Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey has been one of the great success stories of the nascent micro-distillery movement. Based in Denver, Stranahan's is a fine product with an excellent story, fronted effectively by founder Jess Graber and distiller Jake Norris.
The last time I talked to Graber was about a year ago. I was writing a story for WHISKY Magazine ("Let 1,000 Distilleries Bloom," July 2010, No. 89, p. 14). I asked what he thought Stranahan's would be doing in five years. He told me this:
"Stranahan’s will still be making 'brown' whiskey in 2015. We are 13 months into our new facility and are making 12 to 18 barrels a week. Our goal, in late 2011, is to purchase two new wash stills and a second spirit still from Vendome, which should boost our capacity to about 50 barrels per week. That level of production would maximize the current location. No concrete expansion plans beyond that.
"It will be more than enough if it all falls together. Summer to fall 2011 will also be an expansion of sales territories. We have 14 more states to 'open' and some markets that have been neglected. We are currently in full allocation of 6,000 cases per year. We hope to bolster our national following first and then expand our international presence. Stranahan’s will continue to produce a Straight Malt Whiskey, grow responsibly, and honor the traditions of the world whiskey fraternity."
It sounded like a plan, but something changed. Last fall there were rumblings that Stranahan's was being or had been sold. Jonathan Shikes broke the story in his blog on Westword. I wrote about it here. Shikes got a confirmation from Graber, then nothing. That was 4 1/2 months ago.
This bothers me.
Not the sale itself. Cashing in is the dream of most entrepreneurs. I'm disturbed by the silence. The Stranahan's web site hasn't been updated since December. There is nothing on it about the new owners. The sale is a fact, no doubt about that. Proximo, the new owner, isn't talking either. An unnamed Proximo executive told Shikes nothing will change, which Graber echoed in his statement. That's it.
Most micro-distilleries thrive by forming an intimate relationship with their customers. Their people are accessible, their facilities welcome visitors. They have newsletters, web sites, blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts. They make you feel like you're part of the family. Stranahan's had that and is now squandering it. That makes no sense either for the people who built the place or its new owners.
Something is hinky in the Mile High City.