September 2013


Five nights of Family and Friends

Fermentation Tanks at Stranahan's Distillery

Guess what I toured…

So far my trip has been great, with one exception. I made all my tight connections (1 hour in Munich (Schengen to International (to the US on a US Flagged carrier)) and Washington (I had a spare 10 minutes before my flight boarded after completing Immigration, Customs, and TSA)) and the flights themselves were appropriately boring in all the right ways.

The one exception has been in the form of Hertz Rent-A-Car – 50% of my Hertz headaches were not their fault, 50% was a huge mistake on their part. First the part that was not their fault: due to the flooding in Colorado, FEMA and the Red Cross have been renting cars at an insane rate – so I had to wait 40 minutes at their Denver International Airport facility for them to find me a car. Eventually they did – a very cute, nice, blue Fiat 500 that was perfect for the city, albeit slightly underpowered.

In fact, I drove around for two full days before the Denver Police Department issued me a ticket – The ticket was neither for speeding nor for illegal parking. I got a $75 ticket because the car, registered in Texas, did not have the accompanying sticker to indicate that the plates were currently valid.

Thanks Hertz!

Fortunately I was able to swap the car out at a local Hertz office (and they’ve promised to pay the ticket), dealing with a manager who was stunned and amazed that their computer system allowed the car to be rented. I also now know what to look for on a car from Texas to determine if its registration is current. Given his limited inventory, I received a Chevy Cruze, just in time for my first heavy duty highway driving—a swap to a much bigger, more powerful, car.

Beyond that I’ve gone without Internet for the vast majority of my first five nights in the States. My first morning I was in a “mall” with free WiFi, so, while waiting for the shops to open, I glanced at my email on my iPhone – but without my computer nearby there was no way I could start answering emails without going mildly insane. So I banished the thought of email – and immediately began to enjoy my vacation. Most of my time for the first part of the trip was spent catching up with friends and family, which I won’t bore you with other than to say that I had great times.

The two “touristy” things that I did were tours.

Stranahan's Distillery

Stranahan’s Distillery is the first micro distillery in Colorado.

The first was a tour of Stranahan’s Distillery – the first micro-distillery in the State of Colorado. It was actually my third whisk(e)y tour of the year; the previous two being in Scotland. The tour was excellent – and it’s been interesting the compare and contrast the experiences. Both tours in Scotland emphasized the source of the water – natural, nearby, springs. The brand of the water that Stranahan’s uses was mentioned, but it meant nothing to me – it could be water straight from the Denver water supply that’s taken a detour through a water bottling plant for all I know.

Second Still(s) at Stranahan's Distillery

These are the stills used in the second round of distilling at Stranahan’s.

What was emphasized is that Stranahan’s barley comes (mostly) from Colorado and that the charred oak barrels are made just for them – and are used only once. (I think that, in order to be legally called a straight whiskey in the United States, barrels can only be used once.) This stands in stark contrast to whiskey in Scotland, where barrels are used multiple times (and they import used barrels from the United States).

Whiskey after a month

This is what Stranahan’s looks like after a month — clear plastic windows on the sides of the barrels. The pump is used to fill the barrels — I believe our guide said 58.5 gallons (221 liters) to a barrel.

Stranahan’s ages its whiskey barrels for 2, 3, or 5 years and then blends them together into small batches, before a volunteer bottling crew comes (every other Thursday) to bottle the whiskey.

Barrels of Stranahan's Whiskey

The aging of Stranahan’s.

I think that, put together, the three tours have given me a pretty good overview of the process of how whiskey is made, but individually each tour didn’t tell a complete story – and I’m pretty sure that parts of process would be better learned if I went on further whiskey tours. Something I must add to my agenda.

At the end of the tour, there was a tasting of the Stranahan’s whiskey – it’s actually rather nice – and the opportunity to buy. I bought. The whiskey is not, shall we say, cheap – but it is nice.

My second tour of the trip was of the Denver Union Station project, led by Ken Schroeppel, an instructor from the Planning and Design Department at the University of Colorado, Denver. This is actually a tour that I’ve wanted to take for as long as I’ve been reading the Denver Infill blog.

East Side, Denver Union Station

This is the east side of Denver’s Union Station — under restoration. This part of the structure is nearly 100 years old; the north and south wings (not shown) are a lot older.

The Denver Union Station project is part of a plan that’s part public transportation and part infill development on top of what used to be railroad yard.

Track Canopy - Denver Union Station

This canopy goes over the tracks behind (the west side) of Denver Union Station — it’s white fabric is evocative of Denver International Airport’s Terminal.

For the public transportation aspect, a railroad station that used to be a major transportation hub, but in recent years only served two Amtrak trains a day, is being transformed into a hub for public transit in downtown Denver, complete with a light rail station (serving destinations to the west, south, and southeast parts of Denver), a 22 bay underground bus-station, and an 8 platform heavy rail station that will serve Amtrak and a commuter-rail network that will serve the Denver airport, and multiple points to the north. The overall project is called Fastracks.

West Side, Union Station

This is the west side of Denver’s Union Station. The white canopy can be seen in the distance. Below ground is a major bus terminal for Denver’s public bus system; behind is the terminal for light rail traffic, as well as the free “Mall Ride” shuttle that goes along the 16th Street Mall.

The infill aspect means that a formerly desolate area is quickly having apartments and offices, much with ground floor retail, built – people who should not need to own cars because they are living (or working) right on top of the city’s major transportation hub with easy access to anywhere they might want to go.

Denver is, I think, getting this right. It’s amazing to see how people are moving downtown – it will soon have its first full-sized major supermarket in one of the newly built buildings. It is amazing to see that Union Station, which has suffered a mild case of benign neglect for as long as I can remember, is going to become a vibrant, used space, complete with restaurants, a hotel, and public spaces.

Downtown Denver

This building is on what used to be a railroad yard — and is only here today because of the redevelopment of this part of Denver.

Ken, our tour guide, is not officially connected with any aspects of the project, but he’s definitely in the know and well aware of how the construction sites fit together and how the design aspects are supposed to work together. The tour was fantastic – it’s free – but at the end he asks for money that is given to the student chapter of the American Planning Association at CU Denver. I gave generously.

All in all, the first part of my vacation has been perfect—with that one Hertz exception!

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