AN AMBITIOUS physician abandons the corporate world to invest his savings in a new craft alcohol company. Ensconced high up in the mountains of Breckenridge, Colorado, the brand touts small batches, pure ingredients, and painstaking recipes. Capitalizing on local tourism and clever branding, they enjoy extraordinary growth and go on to surprise established brands at major tasting competitions. Sound familiar? It’s been the craft beer MO for decades now, but the brand in question is not Breckenridge Brewery and its product no Vanilla Porter.
Rather, this is bourbon. But from the Rockies? Contrary to common conception, bourbon is not a regionally controlled product (like scotch or champagne) but a process: at least 50% corn in the mash, aging in first-use charred barrels, and a few other steps that replicable anywhere in the US, not just the verdant hills of Kentucky responsible for 95% of the world’s supply. Breckenridge’s spirit is a bourbon, then, though it is not legally ‘straight’ (at least, not yet), which would require it to be barrel-aged for at least three years. That threshold loosely compares to the blended vs. single malt divide in scotch, but the lesser designation hasn’t stopped Breckenridge’s whiskey from racking up the tasting medals.
And with good reason. Early on the palate it is tremendously smooth, giving some credence to the obligatory buzzwords about high-altitude snowmelt, etc. Another distinguishing factor is the 38% rye in its grain bill, several times the average and one of the highest of any standard bourbon; its white pepperiness plays to the young spirit’s vivacity instead of trying to imply a false maturity or depth. The midsection is pleasantly sweet and the mouthfeel well-rounded, showing more of caramel than corn. Oak is light in the mixture, though the aging was sufficient to impart some pleasant vanilla and a touch of char. Its middling finish is balanced despite the slight burn of its back end from its 86 proof. Overall the profile is confident, if not especially layered, and could be served neat or as an vigorous cocktail centerpiece. Originally sourced from Kentucky producers, the bourbon is reportedly now all distilled and aged in Breckenridge. One hopes they’ll continue to develop their portfolio with a straight, 100% Colorado offering in the near future. Until then this version will do just fine.