The customers aren’t the only ones excited for each new bottling. “Stranahan’s Snowflake is my favorite project because I get to color outside of the lines and experiment,” Dietrich says. “Each year it’s a challenge to ‘out-Snowflake’ the last, and I believe this Crestone Peak spirit is unlike anything else out there right now.”
Over the years, Stranahan has engendered a devoted following. Many drove or flew across the country to get here, and the same group of people can be spotted at the front of the line for every release. In the case of this release, Russell Cowden, a Snowflake veteran, is heading up the line, followed closely by another one of the usual suspects, Marcus Wulf. Cowden traveled from Grand Junction, near the Utah border (about a five-hour drive over the mountains), and got to the distillery Thursday afternoon. He’s been waiting in line since then.
But no time in line is too long, no temperature too cold for these “Stranafans.”
“This is an amazing whiskey,” Wulf says. “It’s some of the rarest whiskey in the world. They start sales by 8 a.m. and they end sales by 10 a.m.—that is something special.”
In the years that Wulf has been coming, he’s spent over $2,000 on equipment specifically for the event. From coveralls to a high-quality tent to a propane heater, he’s slowly added to his gear every year. “We’re the hardest of the hardcore—that’s what we call ourselves,” he says. Cowden, too, has amassed quite the arsenal of supplies.
“I was the first one to bring a tent, a heater, food to share with strangers. I invite the first 10 or so, or as many as can fit, into my tent to stay warm,” Cowden says. “Because once I was out here for 18 hours in negative 18 degrees. It was the coldest and I set the record for the longest wait—that was difficult. It’s worth it, though.”
Dan Ryan, an aerospace engineer from Colorado who arrived at 1:30 in the morning with a few of his coworkers, agrees. “Snowflake is the best whiskey in Colorado, if not this side of the Mississippi,” he says. “It’s good stuff, it really is. Every Snowflake is worth it. It’s worth it when we sit around at one of our houses. The eventual enjoyment is worth the hours of extreme cold.”
But some people in line might not even get to drink the spoils of their time spent shivering and waiting. Charles Wren is in line to surprise his brother with a bottle for Christmas. “My oldest brother in Chicago told me he would pay me if I waited in line for him next year,” he says. “When I learned it was this weekend, I packed up all my camping stuff and came here as a major surprise.”
This willingness to stand in the cold for someone else isn’t so surprising when you consider the other reason why people come here to wait and freeze, and wait and freeze: good, old-fashioned camaraderie.
“We make friends and we meet people. Marcus and I met here,” Cowden says. “The top 20 is made up of the same faces, people who are passionate about this camping trip—and that’s what I call it, a camping trip. It is about more than just the product in the bottle—which is fantastic—but this waiting for a day and a half to get the first bottles is really about the community.”