Picture a pre-dawn celebration where hundreds of whiskey lovers fueled by spiked coffee and dram-filled donuts are warmed by a convivial spirit that belies the chilly Denver air, and you’ll get a sense of this annual can’t-miss event for brown spirit aficionados.
Each year on a Saturday morning in early December, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey hosts a release party for Snowflake. The cult whiskey's name references its singularity: each “vintage” is aged in different types of barrels no two are exactly alike.
Superfans dubbed “Stranafans” camp out overnight (or longer) to snag one or two bottles, during which they enjoy a festive time of food, music and cocktails.
“It’s one of the most anticipated releases in the American whiskey industry, and there is truly nothing like it,” says head distiller Owen Martin.
Grab a few of your whiskey-loving friends for the spirited trip of a lifetime.
This year’s release of Snowflake will take place at Stranahan’s on December 7. The majority of visitors show up the day before and camp through the night.
“We’ve worked with the city of Denver to ensure we are properly zoned to 130 campsites that will be available on a first-come, first-served basis,” Martin says.
The first 10 sites are 10’ by 20’ and include parking for cars and RVs and are available as early as guests care to arrive – in 2018 that was a full week before the release. The other 120 sites are 8’ by 8’.
Closer to the event, Stranahan’s website will post a full map of the property with line locations and parking information; as the event unfolds staff will share live updates on social media. If you miss out on securing a campsite you can still bring a camping chair and queue up on a closed sidewalk.
What to do while you wait
As for what to do between the time you pitch your tent and procure your whiskey, there are a few options. The Lounge is open Friday, December 6 from noon to 9 p.m.; it’s a cozy spot for whiskey flights and Stranhattans.
“Snowflake Village will be back to keep the night going, there will be a large heated tent, food trucks, a whiskey bar, live music and more,” Martin says.
On Saturday morning, tickets will be handed out to those camping and waiting in line to guarantee the ability to purchase one or two bottles of Snowflake; all members of a group must be present and in line to get the tickets.
Once you have your bottle(s), hit the Merch Shop for swag like nosing glasses, shirts and whiskey stones.
You’ve got your whiskey, now what?
With whiskey in hand, it's time to ditch the tent and visit some of Dever's biggest hotspots.
The Crawford Hotel
Come in from the cold and check into this luxury hotel conveniently located at Union Station. All 122 rooms and suites tell the history of the city’s iconic train station, but the Art Deco Pullman rooms are the most unique – recreating the feel of the sumptuous sleeper cars with a Murphy-style queen bed and vintage train ads.
Kimpton Hotel Born
Also located in Union Station, this elegantly modern property houses an art gallery and has floor-to-ceiling windows in all 200 rooms; suites feature soaking tubs and views of The Rocky Mountains.
Downstairs, Citizen Rail offers wood-fired fare like grilled oysters, mesquite-fired mussels and bone-in smoked short ribs. Even whiskey cocktails touch the flame; the Far From Yokohama mixes toasted coconut-washed Toki Japanese Whisky, benedictine, demerara sugar and Angostura bitters.
This handsome bar in the middle of Union Station buzzes at happy hour and late at night. Nosh on tempura cauliflower and a grilled pressed Cubano while sipping whiskey cocktails like the Wynkoop Sour with bourbon, Cocchi Barolo, Chinato, lemon and pear syrup, or the liquid dessert B.A.N.A.N.A.S., with Bourbon, banana, brown sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and butter fat wash.
Hearth & Dram
Modern saloon meets industrial glam at this Union Station neighborhood bar and restaurant that focuses on wood-fired food and all things whiskey. Its impressive list runs 300 options deep. Order a pour, create a flight or try a potent potable.
Rye drinkers will gravitate to the Diamondback, stirred with Applejack and herby green Chartreuse, while The Modern appeals to Scotch fans, with sloe gin, absinthe, lemon juice, simple syrup and orange bitters. Asian-inspired low-roasted pork belly is a can’t-miss starter and it’s hard to decide between tri-tip, bavette or flatiron steak.
Death & Co.
Just like the New York flagship, this drinks den offers incomparable cocktails in a sleek and sexy setting. Ever-evolving libations are listed in user-friendly headings like “Boozy & Honest” and “Bright & Confident.” The Last Man Standing stirs bourbon with aquavit, macadamia nuts, carrots and bitters, while Honshu Punch refreshes with Japanese whisky, pineapple, lemon and bitters.
With its laid-back vibe, killer whiskey selection and irresistible Southern-inspired dishes, it’s all too easy to while away an entire evening on a barstool. Try house sips like Good vs. Evil, which mingles Yellowstone Bourbon with sweet vermouth, Tempus Fugit Crème de Cacao, lemon juice and Bittermens Xocolatl Mole Bitters, and save room for the unapologetically decadent cheese curds, Frito pie and tacos.