The Romance of the Saloon

291 Small Batch Colorado Rye Whiskey

Depending on your perspective, Michael Myers may be a Canadian actor, a disgraced Pennsylvania politician, a former outfielder and current scout for the Arizona Diamondbacks, a British songwriter, or a fictional character from the Halloween series of slasher films. Failing that, he might be a former New York City fashion photographer with a passion for whiskey and an admiration of the old West.

Along with many others, Myers’ life was permanently changed by the 9/11 attacks. He relocated to the Colorado mountains and founded his distillery in the shadow of Pike’s Peak, building his original still from the copper photogravure plates he once used to capture models and landscapes. He released his first whiskey on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and today produces ten expressions using grains from the Colorado plains.

In choosing Colorado, Myers intentionally placed himself in a tough league. The state’s craft spirits scene is booming, spearheaded by brands such as Stranahan’s, Leopold Bros., State 38, Breckenridge, Bear Creek and Laws Whiskey House. Despite the stiff competition, 291 hits a nerve, winning more than 150 awards including nine Liquid Golds from Jim Murray’s Whiskey Bible, World’s Best Rye in 2018 by the World Whiskeys Awards, and (most recently) American Craft Distiller of the Year.

Michael Myers of 291 Colorado Whiskey
Michael Myers of 291 Colorado Whiskey

A good introduction to the 291 portfolio is their American Whiskey ($50), a pre-Prohibition whiskey distilled in a copper pot still and short-aged in toasted American white oak barrels for five months. Pale tan in color and bottled at 90 proof (45% alcohol), the nose exudes a saline quality reminiscent of Scotch. The comparison initially holds up in the mouth, but a profusion of fruit flavors in the mid palate fleshes out the texture and makes it pleasurable to drink. This light whiskey lends itself to a number of interesting infusions (the website recommends an Earl Gray tea infusion as part of a Myer’s lemon cocktail with yellow Chartreuse, lemon, lavender syrup and 291 House Alpine Liqueur).

At the opposite end of the spectrum is 291’s Small Batch Colorado Rye Whiskey (61% malted rye, 39% corn, $75), aged for over a year in heavily charred American oak barrels and released at 101.7 proof, or 50.85% alcohol. The intense nose yields aromas of stewed fruits, baking spices, pine sap and vanilla. It explodes in the mouth with strong herbal flavors and notes of peppered citrus. As one reviewer put it, “You can hear the saloon doors swing with this one.”

In between, 291 makes several expressions of Colorado bourbon as well as unaged whiskey, the aforementioned citrus clove (alpine) liqueur, and an award-winning experimental series. All of it explains Myers’ transition from a 300 square-feet warehouse to his current 28,000 square-feet, state of the art facility.

Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His first novel by him, Friend of the Devil, has been re-released on Amazon in print, e-book and audio book formats. Has America’s greatest chef cut a deal with Satan for fame and fortune?