Podcast Episode: Michael Myers of Colorado's Distillery 291
From New York fashion photographer to starting a whiskey distillery in Colorado - quite the road for Michael Myers of Colorado Springs based 291 Distillery.
Listen to the Episode
We'll hear how he started as a one-man show, learned his craft, and as a tie into our Virginia City "Old West" episodes, we'll talk about his love for western movies. And we'll find out how a Weber Grill influences his whiskey...seriously!
I'll also sample 291's Small Batch Rye and Bourbon whiskeys. Rye is the word of the day, with Aspen.
Thank you to Michael at 291 Distillery for sending 2 sample bottles of whiskey for me to try during this interview. Tastings will always be 100% my own opinion.
- One man show
- The 1 hour automatic off
- Figuring it out
- Keeping notes of the first mash bills
- Michael's favorite rye before his own
- Bad Guy
- A love for western whiskey and imagery (this could be shorter)
- The Aspen staves
- The beautiful bottle
- Ozark Season 3 Episode 3
- Western inspired places to visit in Colorado
- What classifies as a Pre-Prohibition whiskey?
- Dealing with the weather and barrels
- The effects of malted rye
- The power of a brand and state brands
- A rye like a Reubens
- Smell the glass later
- Let your whiskey sit before you drink it
- Jim Murray hybernation
- Favorite western movie
- The Sam Elliott effect
- The Greenville connection
Listen to the full episode with the player above or find it on your favorite podcast app under "Whiskey Lore." The full transcript is available on the tab above.
Welcome to Whiskey Lore. I'm Drew Hannush.
Now when I start putting together my shows sometimes I will run into this little thing called serendipity. It's great how that works. I just get an idea in my head and somehow a solution comes up and just such a thing happened to me recently when I was planning out these 12 days of Whiskey Lore. I have the two episodes that I'm doing with Chris Wimmer about Virginia city I thought would be really cool if I could get some interviews in here from distillers who are either nearby Virginia City or have some relation to the old West. So I got in contact with Colby and Ashley Frey from frey ranch which is right outside of Virginia City and I'm going to do an interview with them soon.
But I also got an email without prompting from Colorado's 291 Distillery and the question was put to me would you like to have the distiller and owner Michael Myers on the show. Now I'm not sure normal whiskey podcaster because I don't tend to bring in guests from distilleries unless they're tied to my show in some way or another so whether they're in the spirit of the show something you know to that effect is what I'm looking for in guests so I sent back a message and I said well I'm doing this series on the Old West do you think Michael has any knowledge about the Old West and an interest maybe in that direction. And the response was well he's a big fan of Westerns and part of the reason he left New York as a fashion photographer was to move out West and catch that vibe and he's developed a whiskey that he wants to relate to the Old West and be kind of in that personality and style. So it turned out to be a really good match.
He's a great guy to talk with and I think you're really going to enjoy this episode. He sent me a couple of bottles - he sent me the rye whiskey and he sent me their Colorado bourbon and I'm going to try both of those during the show. I'll give you my honest opinion of what I think about them.
By the way the bottles that they come in are gorgeous and we're going to talk a little bit about that. He has a design background. He actually was a New York fashion photographer for 27 years. So when we get into branding and that sort of thing he he's really all into that, because that is his background. And we'll also start this interview off with him basically carrying his laptop around giving me a tour of his current distillery. And there's a huge photo of a mountain that he showed me that is going to come up in our tour we're going to talk about - somehow that works into his equipment as we're looking around at the distillery - so listen out for that.
And right now let's jump into the conversation and we're on a tour walking through Colorado's 291 Distillery
We that's some corn local root shoot corn from Loveland, Colorado. Our rye malt comes from Germany except for we do have some rye malt from root chute. When I started the only rye malt was out of Germany or other parts of North America and I liked the German rye malt. And then they started malting some in Colorado and so we've shifted to using some of that but not for our bourbon and our rye yet because we're just making sure that the flavor profile is still the same. And then these are fresh bottles that came in and then this is our corn cooker 1500 gallon Latina tank I had customized to be a cooker. It has a steam coil in it so it's all steam powered by our new boiler. We move and we moved in January and two months ago the boiler went down it was a 29 year old boiler and I had to put a brand new one in for three months.
Oh man I could tell by the way you said that that there was a story behind that somewhere.
Yeah so Latina tank mashed corn cooker 1500 gallons we cook in about the thousand gallons a little more and then cool it in there and we transfer it to our fermentation tank. We pitch yeast for five days at ferments or five to six once it's done in there we transfer to the stripping still and another Latina tank that I had customized into a stripping still. So those were all customized here in Colorado Springs. The the condenser is a Vendome condenser I kind of stepped up to a big boy. My homemade condenser couldn't handle 1500 gallons of boiling mash to cool it down fast enough. Our collection tank enter into our low wines but so 50 you know a thousand gallons stripped down to a 35 percent low line we get about 250 gallons at that point and then we bring it over here into our finish still. And this still I had built here in the Springs the company that builds stills for me here are DOD contractors and they build things for nuclear subs and like like titanian ball valves nickel press rings for propulsion tubes things like that crazy stuff. So they're like we love whiskey we'd love to build you still so I gave them the plans of my original still this 45 gallon still and they mimic it and made it larger.
Yeah so they're they're like twins it's like mini me next to next to the full size
Yeah so what's special about my original still is it's 45 gallons I designed and had it built myself found a guy that could tig weld copper here in the Springs about 10 years ago. And I took photogravure plates - so if right there - that's that rock and that mountain formation that I showed you
okay very cool
So there's seven plates on the still or six plates on this still and they're all different photogravure plates so they were at one point flat and had a chemical etch on them of a photograph and then you put ink on it you put a piece of paper with it you run it through a press and you get an inked photograph. So I took six plates seven plates, I have an extra column that is made out of one of the plates, and I had them water jet cut then I took them to a place and we rolled them through a metal roller and then I took them to Al Novak and he he tig welded it together for me wow and built my still. And it is now the thump keg of my large finish still okay but the thump keg for this one when I was in the 300 square foot space was a five and ten gallon barrel. The size changed as my barrel size changed but and it it worked really well
So what would you what would you say your difference is between the Irish triple distilled setup they have an intermediate still in between are you basically going through the same process?
I think so it's three times distilled so the strip still the finish still and then the thump keg is a distillation as well. When I started this I really liked the having a thump keg and I knew that I wanted to strip and so I realized it was a three times distilled whiskey so okay yeah and that's from the beginning like so one of those 55 gallon tanks was at one point my mash tun. The coil's been cut out of it now but my mash tun and it would I would convert it I had a top that was cut out and had a six inch tri-clamp top on it that would take the column - there's another column similar to the one on my finish still I'm my thump keg there original still - and it would go on there and I had a condenser and I would strip with that. And I could make about 60 gallons a month I would mash in six fermentations so they were Pepsi plastic gallon 55 gallon drums that I'd do six of them they'd ferment over a week and then I would strip and I could strip two a day, so take me three days to do that. I'd have about 45 gallons which would finish out to be about 15 gallons finished. I could do it four times it took literally 15-hour days seven days a week and was a lot of work it was a lot of work.
Were you doing this 100 by yourself at that point
Yeah sort of I had somebody that was helping me every once while for a little bit or somebody might come in and put some labels on yeah but truly and making it and selling it opening accounts all that stuff. But the the best is everything was steam heated in that space and I had my DSP DSP-CO which is Colorado 15023. So I had my DSP in the space but the funny thing is I steam heated everything and so I used a steam generator for a steam shower home steam shower and had it all hooked up and the first time I turned it on I hit the button I had already mashed I had mashed in on a cookie dryer so I already had a mash that was converted and I needed to strip it. So I was stripping it and so when I hit the button turned on it started you know working really well. About an hour later I heard a click and I went over the still it was warm like this is working what happened so I pushed the button on it and it came back on I'm like all right about an hour later it clicked off again and I'm like damn it! It's a home steam unit it has an automatic. For two and a half years 15 hours a day I reset that button every 45 minutes wow so and I'm not kidding I mean there's plenty of people around here that I would sit at the bar and I'd be drinking after like 12 hours having a cocktail talking about whiskey or whatever and I'd just get up and walk away from the bar. The bar was right next door and everybody knew that I was going to push that button and that and I'd be right back oh that was yeah so labor of love
I was going to say that's that's on a working scale the same way the same frustration I have with coffee makers that you know I'll put on a pot of coffee and I'll drink coffee for six hours out of that pot but it keeps shutting off every two hours so I have to keep going over and hit the button again. I'm like oh it's cold coffee yeah. How does a person who has not distilled whiskey in the past and now you have this idea that you're going to start a distillery - do you apply for your DSP or do you do you do a little bit of on the side testing to see if you can actually make this thing work?
I had a friend mike bristol bristol brewing company I told him you know I was interested and he's like get your license and I'll try and help I can brew beer but I don't understand distillation. And I said okay I'll figure it out. And I reached out to Vendome for a spill and they sent me there's a picture I forget 50 gallons still for $50,000 and I was like I can't afford that I don't even know what I'm doing I don't know if it's gonna work so that's what made me think I could build a still. I'm from Georgia they make it in the woods it can't be that hard you know. I grew up on a farm I'm an artist. I'm like I can figure this out I had 11 quarters of drafting mechanical drafting in high school I can mechanical draft to some extent. You know so I'm like I'll figure it out and I did. I brewed I came over to this space when Bristol was in here and for one day his head brewer kind of showed me how to brew and like temperatures and stuff and I and then I had read everything and and Bill Owens had a book out about starting craft distilling and that you could you know pair with a brewery that could brew your wash and then you just have to have the still and I started down that road in in theory and I just was ready to do it on my own - like one weekend when I when I the still was being built and what. So I wanted to mash in on my own so I went and bought corn 100 pound actually 100 pound bag of corn came from or 50 pound bag of corn came from Mike Bristol and he said you can have this if you want it and I went and got malted rye from the home brew shop and that is my first recipe was eighty percent corn, twenty percent malted rye, and mashed and it came off still. Actually this this one was on a little five liter alembic still right that I had bought and I that's the only one one match that I didn't do and that was the one test that I did I mean only one the in that still that was the only mash I ran you know in that still was one time and then I moved to my 45 gallon still that I had built and that first run was September 11, 2011. But that is my bourbon that is my bourbon recipe with one change and the one changes I took out a percent of the malt rye and added a percent of malt barley but so the bourbon that you have sitting there is eighty percent corn 19 percent malt right one percent malt bar like that. And that was my very first recipe so I have handwritten notes in notebooks of of from day one so I can prove it to anybody if anybody's like yeah right I'm like no I literally. And the notebooks are funny because I you know whatever was going on outside of the distillery on that day like my son running cross country or something I wrote it in the you know in the margin, like I got to go to cross country today or you know different things so - it's actually really cool to go back and look at I did the other day looking for something and reading that. You know there was a part in there where it was like I had just got a palette of bottles which was like 1200 bottles and I was at the point selling five cases so 12 pack cases so more or less 10 six-pack case a month and I wrote in there I'm like that's a lot to go it's going to take me a long time to go through that palette and more or less about a year. I've changed that quite a bit now but.
So how did you come about your recipe first and then was there ever a time when you went let me experiment and see if maybe I should alter this or did you just kind of roll with it and say you know what if it ain't broke don't fix it.
So yeah so the bourbon, I just felt that originally the bourbon I started out to make 291 fresh which is an unaged corn whiskey to take place of vodka rum and tequila in mixed drinks to have cash flow in a sense the 80 20 was good but I just felt it needed something on the end and I thought the malt barley would help that so that's why that has a percent of malt barley in there. The rye whiskey is 61 malt rye 39 corn. That is the second recipe it is has not changed. It's based loosely on Thomas Handy which is a high corn rye whiskey rye whiskey so it's like I think Thomas Handy is somewhere around 60 percent but it has malt bar malt barley in it and mine does not but I that was my favorite rye whiskey before I made my own whiskey. And then the the third recipe and that's what I was looking at the other day actually that's what I was reading or wanted to see - is 291 Bad Guy and it's a four grain wheated bourbon and the funny story about that is I was telling the restaurant that they could buy their own barrel you know I'd bottle it for them and they had their own label and it was a different recipe and you know and so I had two restaurants take that take me up on that I told him you know the restaurant tour to show it would take me about six weeks to get a full barrel and so - I had experimented for the Fresh and I did this four grain you know corn 59 corn 29 malt wheat nine malt rye and three malt barley and I ran it and it came off and it was phenomenal white dog. But it it it didn't have it wasn't Fresh it wasn't 291 Fresh and so I'm like this is really good this has got way too much flavor for for clean fresh whiskey you know. And so I put it in a car boy and was going doing my stuff and I was like oh my God it's been five weeks and I didn't make a new mash for that restaurant and I'm I need the cash because I paid half up front. And so I just called him up and said you know I got a whiskey down here to put it in the barrel and come down hammer the bung and so he did and during that he called his son and was like, you know I'm putting whiskey in a barrel with a friend what what should I call it. And his son young three-year-old or something Bad Guy and I wrote bad yeah I wrote Bad Guy on the barrel and a year later because I'm aging in 10 gallon barrels and a year later it came to harvest you know or we need to do a cola first so maybe not a full year. But I talked to him and I'm like so what are you gonna call it and he goes oh I don't know. And I'm like you're not gonna call it Bad Guy he goes no I don't think so I don't think I don't really like that now I'm like I'm like you need to call it Bad Guy. He's like all right
I was gonna say for you you you're a fan of the old West so it seems like Bad Guy is a very appropriate name for something that you would produce
And I live in Colorado I mean come on people yeah yeah so I make Colorado whiskey
So talk about this this idea of Colorado whiskey because I went to I went to Texas and in Texas they're really trying to maybe unintentionally at first but now it seems more intentional that they're trying to create something like Kentucky bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and Texas whiskey kind of has its own personality is that something that that is kind of an intention for where Colorado is going with whiskey or is it just a name right now and everybody's kind of Wild West doing their own thing or.
So Colorado's interesting in that way and with me I did set out to make a Colorado Western whiskey you know. I I'm from Georgia born and raised we raised Tennessee walking horses. I had chickens when I was 12. My dad it was a gentleman's farm my dad had you know 70 had a black angus and and we had 40 head of horses on and off. But we had a farm in Tennessee which was seven miles from Jack Daniels seven miles to George Dickel as well and so I wanted. I lived I had the only Western saddle in our barn and I loved the West I watched all the Westerns as good bait you know like at four and up and I just was like I want to make a Western whiskey that you know cowboy walks in the bar and give me a whiskey and the bartender just you know puts a bottle down you know and and but what is that whiskey big bold beautiful and I you know I'm not traditional but I wanted to stick to tradition in a sense and I love I love Kentucky bourbon I love Tennessee whiskey. Jeff Arnett the past distiller of Jack Daniels he's now starting his own thing I believe dear friend you know I so Colorado let's make Colorado whiskey. What was already happening in Colorado because of the brew breweries you know that were 20 25 years old in Colorado - because of that industry there were a lot of brewers that were looking to make whiskey and and one of them is like Stranahans and so they started making malt whiskey and so. But nobody defined it I think I think stranahans was trying to define Colorado whiskey but that's a hard thing to do legally. You kind of have to make you kind of have to make you know like Jack Daniels kind of have to be making good whiskey for a long time
And have some influence.
Yeah yeah absolutely so there's there's for a while nobody was really I mean Peach Street was making bourbon before Stranahans are about the same time they go back and forth about that about who was first so there was bourbon being made but it was still not a lot of people making and now they're a lot more distilleries making bourbon most of them were working around the the malt barley style whiskey and and I just I was going down that route like because of the Bill Owens book you know Mike Bristol could brew my wash and but I really coming from Georgia growing up on Jack loving bourbon I was like I I've got to also make American whiskey in that way and to me that was an American whiskey where malt barley is more scotch you know style or or Irish whiskey so yeah so. I and then I mashed in and that first that first mash was good and and then my rye was great as well the white dog was phenomenal and I literally mashed in distilled and a month later went to a tasting at Stranahans for the Distillers Guild of Colorado and I actually met who's my distiller now then and I hired him about three years after that. But you know I put my white dog up there and seven guys from Stranahans came with with the Rob Dietrich their head distiller at the time and they tasted my white dog and they're like this is phenomenal and they're like you should you should put this in a bottle and that's why I have two white whiskeys in a bottle because of that. But yeah so it kind of was like okay I'm going down this American whiskey route I kind of was pushed that way and and love it.
So when did you decide to experiment and put Aspen staves now how are you doing the Aspen staves first of all are you are you dropping them into your barrels or how how are you marrying that influence into your whiskey.
Yeah so that's what these barrels are here these are single barrel they. We've popped the bungs on them we take toasted pieces of Aspen and we just put it in a couple of them in a barrel and they sit for about three weeks. And then we harvest it. So you have small batch right there right. So we we've just started last January started marrying thank you started marrying barrels together for our small batch it was just too hard to to harvest a 10 gallon barrel excuse me a harvest 10 gallon barrel cut it to proof in a bottle proof and then bottle it, so we, just efficiency as we grew as a company we started batching, and we take about excuse me 20 barrels 20 barrels a batch and we put them in a stainless tank and then we take these and, these are a little small they're usually a little bigger, and we put them a bunch of them in the batch in the in the stainless for about three weeks and then bottle it so.
Do you toast them is that what you do or do you char them.
Yeah we we have a Weber grill in the back we just grill them up.We use whiskey and other Aspen fresh Aspen as the fire, so we're getting you know the smoke and everything is still Aspen. It's not like we're using charcoal and then and then you know toasting the Aspen over charcoal with lighter fluid you know or grilling fluid. Its whiskey we light it with and all like that okay.
What do you think the Aspen does to the whiskey because you've obviously tasted it before and tasted it after what do you think it does to the whiskey?
Yeah so it's very slight what it does it it pushes our some of the caramel notes to maple a little more maple note they add a little more spice to the whiskey and it adds a little more smoke. People, it it also adds an Aspen note to the whiskey and I only know that because people will taste my whiskey early on and they would just be like you know there's a there's a note there that I can taste and it's really familiar and I don't understand it or whatever. And that was before like they knew Aspen or whatever. And and I'm like are you from Colorado yeah I grew up in Colorado and they're like I'm like you ever been around the campfire and they're like oh my god Aspen campfire and it really comes through you know I mean differently but for different people but yeah. But but I wanted Aspen on the label I was making Colorado whiskey what's more Colorado than Aspen. And and so I sticking to the tradition you know whiskeys are finished in oak barrels with wine or whatever and I thought well why don't I finish it on Aspen what's that like and so I did one experiment loved it and here we are today.
Very nice. Sso I had the pleasure actually last fall of planning a trip through the four corners and I drove through your area and I went down to Royal Gorge Bridge and then down into Taos, New Mexico and across right in the middle of Aspen fall yellow it was gorgeous that entire drive when you say Aspen I immediately get this beautiful picture of of Colorado in my mind so it's a it's gorgeous country around there. So should we dive in and taste a couple of these and and
Yeah I I'm I have I was tasting already a little bit but I have the bourbon with me I can probably get the rye but I know what it tastes like okay we can talk we'll start with the I like your questions more than me
Okay and talk about this bottle a little bit because the first thing I'm gonna say about this bottle is I love the leather look of the label and the shape of the of the bottle I actually had these sitting up on the counter yesterday and the sun was kind of poking through them and just that nice dark whiskey color with just the elegant shape of that bottle and then the the semi-rugged look of the of the label on the front. And this nice little topper that you have here which is interesting I'll have you explain it's like a little wire twist cage over the top of the cork. How did you come up with with that idea?
So yeah you hit all the fine points of what my bottle's about and what what I set out to do. So 291 we'll start there was the very first photo gallery ever in the world gallery 291 Alfred Stieglitz in in New York city 291 Fifth Avenue in 1907 somewhere in there and. So my dorm room in college was 291 I was a freshman photo major found out about the distillery meant to be I mean about the studio of the gallery and meant to be a photographer I have the key to this day and and and then when it came to this the process of distillation and my still remind me of the dark room. So that's where 291 comes from the writing on the label is my handwriting put into a font
Okay oh that's interesting.
That's actually how I write except for it's spaced out worse than you know so I have it in a font where it can be kerned and fixed and stuff like that but and then you hit it on the nose I worked out a pattern that is xeroxed onto that paper to look like leather and I spent time doing that. I design all my labels my art background is where all that comes from. And when I started out I went for a bottle that's very similar to the Taylor whiskey bottle and and Stranahan's bottle it's a very Western bottle like you're right. But everybody had that bottle and I really I knew I couldn't afford to do my own bottle and I knew I literally bootstrapped this yeah the whole thing so. I you know you got to buy 30 000 bottles and it's back then it was a hundred grand I'm like so I stuck with the Stranahans for a while or the the tailored bottle and it's a nice bottle it is but it wasn't as elegant as I wanted and Bruny glass I think it's Bruny somebody came to me with this bottle in a 700 and I was like damn that's so beautiful and they're like you know you need to do a day's production I'm like how long's dates how many are days production they're like thirty thousand so yeah that'll be that'll be a few years before I get that wow but I kept it and waited and got to a point I think I think we've been in this bottle three years. And one day we could afford it and we called them up and they shipped pallets and they shipped pallets to us all the time. And they're I love that bottle it's very feminine with a very masculine whiskey.
Yeah well yeah it's got really nice curves to it it has that it's it's tall statuesque but it it does sort of remind me of a bottle you might see in a Western movie, you know it's not quite as quite as round those are usually you know this is this is a square type shape sometimes when you say Jack Daniels I think does it does a little bit of that square influence come from your growing up with with Jack Daniels?
Yeah I mean maybe what the bottle remind like when I was just before I figured out that it cost a hundred grand to do your own bottle I had designed I took a Macallen top and put it on another bottle I like the Macallan top it's a little shorter it's very similar to that but it's a little shorter and and so when the I was really attracted to this bottle because of that. Because I had already gone through the steps of what I really wanted and so yeah this one just fit the bill and I love it I love it to this day. They drink my whiskey on Ozarks, season three episode three and they don't ever really show the front label, but you know it's my whiskey because of the shape of the bottle.
That's awesome yeah if yeah if you can accomplish that with it with a bottle that's that's great because actually I was watching a right when covid hit they were doing in Scotland a online quiz and one of the parts of the quiz was - they would show you the silhouette of a bottle and you had to guess what type of whiskey it was. And it really drew your attention to the fact that the shape of a bottle really does sometimes it's it's it is its own brand and and it can really well Jack Daniels will tell you that you know they they saw a bourbon advertisement one time in Kentucky that had a square bottle on it and it didn't have a label on it or anything but it was saying bourbon and then it had the square bottle and they said that's Jack Daniels. The square bottle is Jack Daniels so yeah.
I mean yeah like like Maker's Mark you know what that bottle is right absolutely you know without without the wax on it you know what that bottle looks like. So the cage and the cork. The the cork I wanted a natural cork I you know I started out with the traditional stopper cork that like scientists use or whatever and those just didn't fit whatever they sit for a while but and so then I I went to have my own cork made and I designed the cork and they they matched it. And then just lately we've started branding the top of the cork yeah yeah and it's it's a nice cork but that is my design I drew it up and everything and so it's awesome to be able to do that and have that.
It's the only cork I've ever seen with a with a beveled you know from the top of the bottle down to where the actual cork is that it's kind of beveled in.
Yeah the shaft yeah so yeah I wanted the bevel because I wanted it to look like a you know a traditional stopper cork but to make it seal better and all like that the shaft needed to be straight and so that's why that's why I designed it that way. And then the cage the cage is interesting, the cage is a champagne cage but when I was a kid watching I thought watching Western movies but I found out lately that it's not a Western movie that it was in but it's a Little House on the Prairie episode
I think it's called the Longest Day and they are transporting nitroglycerin in a wagon. And it's a really hard day you know they're really sweating and all - and the what the nitro is in glass bottles and it's all wired into the to the wagon so that if there's any bounce it just kind of floats and doesn't jolt because that's it it'll blow up. So when I was making high-proof whiskey I'm like you gotta wire it in somehow and so that's where the cage comes from. And the the cage is it's interesting my dear friend Sam Elliott pointed it out one night at dinner my mother drinks champagne and that's really all she drinks a little my whiskey every once awhile but champagne since I was little that's what she's drinking and Sam like was like the cage wow is that homage to your mother drinking champagne - and I'm like oh not really but that's it you know maybe subconsciously and
So since you've been out West have you have you bumped into any fun stories that you've heard or are there some really cool haunts that you've bumped into out there that kind of have that Old West feel to them like bars and restaurants places to check out when you're out there.
There's a couple not many it's it's kind of interesting because it is the West and I think things get remade and fall apart and people don't protect them as much as you wish they would but there's a there's a bar and I it it's weird because it's in such it's in Silver Plume Colorado so it's on 70 going towards the mountains out of Denver and there's a bar called the Bread Bar and it's this old bar I don't even know what it originally was maybe even a mill flower mill but somebody went in there and it was apothecary for a little while and then somebody bought it from her and and they turned it into a bar and it's open like Thursday, Friday, Saturday I mean you know. And so I don't even know if it's open still now I haven't been there in a while it's a great place to go if they're open. It's this tiny town it's awesome to drive through I mean literally it's it's right off the highway. And then there's a you know there's a few the Stanley has an amazing whiskey bar Stanley Hotel in Estes Park and it's an amazing hotel. So there you know and then the Oxford Hotel Downtown Denver is amazing there's some stuff in Telluride there's a great old hot springs in Gunton Hot Springs that's amazing and Dolores is beautiful there there's old buildings so yeah I try you know and there's a new bar new hotel in Buena Vista on South Main that's very Old West feeling and it's really pretty and modern but old West not kitschy called the Surf Hotel that's amazing. I hope I haven't left anybody else sells a ton of my whiskey the Surf sells a ton of my whiskey so yeah but yeah Colorado I mean there and there's the oldest bar in Colorado I haven't ever been there I've driven by the sign many times. You know and there's some funky little spots. But it's very gold miner-esque yeah a lot of it
Yeah so as you say you're right on the edge of Pike's Peak there your Colorado Springs right.
Exactly yeah America's mountain yes yeah Pikes Peak and yeah and then there's Cripple Creek up there up on going up Cripple Creek and there's gambling there and you know it's it's fun it's a little kitschy but it's fun.
So you have a you have a whiskey that says pre-Prohibition I was checking your website out and you have one that says pre-Prohibition so I always like to get sort of an idea of what people consider to be pre-Prohibition because as I as I started researching whiskey history pre-Prohibition is the time period when they were having problems with whiskey rectifiers doing all sorts of things they shouldn't have been doing and barrels being you know people spitting tobacco in them to get color into them to show that they're aged even though they aren't and and all that sort of stuff. And so whenever I hear
None of that yeah
yeah yeah so you're not spending tobacco in your in in your uh so so so what classifies as a as a pre-Prohibition whiskey?
So I have a dear friend Nate Windham that was bartending in the restaurant next door to me when I started this and before I started it and he's an amazing bartender he's been bartending forever and he can make any cocktail traditional he's he's not great at you saying here just make me something make it up but traditional cocktail he can put it make it amazing the best cocktail you ever had. Best Sazerac, best Old Fashioned tastes like sweet tea and and we were talking and he has incredible extensive knowledge from books he's found on Amazon or whatever old books you know and read about cocktails and all that so and whiskey and so we just came to the fact or or he helped me come to the fact that a pre-Prohibition style whiskey would be something that wasn't aged very long because it was put in a barrel just to be transported right and then and then sold. So yeah some of it got was older you know because it stayed in the barrel as they were transporting it longer distances and stuff like that, but so that's what I went on. And so it is 291 American whiskey it is the it is the bourbon mash bill so 80 percent corn 20 19 malt rye 1 malt barley. We age it now in used 291 barrels for somewhere around about five months and it it just has a very I call it my summer whiskey, I call it my training whiskey, it's 90 proof it's really easy to drink it's really good. But it's different it's not you know it doesn't have the deep caramel notes and and the you know the spiciness of the rye or whatever it it's very you know different, but incredibly good. And so I it also came about for me with Leopold's put out a small batch American whiskey that was light aged and and I liked what they were doing and so I wanted to experiment that way. And so that was probably one of my first experimentations with whiskey was you know just light aging it. And I started out in like 30 30 gallon barrel for three months or something like that not very long.
So what is Colorado like in terms of weather because I would imagine that you're probably don't have very long hot summers but how hot does it actually get. I mean we talk about if I were thinking about I would think it'd be like you've got Scotland in the except dryer but but kind of a Scotland kind of a situation temperature wise maybe in the summer where it doesn't get extremely hot but then your winters are going to be really cold.
You you have you haven't been to Colorado in the summer then, we get we get extremely hot
Do you okay
We do I don't know how many days of the year but we're at 105 wow a few days a year we are in 90 and up a lot of days in the summer long the the difference is is with the mountains and stuff the evenings are usually cooler, a lot cooler. So it's drastic shifts. So it can be you know it can be 90 degrees and then it'd be 75 at night 70 with dry temperature you know no humidity, so it's it's cool and feels good and and the other thing is those 90 degree days or those 100 degree days are hot and you're standing in the sun and you're just sweating, but all you have to do is stand under a tree and your natural you know cooling of your body works. Because the sweat dries off and you you cool. It's not like the south where I'm from you know Georgia where you're just hot and you it doesn't matter if you're in shade or not it it's just hot. You know so we have a lot of swings and and so our barrels shift quite a bit because of that. We are temperature controlled meaning there is air conditioner in the building that we're in now and there is heat but I pretty much make it where when we're working here it's you know temperate so it's 68 degrees about - the guys in the back hate it because they're sweating because they're moving around but us up in front they're a little chilly - but it was really hot this summer for all of us. So but I let it at night drop or go hot I the air gets turned down or turned up or whatever so that it changes so the barrels are moving.
But you age everything yeah right there on site then
Yeah well we do have an off-site warehouse at the moment okay we grew out we we move in January we're going from 7 500 square feet to 12 000 square feet with room to to double another 12 13 000 square feet which will take over in the next couple of years. And most of that's for barrel storage. So we grew out of this probably a almost a year ago and for storage and and bottling and stuff. So we have an off-site storage that's got about 2 000 barrels in it right now. And we'll move January and then everything will be on the same on site.
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Well I've been I've been nosing your whiskey and I and this it's hard to believe that this is the bourbon because there is so much rye coming out of this for me. I mean it's real it's got it's got kind of a sweet herbaly kind of rye thing right out front on it. It's really interesting. And you said this is this is 19 malted rye. Do you think malted rye has a different effect than just standard unmalted rye?
I do it makes the whiskey sweeter in a different way malt rye is a very sweet whiskey we are doing 100 malt right hasn't been released yet but we have it in barrels. And I learned that we did we have an experimental label called the E label yeah so every batch is totally different totally different recipe things like that. And I did do batch three was 100 malt rye and it's incredibly sweet like Werther's Original like you just dropped that in your mouth, I mean it's it's incredible. So that's what I think malt rye does. I think I think raw rye is a little are a lot spicier. A lot of that also comes from this Aspen stave okay the spice just a little bit.
It's interesting because when I nose this I think I'm I'm a scotch drinker also and I love peated scotch and I think smoky peated scotch and so when I hear the word smoky I always think peat. But there's like a heat it's almost like a perceived heat coming off of this whiskey that's that's like a it's a smoke experience. It's really really interesting - very different from from smoky Islay whisky would be.
Just smoke just barbecue but not in the Texas way you know a lot of that Texas whiskey you're talking about and I love Texas whiskey a lot of my friends down there - Ironroot Jared at Balcones the Garrison Brothers I they're making good whiskey in Texas and and it's a it's definitely different which I love. I love that and that's the thing Jeff Arnett you know pointed out to me when I first met him I met him at world whiskey awards he won in 2017 distiller of the year from Whisky Magazine and I met him that night I was there because I the year previous I had won America's best rye first time presented and he I introduced myself because I live or had a family farm right at Lynchburg in Flat Creek Tennessee we got talking and we're good friends he's my age nicest man on the planet and so we he talked about me naming it being Colorado whiskey and trying to help define what that was and and that's because he comes from Tennessee whiskey and I understand that it was nice you know of him pointing that out and yeah just supporting that for me.
So yeah it's interesting because I just went to iron route and talked to Robert Likarish down there he's taken me through and let me taste all these different things and we talked for probably five hours I mean just as going through there and talking about his philosophy and then what they're doing and how they kind of talk back and forth with Balcones and and that whole kind of close knit relationship that those distillers all have down there. And that there are there seems to be a commonality that maybe it comes from the yeast maybe it comes from the corn but there's something that sort of gives Texas whiskey a certain personality but they're all very different. They still, I told them I said the first time I tasted Balcones I went there's a there's a funk to this and I don't know what it is and then I tasted another Texas whiskey and I went oh that's interesting that that same funk is in there and Ironroot I could taste a little bit of that same sort of personality. It's like just this one little thing and you know from from branding that if you can find that one thing that maybe you don't necessarily it's not obvious but there's a perception there's something you come up with it's - back when I used to was doing web design and I used to say you always know a Microsoft product if you if you're around it because there's a commonality in the branding that's always there or Target I can see a Target commercial come on they don't have to put the logo up I can tell by the feel of it that it's a Target commercial. So the same in whiskey if you can find that little subtle something that ties them all together or even in your own whiskey and that's what Robert was talking about he said man that's what I really look forward to as a day when people go that's Ironroot I just taste it I know that's an Ironroot whiskey.
You know that says a lot
Yeah and Kentucky bourbon I mean there's a note in Kentucky bourbon you know when it's Kentucky bourbon you know when you taste something that's been sourced and labeled you know some other state's whiskey and it's been sourced from Kentucky or Indiana you know it's got a sweetness to it it's got it's just I don't know what it is but it you know it's made in that part of the country.And and like my my Colorado whiskey is is nothing like Kentucky bourbon. And it's big bold beautiful it's got a it's got a viscous mouth feel. So you know my one of my things is rugged, refined, rebellious and that's who I am what you know how I drive how I do everything in life, the clothes I wear I mean I you know, my fashion background stuff like that but and I think my whiskey really says that is rugged refined and rebellious and all all those ways and to be able to you know have your whiskey that way and hopefully the state starts you know wrapping itself around that and not tasting like Kentucky bourbon. Because there's some there's some people going and getting recipes or getting consultation from which you should from Kentucky but it their whiskeys they're making tend to taste like Kentucky and you know if you're making in Utah or in Colorado or Texas you want it to taste you know terroir in a sense, from that from that area. And I think Texas does that really well Colorado is not cohesive as much with that I think right now but hopefully it will so yeah we'll see.
Well it's sometimes I think we try to push towards labels and because of familiarity but the question is if you do something that makes a whiskey better but you can't put bourbon on it on the label because you did something that keeps it from being called bourbon is that necessarily a bad thing?
No I mean you know Makers Mark kind of did that you know they have straight bourbon they're they're Makers 46 is you know if you look at the label it says straight Kentucky bourbon finished or something and you know it's that extra finishing and so they have to say it the same with mine where it says Colorado rye whiskey finished with Aspen wood staves. You you know and when you do it straight it has to say that it doesn't it's not it's straight whiskey finished and you can't say and that's all legal stuff - but yeah I mean Tennessee whiskey the same way. But but yeah you want it to taste better or consistency you just don't want to you want to use grain water and barrel yeah you know yeah no coloring no no flavoring nothing like that. Unless you're making a flavored whiskey that's a whole nother story right you know but yeah but I think you know Colorado's been interesting because like I said World Whiskey Awards 2016 I won America's best rye whiskey and then didn't win world's best in 2018 I won world's best but I think in 2017 Laws won world's best rye whiskey and and then 20 I think 2019 they won it I won it in 2018 they won it again and then I didn't win right I mean I'm up like number four or something with the rye in 2020. But there's something going on in Colorado with rye whiskey that we are winning those many that many awards. There's there's something about altitude or something going on and I think the same with with Kentucky I mean with Texas you know Robert and Balcones win those awards all the time with their bourbons. And there's something going on I mean it's also that we're shaking it up you know we're making whiskey that's very different than what they're used to tasting. And so when that when a nice whiskey shows up that doesn't taste like Kentucky they're like what's this. That's pretty good I don't know what it is like anything I've ever tasted but it's good.
What's interesting is that I'm a big fan of rubens and so when I taste this I'm thinking all I'm missing is the corned beef because it it it really has the rye really stands out it I you get... I was trying to put my finger on what it exactly it is that I'm tasting it's like when you bite into one of those caraway seeds in while you're eating rye bread that it seems like that whole experience is there and I even had a little hint of what I would call like a swiss cheese note and I don't know if that just is wow that I don't know if that's just coming through because my brain is saying man I really am craving a a reuben right now. I don't know.
I love reuben sandwiches I love reuben's I mean and I've just lately a year and a half ago started being gluten free because my body is allergic to gluten I learned and I love reuben's so you know I can't have that bread. But so what I do and that gets rid of the rye which is a shame but I take and have french fries and then put all the insides of the reuben on top of french fries and so that that helps satisfy it a little bit and then a little rye whiskey along with it you know I'm good, but I mean we our notes Eric Jett does most of our notes my distiller that I met long ago and started working for me about three years after I had started this and he was I when I met him I was like he's going to be my first hire and he was and he makes all the whiskey now and you know we consult each other and talk about stuff and. But he has an amazing palette but he also has an amazing recall so he can taste something smell it and he can name what he's taste like he just did with cheese and yeah you know and the caraway seed I mean he's like that - he's like I smell you know I mean we joke he one of his tasting notes on something was there's a hint of like a dusty poncho. We're just like okay you're talking dust and I love that and heat - yeah and yeah and it wasn't a bad note but it you know when you when you visualize that you you're like in New Mexico and this guy's riding up in a stinky poncho. But but you know with that you've got to have a little bad with a little good you know you got to have a little of the dirt like you talked about a little of the funk yeah yeah it's got to be there with the good you can make good.
It gives it personality I mean what's interesting about this one is it the the rye is that like I've had Canadian ryse and I think Canadian rye's probably hit too much on the maple side of things they're almost too sweet for me. They some of them lose that bite that I like in rye yours has the bite in it but it's not an aggressive bite it's not like a black pepper hitting you in the in the face. It it's just a nice little zing before it gets to the to the finish. But I was even getting like dark chocolate in there and maybe a little espresso in there. It's really really interesting where that goes and that's what I love is when you find a whiskey that actually tells multiple stories. You can drink it one day it's gonna it's gonna say one thing whatever mood you're in you're gonna pull out that particular flavor and then the next day you're in another mood and you're gonna pick out another another flavor out of it.
Yeah so exactly and I love that about whiskey too and and you you spoke on this a little earlier which is amazing. That people don't know is is whiskeys are like like a good red wine cabernet where you know you open that thing pour it out and you let it open up you know let it sit for 10 20 minutes - maybe not that long I mean but still. It's gonna open up and and a lot of that just sometimes that ethanol will drift away you know all whiskeys are made of ethanol so there is ethanol that you taste and if you let it open up that and all of a sudden the flavors just start coming out of it and it's amazing. I love that about whiskey and people don't talk about that enough. And I also when I'm tasting you know once I finish this you know I've got a lot in there and I it's barrel proof that I'm drinking so I'm not gonna down it, but I don't know I still have a work day I still have a meeting after this if I let the glass dry you know so finish the whiskey and for about 10 minutes I will sit there and smell the glass and throughout those 10 minutes you will smell every note that you ever taste in a whiskey and you at the end the last note you will smell is tails in every whiskey and you can always smell the funk at the end what the funk is there. And and I love to you know teach people that because a lot of times people taste when they're like I don't I taste cherry right that's what I got, you know or caramel I taste caramel oh God I hope he tastes caramel yeah we got a problem. But if you teach them that way then then they you know you get so many notes and people and it just keeps changing every 30 seconds or so and I love tasting whiskey that way so.
That's the first time I've ever heard somebody actually talk about the whiskey changing in the glass as you're drinking it in in Scotland I was told let the whiskey sit in the glass one minute for every year that it sat in the cask and what's interesting is it really if you have a 15 year old scotch and you put it in the glass and you let it sit 15 minutes it really does change...
...a lot and it feels it feels like it's it needs that time to settle in I don't know if it's just maybe the the weight of the whiskey is heavier at that time so it you know the calculation is is that it's going to take a little longer for those oils to settle in or or what that philosophy is.
Well yeah well they make they make old whiskey there so you know it's 6 to 15 minutes and and so I would say more you know let at least let a whiskey sit in the glass for five minutes ten minutes before you ever drink it. Because it's going to open up it's just going to and if you don't believe me you know put you know there's not a lot of whiskey that's a little more maybe half that amount in a glass, set it next to your bedside and in the morning it will have, well at least in Colorado, it will evaporate to it's dry and you know in it I mean. So if that much water is being evaporated out of it you're just condensing the flavors and and the air oxidizes and it just really makes the whiskey better. I mean it can it can go too far. You know you can wake up do this much and you wake up and there's half that much in there and you drink it you're like that's a bomb of wood, I don't want that you know but you can always add a little bit of water back and drink it and it it it's still good you know I mean - it's probably less alcohol and stuff like that but well as you say the other thing I bump into every once in a while is a whisky I have a bottle of Aberlour 12-year I bought at Christmas time and I opened it I tasted it I had gone to the distillery and loved the whisky, tasted it from the bottle I'm like are we just not getting the good stuff over here in the states or or what's the deal? And that's been in my cabinet for almost a year now and when I taste it now I love it! Something has happened to that whisky in that that year that it's been and you know I know the aging process really stops but oxidation maybe the whisky having time to settle down in the bottle after air hits it for the first time I don't know what that is.
And maybe your memory just kind of you know of of that time changed as well and I'm not ou know I mean those kind of things happened you know and I learned that early on I went to Europe in college for summer you know summer school and and there were times we had bad experiences right you know somebody got robbed or whatever and we had a great experience you know year later two years later three five years later we never remember the bad it's just like wow remember italy we should go back you know all. Your brain's really funny about bad experiences yeah it kind of gets rid of them and only remembers the good stuff but yeah we I was going to say that earlier we don't mash in every day yet but when we're mashing in we try not to taste whiskey because the smells and stuff going on really changes your palate really changes what you're tasting so you know and. And Jim Murray's really famous about that like he he hibernates in his house he doesn't cook when he tastes he like for weeks months he doesn't do anything in his house. And you know he won't let anybody come to his house because he's worried somebody's gonna have some cologne on or something like that and and change his his palate. But it’s true. I mean you you can be you your your house smells a certain way and and and I the best way to do this is take a bourbon and eat eat tortilla chips and then drink your bourbon because they're all corn yeah and you won't taste any corn notes in that bourbon and that bourbon will taste totally different.
That's amazing, first time I did that I was like what you know yeah I mean things influence your palate big time I had somebody I had bought a bottle of Auchentoshan 12 which is triple distilled in the in the Irish tradition but it's a scotch whisky and I loved it until it got to the finish it was like this toffee caramel and then all of a sudden it went to this citrus really heavy lemon citrus note and it just clashed for me for some reason. And somebody said well go get some lemon juice a little bit bit on your on your finger dab some on your tongue now drink the whisky see what happens. I'm like no lemon at the end this is great it's like I don't know if it's changing your brain or if it what it is but for whatever is occurring there it's a really cool technique to get that flavor that you're not liking or that you want to avoid and taste something that has it at least has an influence of it and then come back and you know drink the whisky you you want to enjoy.
Auchentoshan I love Auchentoshan yeah yeah yeah I love them good stuff
So well all right so I have to ask this question before I let you go what is since you love the old West and wild West what is your favorite Western movie
oh damn. So it's not a traditional Western movie. My favorite movie I'm not sure if this movie because I'm a very visual person this is a movie and I don't know if the visual in the movie inspired my vision or I just related to my vision. But it is Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Clint Eastwood Michael Cimeno's first movie yeah Jeff Jeff Jeff Bridges or that was one of his first movie bridges yep Jeff bridges is on fire when he steals that Camaro I mean he is the best Jeff Bridges ever. You know that movie I saw I literally saw it when it came into the theaters my mom took me because she lived in California I was visiting her and she's like I'm supposed to go to this movie you're coming and I mean I think I was seven years old. I'm not kidding. But that movie really I love that movie. It's classic it is classic Clint Eastwood and it's very Western but modern or at least at that time was modern and then my favorite actor at all Sam Elliott who okay I met 30 years ago has been is a dear friend Catherine Ross is his wife, she is my wife my mother's soul sister they are best friends we've been friends family friends for 30 years. He drinks my bourbon on The Ranch which is amazing the Netflix show the ranch yeah yeah he's a dear friend I'm I might be in California this weekend and if I am I will have dinner with him which I'm excited about.
So well I have to ask you this question then because I was in radio for for a long time and I remember the first time I ever walked up to somebody who had really deep pipes as as we like to say in radio he just had that really resonant kind of voice that when he talked to you you felt like you were feeling him talking in your chest. Is Sam Elliott that way because he has a really deep voice does he kind of resonate around the room?
His voice is very distinct and and very beautiful but it's not he doesn't talk loud.
He's very he's a very humble man yeah he's a very incredible person incredibly talented and but you know when he turns and goes hey Michael I mean when he does
Yeah it'd be like being buds with Morgan Freeman turns around and says something's you're here like wow
I mean you just it's that but it's Sam he's a dear friend and Catherine Ross amazing woman amaze they're amazing people amazing couple I love them to death and they've been very good to me and my family and but yeah he's been really good to me so we're because I haven't seen 291 in my local stores here in South Carolina how how much of the nation are you covering at this point?
So we are not in South Carolina we are in 12 states maybe 13 soon we might open Georgia before the end of the year hopefully that's my home state but if you go on Distillery291.com 291Coloradowhiskey.com distillery291.com both those you can order and it's through the three-tier but so you can order all our our flagship whiskies you can't order special releases or our E but you can order them and they'll be delivered to your door and they cover 43 states. So there are some states that we can't deliver to through Bar Cart. But but that's the latest that's just been launched over the last couple of weeks but if you're in see if I can name them California Oregon let's see Colorado Wisconsin Illinois Kentucky Texas Florida New York D.C. Virginia somewhere else you can you can talk to your local liquor store. Most of those states Kentucky and and Texas are the distribution is RNDC. The other states that are not controlled states are through LibDib Liberation Distribution they're really great but you can talk to your store and they'll bring us in but the easiest way is our e-commerce on our own site it goes through a three third-party vendor that ships it direct to your door.
Perfect it may take a week or two to get it but yeah yeah.
It's worth the wait.
Yeah it's worth the wait, thank you.
Good stuff well excellent well I thank you
so much thank you hopefully we'll meet in person soon
Yeah absolutely I'm a traveler so I got to see those Aspen trees again
Yeah good I'm a traveler too so awesome all right Drew take care, cheers.
I hope you enjoyed that extended conversation with Michael Myers of 291 Distillery. And I've got more deep dives coming up and also our next Virginia City episode will be coming up soon, so make sure to keep checking your feed during these 12 days of Whiskey Lore.
Whiskey Lore is a production of Travel Fuels Life LLC research and production by Drew Hannush for information transcripts and show notes head to whiskey-lore.com/episodes until next time cheers and slainte mhath.
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