Recently Boulder Spirits at Vapor Distillery released its 7-year Bottled in Bond American Single Malt Whiskey. I got the chance to visit and talk with Alastair Brogan, Boulder Spirits’ “Chieftain,” to find out about this milestone, as well as two other products that bear mentioning.
Hailing from Scotland, Alastair came to Boulder about twelve years ago with his American wife. They settled their family in Boulder due to its climate, and Alastair, who spent time in the military and then in business, started laying down whiskey. What initially started out as a hobby for him became so much more.
He begins by telling me about American Single Malt Whiskey and how that compares to the rest of the world. First, it goes into new American oak barrels that have been charred on the inside. Scotch whiskey goes into second-use barrels. Under malt whiskey rules, the whiskey must be a minimum of 51% barely, but some distillers will go all the way to 100%.
It’s at this time he tells me that Colorado, which exists in 1 of 5 maker climates here in the US, is on the cusp of legislating a standard of recognition for American Single Malt Whiskey. This would make it like tequila, which can only be made in designated states in Mexico: Guanajuato, Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, or Tamaulipas. It would also give the United States its second proprietary spirit, the first being bourbon. Alastair’s excitement about this prospect is palpable.
With this background established, we move into tasting the progression of spirits offered. The first, aged for three years, contains caramel and notes that I’m familiar with but with that slight bite often associated with drinking a straight spirit. The 5-year smooths out a bit and the depth of flavor and complexity ramps up. Then comes the 7-year. The nose, or smell of the whiskey, feels like I’ve stuck my entire face in a bag of caramels. And it’s smooth. No bite at all. How did this happen?
Alastair loves distilling in Boulder due to the water and the climate. El Dorado water from Boulder brings with it a certain natural purity. Our climate, semi-arid with temperature swings, causes the whiskey to move in and out of the char of the barrels, increasing flavor and decreasing that bite. This process has been going on for seven years and marks that special milestone for Boulder Spirits. But what makes creating a product like this a challenge for distilleries?
First of all, storage. Barrels take up space, and that space is also needed for products that don’t age as long. It’s the Angel’s Share, however, that Alastair claims makes aging a whiskey for this long challenging, especially in Colorado’s dry climate.
History lesson time.
Back when distillers knew only a little bit about science, they would open their barrels and, much to their dismay, discover the barrels were no longer full. Incensed, they blamed the people storing them for pilfering their product. Frustrated, they needed guaranteed honest folk who also possessed the space to store barrels for years on end. Who could they turn to?
Of course, the science known as evaporation found its way into the monastery, so when the distillers opened the barrels, they discovered missing product yet again. The monks quietly and calmly explained that when the angels came down to bless the whiskey, they took their share. Thus, what’s known as the “Angel’s Share” became part of distilling lore.
How much is lost to the Angel’s Share? About 2% to 5% each year. In Colorado that estimate increases slightly. Per year. Imagine losing, at minimum, about 14% of your product from each and every barrel when you age it for seven years. That’s why it’s a major accomplishment and a darn good whiskey. Boulder Spirits managed to get about 1,000 bottles. Being available for purchase in the tasting room only makes it even more special.
But maybe you’re new to whiskey and bourbon and want to engage in an initial exploration. They offer a very cool product in the form of a whiskey sample kit. It contains three bourbons and three single malt whiskeys, plus a map. You lay your product out on the map, scan a QR code, and Alastair himself pops up to take you on a 30-minute guided tasting tour via video.
I also learned from Alastair something that made me a bit sad because I am a huge fan: Boulder Pumpkin King Cordial’s final year has arrived. Made with baby pumpkins from the local Munson Farms, it takes about one month to make. Ready to move on to other things, Alastair offers that they should have it on the shelf until Christmas.
My time at Vapor Distillery comes to an end, and I can’t believe the wealth of information swirling in my head. I also find I’m proud of the Colorado distillery scene and Boulder Spirits for making its mark on the national craft distilling scene. I’m eager to see where it’s headed.