also building relationships abroad for a possible international presence. As soon as next year, South Korea, South Africa, Australia and some Eastern European countries can possibly own a coveted piece of Colorado culture.
“2018 will be a big year for distribution outside of Colorado,” says Myers. “Organically we’re trying to grow it.”
In state, 291 circulates heavily outside of the tasting room at The Broadmoor, Colorado Mountain Brewery, The Principal’s Office and TILL. Denver continues to take notice in addition to ski resort towns like Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Vail and Steamboat. Myers says their subsistence is mainly on the Front Range, from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, but admits that “we still have a lot more room in Colorado to grow.”
As of November 18, Distillery 291 perpetuates that sentiment of local love with Saturday tours at 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. for $20. The hour-long tour includes a full tasting flight, a $10 credit towards a bottle (to exclude special releases) and the opportunity to receive a run-down on some of their signature cocktails.