Well, 2020 might have been a bit of a bust, but 2022 is already shaping up to be a good year – at least when it comes to local bourbon.
Durango Craft Spirits has two new whiskeys aging – a blue corn bourbon and a single malt – and both should be ready within a couple years, said co-owner and distiller Michael McCardell. The limited releases will join the brewery’s existing Soiled Doves Vodka, Mayday Moonshine and Cinder Dick Bourbon.
Blue corn tends to have a sweeter and nuttier flavor than yellow or white corn, and those qualities actually survive the brewing or distilling process. Quite a few Colorado and New Mexico breweries, including Cortez’s Main Street Brewery & restaurant, produce blue corn-based beers.
The blue corn in McCardell’s bourbon comes from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe’s Bow & Arrow farms in Towaoc. The rest of the ingredients in both liquors hail from Colorado Malting Co. in Alamosa.
The blue corn spirit – which already has a name that McCardell is hesitant to share because the trademark is still in the works –is heavily wheated, with a little bit of rye and a two-row malt, he said. He has put away eight barrels of the bourbon this year and plans to do the same in 2021. Those barrels, by the way, are new American white oak heavy-charred barrels. McCardell prefers heavily charred barrels because they bring out different flavors and add smokiness and a slight hint of cinnamon.
“It’s real fun to work with ... it smells nice,” McCardell said about the blue corn.
He had planned to make a blue corn bourbon even before his distillery opened in downtown Durango five years ago, he said. He was recently inspired to do so again as craft distilleries across the country have started experimenting with exotic corn varieties.
“It’s really surprised me that this blue corn had such a high starch content, which, of course, produces more sugar and produces more alcohol. The taste of it is really a little bit on the sweet side, and it tastes just fantastic,” he said.
In its current unaged and undiluted form (as it sits in the barrels, it’s at a considerably higher proof than that at which McCardell plans to release it), the whiskey is a bit sweet and has a soft, almost pillowy mouthfeel. He attributes this to the wheat in it. The taste is entirely unlike DCS’s Cinder Dick Bourbon.
McCardell hopes the blue corn bourbon will be ready to distribute in early summer 2022.
The single malt, on the other hand, will likely be ready in December 2022. He began making it last year, and in its current, similarly undiluted form, it has a butterscotch-iness to it, at least on the palate.
McCardell plans to make about 500 bottles of the single malt and 2,500 of the blue corn bourbon per year for the foreseeable future. The single malt will be a bit more exclusive than the blue corn bourbon or the distillery’s existing spirits.