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 distill 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 December 2019, Distillery 291 Small Batch Colorado Rye is the first bottling of a small batch rye 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 bottles per barrel, 291 instead takes 15 to 20 hand-selected barrels and mingles them together to create a more consistently better rye whiskey that yields considerably more bottles. As with their single barrel rye this product uses 291’s standard rye mashbill of 61% rye and 39% corn, that’s milled on site, fermented in open-top fermenters, and triple 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 Rye Whiskey – Finished with Aspen Wood Staves (Batch # 1 – Bottle 243 of 1185)
Age: NAS (less than 3 years old)
Proof: 101.7 Proof (50.85% ABV)
Type: Aspen wood finished rye whiskey
Mashbill: 39% corn, 61% malted rye
Producer: Distillery 291, CO
Nose: The nose opens robust with notes of soft cherries stewed in deep brown sugar and covered in a touch of baking spices with a strong tropical fruit note emerging as you nose deeper. These sweet notes are rounded out by tannic charred oak, more oak-driven baking spices coming from the back including cloves, leather, and faint citrus bringing a kick of alcohol with the nose becoming increasingly savoury as you continue to nose this whiskey.
Palate: The palate opens viscous with an initial hit of sweet brown sugar syrup before notes of lychee fruit and citrus peel emerge alongside this. These are then quickly followed by a wave of peppery rye which douses the palate in prickling spice, eventually fading to notes of dried red fruit, citrussy hops, and tannic oak that dries out the tongue.
Finish: The finish opens with strong lychee fruit notes and rye spice which fades to cherries before leaving a dry aftertaste of citrus-forward hops and tannic oak.
This is yet another interesting and unique whiskey from Distillery 291. The nose smells amazing, the palate is a kaleidoscope of flavours that dance across the tongue, and the finish ties everything together nicely before you pour yourself another dram and begin the entire process again. Whereas in the Small Batch bourbon those tropical lychee fruit notes are faint in the background, here they are far more pronounced, and no doubt come from their ‘El Paso County Process.’ This process not only adds that flavour dimension that makes this whiskey the treasure trove of flavours that it is, it also does a lot to even-out a flavour profile which may otherwise be oak-dominant and a bit flat due to the influence of the small barrels used for ageing. Like I said before this part of 291’s production process, and the effect on their flavour profile, makes these stand out from their peers and gives their whiskies a unique spin that can only otherwise be found in examples where distilleries have distilled a hop-heavy beer. I would also argue that (from what I’ve tasted to date) Distillery 291’s rye whiskies are far superior to their bourbon whiskies because this combination of rye and citrussy hops makes for a flavour balance that works very well together and gives a beautifully round flavour profile that has both bold flavour depth and yet is also lightly fruity.
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.
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!