Here’s the Cole’s notes on this whiskey. During a business trip in Colorado, Steve (@park.whiskey) and Travis (@edmontonscotchclub), who run PWS Imports, the agency that has Boulder Spirits in their portfolio, tasted a sample of this whiskey at the distillery. They said “We want all of this.” And we all lived happily ever after. The end.
This tale is mostly accurate. Canada got 700 of the 850 bottles from the cask.
Just like Scotch and single malt brands from all over the world, American Single Malt distilleries and blenders are utilizing cask finishing and peated malt as well. Boulder Spirits is among a handful of brands that have had peated malt expressions from the start.
American peated single malt is a very different animal that the medicinal, briny, Lemon Pledge sort of vibe you get from Islay. It’s earthy and rich, like a campfire in a west coast cedar forest. With Boulder Spirits at least, their expressions are only very lightly peated. It’s more about the smoke than the peat.
Cask finishing is another element that is being more frequently utilized in American Single Malt. Sherry barrels of all types are most common, but I’ve seen Cognac, Tequila and Armagnac used too. And the list is growing rapidly.
The Boulder Spirits Trailhead expression, which is what I have in my glass today, is an attempt to take all of these things and pack it into a single bottle. This is a combination of peated and unpeated malt matured separately for four years in new, #3 char American oak barrels. Both casks were then dumped into an ex-PX Sherry barrel to marry for one more year. It’s bottled at 52.5% abv.
Nose: Scotch drinkers may expect the Sherry cask influence to be present right from the get go. Not so here. Even after a one year PX cask finish, the original cask maturation is at the forefront. Ripe, slightly sour cherries, lots of sponge toffee, a bit of dark roast coffee and a dash of cinnamon. After a while in the glass, the smoke from the peated malt starts to waft out of the glass. Underneath all of this is the undeniable signature of the PX cask. Combined with the barrel char of the American oak, it smells like the crispy caramelized edges of a freshly baked Christmas cake. The darker spices, the dried fruit. It’s all there.
Palate: The entry is like eating a milk chocolate fruit and nut bar. Rich and creamy. The PX cask is clearly asserting itself now. This this is quickly joined by still more raisins and a few prunes. Then the peat kicks in during the development. It’s slightly sour, but doesn’t consume the initial sweetness. Cinnamon, nutmeg and a good dose of clove arrive half way through and slowly build rather than crash in like a wave. The stages of this experience slowly ebb and fade so that one builds upon another.
Finish: Slightly sweet with a bigger dose or sour. Almost like the stuff they sprinkle on Sour Patch kids. Makes my mouth water. Rich cocoa emerges pretty quickly and fades slowly. As I breathe in and out after I have swallowed, that campfire smoke comes back again.
With water added
Much more of the PX cask influence now on the nose. Dark chocolate, raisins, nutmeg. It’s a little bit nutty too. Walnuts mostly. Instead of sponge toffee, I get soft Kraft caramels. The fruit and nut bar sticks around a lot longer now on the palate, resulting in a creamier mouthfeel throughout. The sourness from the peat doesn’t dig in quite as hard either. Nor do the spices. Lighter and creamier overall. The finish is less of the sour and more of the cocoa powder.
Any way you cut it, this is a phenomenal pour. It’s not a Sherry bomb. It’s not a peat monster. It’s something quite different, but incorporating enough from each of those extremes to make this a highly balanced experience. The only exception to this is that I feel like the unpeated malt kind of gets lost due to the peat and the PX cask finish. The sour peat note on the development kind of washes away the unpeated spirit too much. However, with everything else that this whiskey offers, it’s a solid “buy” recommendation from me.