"Old Blue" at Black Canyon Distillery
Recently I was asked to give a presentation at the Black Canyon Distillery in Longmont, Colorado. In this instance I wasn’t asked to talk about whiskey, well, at least not directly. Turns out the distillery owners, Fred and Susan Lesnick, knew that I'm a student of the history of the Old West and, specifically, the life of one of the great cattlemen/trail drivers of the late 19th century: Charles Goodnight.
This intrigued Fred and Susan because the Goodnight Trail ran from Texas to Wyoming through Colorado, where it roughly followed a path just west of today’s Highway 25 and just outside the back door of the Black Canyon Distillery.
Goodnight had a large steer named Old Blue that he trained to the yoke at his ranch close to Pueblo, Colorado. Old Blue later became famous as the steer that led thousands of cattle from the Texas Palo Duro Canyon area to Dodge City, Kansas. So, to be historically correct, Old Blue probably did not pass behind the Black Canyon distillery on the way to Wyoming. However, here is the connection:
Susan Lesnick’s father, Raymond (Ray) Leon Renfroe (1918-1989), was a very accomplished western artist and sculptor. He left home at fifteen and became a journeyman blacksmith. When he was eighteen years old, he did a stint building trails, etc., with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Yellowstone, which is where he fell in love with the West and became an avid reader of Old West history.
In one of those history books, Old Blue was described with such a long and exceptional career that Mr. Renfroe believed that this remarkable steer should be memorialized in bronze as an Old West historical icon. So, he created the sculpture. But Susan’s mother told her that he hadn’t seen Old Blue’s horns until the bronze was finished and he was amazed that the horns were so similar. Ray completed Old Blue in 1979; twenty copies were made and most were painted similar to the color of Old Blue. To honor her Dad's memory and his depiction of the great steer, they named their first bourbon offering “Old Blue.”
Old Blue was known to be very strong, but also a very gentle animal. The Lesnick’s straight bourbon can be aptly described in this same way. At 55% ABV (110 proof), it is strong but amazingly gentle on the pallet, with a smooth and long finish. Nosing this spirit, I get definite hints of dried fruit and, yes, a bit of leather.
Old Blue was known to be extremely fond of corn and would have approved of Fred’s mash bill composed of 80% corn followed by malted barley and rye. The whiskey was aged for two years and one day in 53-gallon charred white-oak barrels.
Cowboy hats off to head distiller Fred Lesnick for giving Colorado this very enjoyable straight whiskey. Check them out at www.blackcanyondistillery.com or give them a call at 720-204-1909 to set a tour. Or just drop by their new tasting room for a sampling of Old Blue and, while you're there, be sure to try their Colorado Sour Mash Corn Whiskey and their other products.
Till next time, “Keep the wind to your back and a smile on your face.”