Nestled just east of the Rocky Mountains and a short drive northwest from Denver, Colorado lies the city of Boulder, where I was born. The backdrop is breathtaking and actually served as the opening scene for The Shining. It’s a hiking and nature lover’s paradise, home to Colorado University, is a burgeoning tech hub and has a thriving research community, particularly in the field of meteorology, my profession.
My parents came to Boulder by way of Libya, where they were working as ex-pats at the time. My dad as a teacher at Benghazi University and my mom as a secretary. They met on the tennis court and got married shortly after. In 1969, Gaddafi came to power and my parents fled to the USA, settling in Boulder shortly after.
Just as my parents came to Boulder seeking a new life, so did Boulder Spirit’s owner Alastair Brogan. After wearing a few career hats, he took the plunge and came to Boulder, along with his family and a copper pot still. Over the last few years, his distillery has been making waves both in the media and among bourbon and single malt enthusiasts alike.
In their bourbon expressions, they have been turning heads with their unique mashbill of 51% corn, 5% rye and a whopping 44% malted barley. This mashbill has led to their whisky’s unique flavour profile and sits between a traditional bourbon and a single malt. It’s really unlike anything out there and is a terrific gateway for single malt drinkers who want to dip their toes into the world of bourbon.
Sitting in the glass today is the Boulder Spirits Sherry Cask finished bourbon. This was aged for 2-3 years in #3 char virgin American oak barrels before being finished for at least six months in ex-Oloroso sherry European oak casks. This is bottled at a very healthy 47% or 94 proof.
Nose: This has such a unique nose. The high barley content gives me those malted cereal notes that I love in young Scotch and Irish whiskey. On the traditional bourbon/virgin oak side of things, I get lots of sponge toffee and a hint of cherry. The sherry cask finish has definitely pushed that to the background. The combination of European and American oak gives me a very Christmas cake vibe. Cinnamon and allspice predominately, but also a touch of nutmeg, ground clove and even ginger. After some time in the glass, a very rich vanilla bubbles to the surface. Plums and raisins from the sherry cask finish round this off. The nose is promising a lot of what the pallet will hopefully offer.
Pallet: The entry can only be described as a gooey cinnamon bun with raisins and a generous slathering of icing. Counterbalancing all this rich sweetness is the virgin oak, which makes it’s presence felt straight away. The oak influence usually doesn’t make itself known until the development, but that’s not the case here. This is mostly dark toffee and deeply toasted peanuts. For it’s age, this is very oily and mouth coating right from the start. The oak spice from both casks again helps to cut through the sweetness during the development. Smacking my lips to let in air gives me more toasted peanuts and a little bit of orange zest. As the development progresses , I get cooked down plums and even some dark chocolate.
Finish: This is surprisingly long for it’s age. Fading oak spice and dark chocolate predominantly, but that orange zest introduced during the development carries through the finish and counteracts the drying sensation of the oak.
With water added…
The nose becomes spicier with quite a bit of citrus mixed in. It’s drowning out quite a few notes that I got without water though. More than anything it’s transformed the nose into a slightly more traditional bourbon. The entry and development are much more oak forward. The increased oak influence from the ex-Oloroso casks makes for a spicier and drier development and reminds me far more of a sherry cask finished scotch than a bourbon. The finish is longer and a little more bitter with water.
If you are a fan of sherry matured or finished Scotch, you’ll be a big fan of this with water. If you love bourbon, I would probably recommend that you sip this neat. But, by all means, do try both. They deliver quite different experiences.
Let’s talk value. In Alberta, which is the only place in Canada this can be found at the moment, you’re looking at a price point of about $85 CAD. This may sound expensive, but you should consider two things. First, Boulder Spirits, like most craft distilleries, are not a high volume operation. Costs are higher. Also, good quality ex-sherry casks don’t come cheap these days.
Ultimately, if you decide to purchase this, you’re buying into an experience that really can’t be found anywhere else in bourbon today, which is a fascinating intersection between an ex-sherry cask finish and a unique high barley mashbill. Trust me, it’s worth the plunge!