Review: 2023's Pyramid Peak Is The Best Stranahan's Snowflake In Years

It's December, which means the Stranahan's distillery in Denver, Colorado, has released its most highly anticipated single malt whiskey of the year: Snowflake, so-called because no two bottles are alike. Each installment derives its name from a different Colorado "fourteener" peak — mountains with an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. Sitting a mile above sea level and nestled at the foot of the Rockies, Denver has a headstart on claiming them, with 53 in the Centennial State (almost twice as many as second-place Alaska) comprising more than half of America's 96 fourteeners in all.

This year's edition, named Pyramid Peak, marks the first under the auspices of Stranahan's new head blender Justin Aden. He joined the company just a few months back but arrives with the aura of an incoming NFL head coach who's already run the scenarios in his head every waking moment. Pyramid Peak represents Stranahan's 26th Snowflake release since 2011, which means we're halfway through the list of available Fourteeners. The company used to release two a year, but as the event grew, it discontinued the Father's Day releases since the amount of planning required to do even one took up an outsized amount of time.

We made our way to Denver to catch this Snowflake on our tongue before it vanished.

This review is based on first-hand impressions of promotional materials and products provided by the manufacturer.

How much does Stranahan's Snowflake 2023 cost?

Stranahan's Snowflake: Pyramid Peak costs a very amiable $119, considering only 2000 bottles hit the market, with others held in reserve for the brand's archival stock. Those brave enough to camp out and line up may purchase two bottles per wristband, of which 1000 are guaranteed, but past that, it's sometimes worth waiting in standby run-off numbers to see if enough people only buy one. (They didn't.)

Because of the campout requirements to realistically obtain Stranahan's Snowflake, retailers don't send out agents as far as we can tell. If you're parking it for three days to lay hands on a bottle, you're a drinker or collector with the good taste to recognize Stranahan's quality. The only site we found selling it at all? Cask Cartel, where it goes for $200 (a more modest bump than we'd guess), or last year's edition, Humboldt Peak, for $1500 (the number we thought we'd see).

Which brings us to the next problem, the issue you'll run into ... sourcing.

Where can you find Stranahan's Snowflake 2023?

Well, that is the problem. The extremely limited run and the fan enthusiasm making this an event worth doing means you won't find too many speculators and collectors camping out for days just to resell to a liquor store or somewhere on the secondary market. Not even everybody who hangs out in late autumn for a half a week gets to grab a bottle. It took the 1000 folks in line just three hours to clean out the 2023 release, which translates to just 67% of the time it would take even the fastest climber to ascend the real Pyramid Peak.

Your only hope is to make some good friends in Denver who will take you on a distillery tour, or real trustworthy ones on Instagram and Facebook, where such surreptitious and illegal resales take place. If that sounds too risky, may we suggest putting your faith in Aden to repeat this bold debut in the 2024 feat and book some vacation days? Denver's really lovely in December, and you can explore a German Christmas Village when you're done.

Stranahan's Snowflake 2023 tasting notes

First off, it's a lovely red hue. The nose is bright and crisp, with orange and peach keeping it incredibly fruity. There's even a bit of a Luden's cherry cough drop aroma. It gets away from the fruit with a touch of cinnamon and walnut.

Tasting it, oak runs through the tongue in a too-rare balance that really impresses. Stranahan's Snowflake: Pyramid Peak is strong, rich, velvety, and never out of control. It feels like opening up an Audi on a mountain road. That big baton of cinnamon keeps swinging on the tongue. From there it serves up this sparkling grape and more hard candy flavor. The right amount of oak bookends the finish and lingers. It's only upon chewing a bit that you'll pull out a really nice fattiness without overwhelming the balance. The earthiness returns, but rather than more walnut we get a hint of ... bean? My, my but this Snowflake continues to surprise.

If you're not much for innovating tasting notes, Snowflake is sweeter than most without becoming cloying, and similarly tangy without becoming tart. It boasts a smidge of funky umami but only just. It almost feels easier to describe what it's not. For all its richness, its single-malt barley mash bill keeps this tasting more like fine scotch than a well-aged bourbon.

How does 2023's Pyramid Peak compare to other Stranahan's Snowflakes?

While Stranahan's touts Snowflakes as unique and irreplicable, and that's true, our tasting of a few recent editions found they do hew to their base spirit's standardization of brown sugar and a dab of nicotine, then go wild from there.

Pyramid Peak, in contrast, went through an array of finishing barrels and comes out quite sweet and layered. Though still very much a single-malt (as per comparing well with magnificent scotches) and very much Stranahan's, it's a declarative arrival for Aden that pays off, showcasing his expertise and ability to put together something that's both on brand and very much an autographed home run ball from his first at-bat.

Of the half-dozen Snowflake releases we've tried, the 2023 rates as either the best, or tightly in parity with the 2017, and we don't care how much we must drink to make up our minds on the matter. This is the mark of a brand new turn, and it's quite likely that Pyramid will end up higher priced than its brethren, both because it's the first of the Aden era, and it's really hard not to drink all of your stock ... although Stranahan's would probably prefer that you did, after putting in all the work making it.

Is Stranahan's Snowflake: Pyramid Peak worth it in 2023?

If you don't mind the campout — actually the draw for many people — then Pyramid Peak is absolutely worth it. $200 for a bottle like this is a lot better deal than any random airport's Johnnie Walker Blue will do you. Pyramid Peak entices and excites, and you can buy two of them for your troubles.

You do have to factor in the costs of the excursion if you don't live in Denver, and any missed work if you're paid by the hour or project, but if you like sitting around campfires with your friends and like-minded folks, drinking top American whiskeys (there's an onsite bar) and smoking cigars while live music plays, then you might just consider this a free gift with your ticket to the winter whiskey fair.

And hey, if you need any further convincing, the free coffee's really good too.