Situated on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, CO., Distillery 291 is an award winning, small-batch craft whiskey distillery which produces a range of bourbon and rye whiskies. The dream of ex-New York City fashion and beauty photographer Mike Myers, Distillery 291 seeks to replicate the taste, smell and folklore of the Wild West by producing whiskies that they describe as “one of a kind, bold and beautiful, Colorado Whiskey. Rugged, Refined, Rebellious.” Founded in 2011, Myers bore first-hand witness to the tragic events of 9/11 and subsequently moved his family to Colorado Springs before being inspired by a travel magazine to combine his love of whiskey with his passion for the old West and create a truly unique style of whiskey. Having been raised on rural family farms spanning Georgia and Tennessee, across a countryside defined by rolling hills, horses, and Tennessee whiskey, Myer’s love for the iconic vision of a cowboy walking into a bar, saying give me a whiskey, and the bartender slamming down a bottle, drove him to create a whiskey worthy of this exchange.
A true from-the-ground-up style operation, Myers was completely self-funded and leased a 300 sq. ft warehouse, taught himself how to mill and mash grains, how to distil and make cuts, bought 10 gallon barrels one at a time from family-run cooperage the Barrel Mill in Minnesota, and built his original 45 gallon copper pot still using copper photogravure plates of enduring photographic scenes from his photography career such as western landscapes and the Chrysler Building. For fermenters he initially used 55 gallon Pepsi drums and was producing approximately 60 gallons of ready-to-barrel whiskey in a whole month.
Having never considered sourcing whiskey, Myers created his mashbills himself to emulate the bold flavour profile he envisaged a Wild West whiskey to possess. Utilizing grains from the Colorado plains and Rocky Mountain water, he wanted a whiskey that is “Hardmade, the Colorado Way”, even going as far as adding toasted Aspen oak staves harvested from a friend’s land nearby to each barrel for about three weeks before bottling. As an additional twist, Distillerry 291 uses what they have dubbed the ‘El Passo Process’ whereby they take secondary stillage originating from a Bristol IPA beer and adds it to each batch of mash before slowly triple distilling to create a more viscous new make whiskey.
Since their first distillation on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Distillery 291 has enjoyed a growing reputation for the quality of their whiskies and have received numerous awards from prestigious sources. Now located in 7500 sq. feet with a 300 gallon still and producing 240 gallons a week under distiller Eric Jett, plans are already in place for the operation to expand to a 28,000 sq. foot campus with demand far exceeding supply for their 10 distinct whiskies. Still ageing for approximately 2 years in 10 gallon deep-charred white oak barrels their range of offerings now include a small batch bourbon and rye, a single barrel bourbon and rye, a small batch American whiskey, two different new-make whiskey products, a 4 grain bourbon, a high-rye bourbon, and their very famous Experimental E series of whiskies.
First released in January 2020, Distillery 291 Small Batch Colorado Bourbon is the first bottling of a small batch bourbon whiskey from a distillery which had previously solely produced single barrel offerings. Coming from the same signature production process as their single barrel whiskies, switching to a small batch product has meant that instead of a barrel yielding only about 60 or so barrels per bottle, 291 instead takes 15 to 20 hand-selected barrels and mingles them together to create a more consistently better bourbon that yields considerably more bottles. As with their single barrel bourbon this product uses 291’s standard bourbon mashbill of of 80% corn, 19% malted rye, and 1% malted barley, that’s milled on site, fermented in open-top fermenters, and tripple distilled in their copper pot stills before being aged for just over a year in heavily charred 10 gallon new oak barrels. As with all their other whiskies it is also an Aspen Wood Finished whiskey meaning that toasted staves of aspen wood were added to the barrel for about 3 weeks prior to dumping, mingling, and bottling the whiskey. This whiskey comes bottled in Distillery 291’s standard tall bottle with a wire cage holding the cork in place and bears stickers of their numerous awards as a craft distillery.
Name: 291 Small Batch Colorado Bourbon Whiskey – Finished with Aspen Wood Staves (Batch # 1 – Bottle 1071 of 1226)
Age: NAS (less than 3 years old)
Proof: 100 Proof (50% ABV)
Type: Aspen wood finished bourbon whiskey
Mashbill: 80% corn, 19% malted rye, and 1% malted barley
Producer: Distillery 291, CO
Nose: The nose opens bold with deep brown sugar and vanilla mixed with a touch of tropical fruit, black tea and citrussy hops, fading towards buttery caramel, dry cacao, herbaceous rye, and smoky barrel char on the back.
Palate: The palate opens rich and viscous with big notes of hops, citrus oils, and lychees mixing with a deeper herbaceous edge. These notes fade to a wave of black pepper rye spice, a bitter dark chocolate note, a kick of earthy spice, cacao powder and tannic oak as that hops note maintains its presence.
Finish: The finish opens with a kick of lingering rye spice and warmth from the palate as the intensity of the citrussy hops somewhat diminishes more towards a dark cacao note which leaves a dark, tannic, peppery aftertaste.
This is a remarkably interesting bourbon and as I sip it becomes clear as to why it has everyone talking about it. From nose to finish you get something unlike any other bourbon I have tried before. In fact, when I think about it, the citrussy and lychee notes that are so prominent throughout are something I’ve only ever gotten in similar levels from craft spirits where an IPA was distilled and barrel matured. Unlike those, however, this fades towards the more traditional bourbon profile once that you would associate with a craft bourbon of very deep and corn-heavy brown sugar caramel bordering on being burnt, herbaceous rye spice, and almost bitter dark chocolate tannins coming from the small barrels. Unlike other craft bourbons, however, this isn’t just hop-forward and chocolate-heavy on the nose, it’s also very robust overall with only subtle notes of what you would associate with small barrel aging, and with the grains shining through without being harsh or dominant.
On the palate, the hops again shine through and makes me wonder if this was 291’s intention with those fruity and hoppy oils coating your tongue and giving a very interesting and faintly bitter profile that can only be described as a treasure trove of flavours. Again, I’ve only ever had something similar twice before: once trying a friend’s Charbay 5 release, and the second time sipping on a Reservoir collaboration with Ardent brewery where they distilled a bottle-ready IPA and also aged it in small barrels. Even as I’m writing this those hop oils are still on my tongue a good 5 minutes after I’ve had my last sip. They’re influence on the overall drinking experience is unique in a bourbon and is a testament to 291’s aim of pushing for a unique bourbon whiskey that embodies being rugged, refined, and rebellious – and I like it a lot.
It’s rare for me to come across a small-barrel aged craft whiskey that isn’t a hot mess in at least one area, however, some producers have solved this shortcoming and 291 belongs on this list. Starting very small and from the ground up, 291 have built a proud reputation with their hard work, attention to detail, and an unwillingness to compromise on the quality of their product and it’s no surprise that they have won so many awards. As their operation continues to grow their future is brighter than ever and with such a diverse portfolio we can no doubt expect more good things to come from them. In the mean time I’ve been assured that production of their single barrel and barrel proof single barrel offerings will continue so fret not if you’re already a 291 fan.
Try or Buy?
This whiskey carries an RRP of $74.99 and is an absolute steal at that price. It’s unique, delicious, and looks the part, what more could you want? Buy!
For UK bourbon fans there is a strong chance that we’ll see these on our shores soon as limited amounts of 291’s whiskies do seem to make it through from time to time. Keep your eyes peeled and you may just get lucky!