Distillery 291 Barrel Proof Straight Rye Review

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Situated on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado Springs, CO., Distillery 291 is an award-winning, small-batch craft whiskey distillery that 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 started 291 from a 300 sq. ft warehouse he leased. Here he taught himself how to mill and mash grains, how to distil and make cuts, 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. Myers’ initial operation was so small-scale that he was buying 10-gallon barrels one at a time from family-run cooperage the Barrel Mill in Minnesota, using 55 gallon Pepsi drums for fermenters and 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, Distillery 291 uses what they have dubbed the ‘El Passo Process’ where they take secondary stillage from a Bristol IPA beer and add 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.

Released for Father’s Day this year, Distillery 291 Barrel Proof Straight Rye was a limited small batch tasting room release containing some of Distillery 291’s oldest rye whiskey stocks. Limited to just 222 bottles, this was the second release of its kind with a small number of bottles signed by the owner and founding distiller Michael Myers. 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 in heavily charred 10-gallon new oak barrels. The big difference here is that these stocks were then aged for more than 3 years in the heavily charred 10-gallon new oak barrels, no doubt providing a higher concentration of those flavours that 291 have built their reputation on. As with all their other whiskies, this 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 but lacks the typical award stickers that adorn 291 bottles.

291 Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey Barrel Proof Single Barrel 129.7 proof, bold & spicy

Vital Stats:

Name: 291 Barrel Proof Colorado Straight Rye Whiskey – Finished with Aspen Wood Staves (Batch # 2 – Bottle 13 of 734)
Age: NAS (older than 3 years old)
Proof: 129.7 Proof (64.8% ABV)
Type: Aspen wood finished straight rye whiskey
Mashbill: 39% corn, 61% malted rye
Producer: Distillery 291, CO
Website: https://distillery291.com/whiskeys/
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with sweet brown sugar caramel, peppery rye spice, a touch of butterscotch toasted oak, herbaceous grassy notes, zesty citrus peels, and a touch of cacao-forward charred oak and ethanol.

Palate: The palate opens with thick brown sugar caramel, a big hit of tropical fruit, and zesty hop notes, which develop into salted caramel, peppery rye spice, more herbaceous grassy notes, and tannic charred oak as you continue to chew. The spice runs down the sides of your palate as you chew this.

Finish: The finish opens with residual spice and herbaceous notes from the palate carrying more hops-driven citrus notes, and touches of herbaceous spices bordering on being burnt. The warm viscous aftertaste of lychee nut, and charred tannic spice.

Overall

Described by 291 as being ‘Bold & Spicy’, this is a rye whiskey packed with big complex flavours, peppery rye and tannic spices, and those classic 291 tropical fruit and hop notes. It delivers a really enjoyable and interesting drinking experience that’s reflective of 291’s unique style of whiskey in addition to showing fans the wonders contained in 291’s older stocks. Due to these being older stocks, the nose and palate are more complex and less grain-forward than the standard small-batch rye. In fact, when drinking them side by side, you can clearly smell and taste where extended ageing in 291’s deep charred 10-gal barrels has rounded out grain notes with maturity, added deep caramels, and how the charred oak is starting to influence the overall profile. 291’s signature citrus, hop, and lychee fruit notes are also present in abundance and not only add a key flavour dimension responsible for making this whiskey the treasure trove of flavours that it is, but do a lot to balance out a flavour profile that may otherwise be oak-dominant. Drinking this, I’d argue that Distillery 291’s rye whiskies are superior to their bourbon counterparts because the interplay between the rye, oak, and citrussy hop notes makes for a beautifully round profile that has bold flavour depth yet is lightly fruity.

In this day and age, it’s rare to come across a distillery consistently producing small-barrel aged craft whiskey that isn’t a hot mess in at least one area. 291 is one of the few that have cracked the code to avoiding this and have built a proud reputation with their hard work, attention to detail, and unwillingness to compromise on the quality of their product. It’s no surprise that they have won so many awards and 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?

With an MSRP of around $200, this whiskey sits far beyond my $100 ‘buy it!’ cut-off point. At this price, I would highly recommend you source a sample first or even pay 291 a visit and try it from their bar! If you’re a long-time fan of 291 or have visited them personally you’ll know how special a release like this is and wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

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Before you go…

Before you go…

Before you go…

Like you, I’m a whiskey enthusiast. I don’t earn any money from distilleries, their parent companies, or their subsidiaries for my reviews. If you like what you’ve read and want to support this page then why not buy me a dram?

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Your contribution is appreciated and will ensure I can keep this website impartial, operational, and stocked full of new content. Cheers!

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