Looking for a real Whiskey Row Denver experience? I’m not talking about a simple restaurant that happens to serve a few whiskey drinks…yawn. I’m talking about a real 3 block area in Denver Metro where you can experience the largest combined whiskey inventory in the state (and one of the largest in the nation), PLUS, there’s even a nearby whiskey distillery. The answer to where to find the best Denver whiskey bars is in Olde Town Arvada.
Arvada Olde Town is home to the largest and best Denver whiskey bars. They have an inventory combined of over 2300 different types of whiskeys. Not only do they have the rarest of rare whiskeys to try, but they also have barrel-select bottles that are unique just to their bars and pallet.
I don’t think many people know just how unusual it is to have this big of inventory in such a small area, which is exactly why I’m introducing you to it! But first – let’s start with some basics.
What is Whiskey Row
Whiskey Row refers to a block-long stretch in Louisville Kentucky from 101-133 W. Main Street that once served as home to the bourbon industry. Now, many places around the US call themselves whiskey row when there are a couple of whiskey establishments in close proximity. There are also restaurants that have taken the name too. However, the only place you’ll find a real whiskey row in Denver (and all of Colorado) is in Olde Town Arvada where you have Bluegrass Bourbon Lounge, Schoolhouse Restaurant, and the Stockroom Speakeasy all in a 3 block radius.
What is a Barrel Select Whiskey
Upon visiting the Olde Town Arvada whiskey bars, I heard a lot about the Barrel Select bottles, so I set out to learn more about this elite whiskey purchasing process. The first thing I learned is that Barrel Selects (also referred to as barrel picks) are the latest trend in American whiskey – it’s basically a way to get rare whiskey to the masses.
Typically, a whiskey like Woodford Reserve, is made from thousands of barrels combined together and proofed down to 90 proof so they can sell to bars, restaurants, and shops. However, each barrel is like a snowflake, each different in its own way due to the barrel aging process. That’s why serious whiskey bars generally want to be able to choose their own barrel instead of just getting the ‘standard blend’ because they trust their own palette. People who pick barrels generally have a very advanced pallet for whiskey; they know what they want instead of letting someone else make that choice.
Therefore, a barrel select is when a whiskey expert tastes the bourbon straight from the barrels and selects which one they like best. Then they buy the entire barrel (normally around $10,000) yielding 160 to 200 bottles depending on the length in the barrel. Effectively this makes their bottle of Woodford Reserve completely unique to them – a whiskey unicorn.
Finally, they put their ‘stamp’ (aka special label) on the bottle making it completely unique to the owner. This really is an investment in the best whiskey, and pretty typical of people building up a whiskey collection or top whiskey bars.
Denver’s Whiskey Row – Sip the Best Whiskey in Denver
I’m gonna say it – the Best Denver Whiskey Bars are in Arvada. Each of these whiskey bars has its own ‘lane’ that they specialize in and they seem to co-exist comfortably with each other only a block apart. Yet they do have one thing in common, they are all led by some of the top whiskey experts in the state. These are the true whiskey geeks, the people in the know, strategizing how they will get the best and hardest-to-find whiskeys in their collection.
I like to think of them as the ‘Whiskey Mafia’ in a way – just because I’m weird that way and love the idea of these experts all sitting down around a big table smoking cigars and talking about their respective businesses and their favorite whiskeys. Yes, I have a great love of the Godfather movies.
They don’t consider each other competition; they are allies and I loved hearing how they all worked together giving each other tips about what to try and how to find hard-to-get whiskeys. They are even talking about coming together one day for a Denver whiskey event…fingers crossed that happens!
All of Arvada’s whiskey experts are knowledgeable and passionate for building up Denver’s best whiskey collection. They are excited to turn you on to things that you didn’t know existed if you want them to, but if you already know your stuff and simply want to come in and enjoy your favorite, that’s fine too.
Schoolhouse Kitchen and Libations Has Denver’s Largest Whiskey Inventory
Schoolhouse Kitchen and Libations is home to 2,100 bottles proudly displayed on their floor-to-ceiling shelves in their bar. This is one of the largest whiskey inventories in Colorado and it’s still growing. The Schoolhouse already is a unique place to visit, a restaurant and bar created in an old schoolhouse building (built in 1882) with an intense (but fun) school theme. However, my school never had a whiskey collection…that I knew of at least!
When you enter – just look high up on the wall above the bar and you’ll see an old gym scoreboard, and that’s where you will see the number of bottles of whiskey they currently have. They also may have a secret stash in the ‘principal’s office’ that they save for special occasions – shhh.
Be prepared to be modern and look at their inventory via QR Code online, as Beverage Manager, Andy, told me that it was too hard to keep up with the paper ‘whiskey bible’ any longer as it had to be changed too often. That’s a good problem to have! Andy has been busy building up that whiskey inventory from 475 bottles when they opened in 2015 to 2,100 in 2022. This includes anything that falls under the whiskey umbrella; whiskey, bourbon, rye, scotch, and moonshine.
Is There Such a Thing as Too Many Whiskeys – No!
I can see how it would be easy to get overwhelmed as a customer who is just trying to figure out which whiskey to order – but you’ve got knowledgeable Schoolhouse bartenders who can help you narrow down your choice based on flavors you like and your budget. In fact, sometimes in a whiskey bar that has a plethora of rare bottles like Schoolhouse – it’s good to start with what your budget is and then narrow down from there! The key is to not be shy and provide them as much info as you can about your taste and other drinks you like to help them start to narrow down from 2,100 to that 1 that you will love.
And if you want to start out with baby steps, then ask the bartender for a whiskey cocktail (hint – they make many cool riffs on the Old Fashioned) and have them choose a whiskey for the cocktail that meets the flavors you like. You will have those whiskey flavors in the background but you’re also having sweetness; you have dilution. That will help complement the whiskey, and make it a little bit more approachable. Soon you’ll be on your way to one of Andy’s favorite whiskeys – the Elijah Craig Toasted – it has a sweet approach to it with a little bit of marshmallow and dark chocolate flavors.
- Whiskey Wonderland: Ugly Sweater Party and Whiskey Tasting – Get ready for an ugly sweater party like no other! Schoolhouse bar opens up its doors to 15+ whiskey suppliers and you and your ugly sweater can do tastings of all of them. I hear it’s a pretty raucous time.
- Whiskey Advent Calendar – The month of December means a chance to come in for a different 1/2 priced 1 ounce pour of whiskey every day until Christmas! Check out their advent calendar online and see which ones you want to try.
Whiskey Recommendations from Schoolhouse
Elijah Craig Toasted
Redemption Wheated Bourbon
Jefferson’s Ocean Aged At Sea Bourbon – Aged on ships traveling around the world. I of course love the travel theme on this one!
Double Eagle Rare – one of the best pours around…and its in very limited quantity, which means $$$
Bluegrass Lounge Pays Homage to Kentucky Bourbons
Owners Sheena and Drew Gordon have a strong tie to Kentucky; Sheena grew up there in the heart of bourbon country. It was her dream to bring that Southern Comfort culture and Kentucky bourbon here to Colorado. They opened Bluegrass Coffee and Bourbon Lounge in Olde Town Arvada, perfectly positioned across the street from the new RTD rail system making it even easier for people to get from Denver to Arvada, walk a few feet, and order an excellent bourbon!
The Bluegrass has built up an elite group of bourbon experts that attend the Bourbon Classic event in Louisville and regularly go to barrel selection events in the region to pick out unique barrels just to be served at Bluegrass. One of the managers who regularly does barrel picks, Josh Schwartz, likes the high-proof impurities of a barrel select whiskey. “I love it non-chill filter, which means generally most whiskies, they chill it, forming globs in there and those the impurities are taken out. And I liked those characteristics. I liked the crack in the Liberty Bell. That’s a characteristic, so for me, I don’t want them filtering out some of that good stuff.”
Buy a Barrel Select Bottle
During COVID, Bluegrass came up with a great way to keep their employees paid – they started selling their bottles of rare bourbons. These bottle sales continue today – so if you want to pick up an entire bottle of your favorite Bluegrass Lounge Barrel Select – you can!
Bluegrass also has a special whiskey highball machine at their Candelas location. A whiskey highball is simply whiskey soda water and lemon peel – it’s a super refreshing summer whiskey drink. I went to check out the highball machine and see it in action at Bluegrass. It dispenses the whiskey and soda together and the real perk is that the club soda is poured at about 30,000 psi – that’s 40 times more carbonated than a typical soda gun at a bar can dispense. It’s so carbonated that a penny can float on top of a glass. This makes the whiskey highball even more light, crisp, and refreshing! It’s worth a trip to Western Arvada to check it out for yourself! Plus, this is a great ‘whiskey gateway cocktail’ for you to start drinking whiskey if you are new to the spirit.
Bluegrass Lounge Whiskey Events
Bluegrass has a pretty epic event and music lineup at their Olde Town location, but they also make sure that they are staying true to their Southern charm and bourbon roots by holding Whiskey Wednesday each week. Whiskey Wednesday classes are a low-cost way to get educated about different bourbons. Typically, a distillery hosts the event and treats it as a way for customers to become familiar with its brand. It’s sort of like wine tasting at a liquor store. But in a much more relaxed and fun atmosphere with pizza, garlic knots, and patio seating! It allows people to try out different whiskeys from a brand and find distilleries that they like as well as provide a bit of overall whiskey education.
I attended one recently led by Buffalo Trace, the longest continually operating distillery in the nation, and was impressed with just how much I learned and was able to taste in their lineup!
You can see the lineup of upcoming Whiskey Wednesday Events here – Cost $25
Whiskey Recommendations from Bluegrass Lounge
Deerhammer Barrel Select (this is a Colorado distillery!)
Woodford Reserve Barrel Select
Hogback Eclipse Barrel Select
StockRoom Speakeasy and Spirit Wines Provisions
Walk through the Spirit Wines Provisions (SWP) bottle shop and ask someone to “help stock the shelves” – and soon you’ll be let into an inner lair of whiskey and cocktails. Stockroom may be known for its cocktails and nod to prohibition-era mixology, but it too has a pretty hefty inventory of barrel select whiskeys. In fact, more than half of the wall of bottles behind the bar is whiskey. I consider it a cocktail bar with a whiskey problem. Oh, and they also have a bit of a bitters fetish too. The entire bar is lined with bottles of bitters – 160 to be exact making them the biggest inventory of bitters in Colorado.
This secret bar that started during the pandemic has gone from ‘can we survive?’ to thriving. They have built up a whiskey inventory that includes rare cask strength barrel picks. Like the previous whiskey bars, the owner Casey simply had a love of whiskey and was able to turn that love into a liquor store first and then a bar where he could share it with others. He and his wife first opened the Spirit Wine Provisions bottle shop buying a large inventory of whiskeys, and then took it one step further when he opened the Stockroom speakeasy where he could create a cool environment to share and drink rare whiskeys and inventive cocktails.
When asked why he loved whiskey so much Casey replied,
And take it from me, Casey (as well as the entire bartending staff) love to talk about whiskey and cocktails – this is their jam.
Don’t Forget the Whiskey Cocktails
They have an elite mixology team that makes the speakeasy experience even more special. I find it fun to simply sit at the bar and watch them. Every single thing they do from the ice they use to the way they shake or stir something has a purpose in the drink. Even though they have a fabulous cocktail menu that changes frequently, don’t be afraid to go ‘off menu’ and put these bartenders to the test! Tell them what foods you like, flavors, citrus, liquor, and even how you are feeling emotionally – and they can whip up a creation made just for you.
If you want to try something fun and new try the Whiskey Daisy. It’s a refreshing take on the whiskey sour that I tried while I was there. It’s whiskey, bitters, and Orgeat (an almond and orange flower water syrup). For those of you into home mixology – the unique thing about the Stockroom is that if you like a drink like the Whiskey Daisy – you can buy the ingredients out front in the liquor store and go home and make it yourself! In addition, they sell all of their rare bottles of whiskey and myriad of bitters in the front liquor store too. During my recent visit, I walked out with a new bottle of bitters and a bottle of Rye – ready to recreate some of the cocktails I had at the bar.
And remember, this is a speakeasy – it’s pretty unassuming as it’s just a door in the back of the liquor store. If SWP is open, just ask to “help stock the shelves” and you’ll be let in the Stockroom. However, if the SWP is closed, then just look to see if the neon blue key sign in the window is lit. If it’s lit, then the Stockroom is open. Ring the doorbell and wait until someone comes and lets you in. Then be ready to slow down and stay a while enjoying inventive whiskey cocktails and some unique whiskey pours.
Stockroom Whiskey Events
Casey holds whiskey tasting events monthly where he walks you through 4 blind pours helping you understand the nuances of each and answer questions. You can find out about them on their social media primarily. Their Facebook page is also a great place to see when he gets in new whiskeys too!
They also hold mixology classes for private groups where you learn to make 3 cocktails and tips on mixology in general.
Whiskey Recommendations from Stockroom Speakeasy
Wild Turkey 101 Rye
Evan Williams White Label Bottled in Bond
Smoke Wagon Single Barrel
But Wait There’s More Whiskey – Talnua Distillery
Not far from the whiskey row establishments in Olde Town, Talnua Distillery is yet another whiskey experience in Arvada. Instead of collecting whiskeys, they are making them. The name Talnua is born of the Irish-Gaelic words ‘Talamh’, meaning ‘Land’, and ‘Nua’, meaning ‘New’. This cleverly describes their passion for bringing an old-world style of distilling to the new land that is America.
You would think that every ‘first’ in whiskey has been taken by now. But somehow Talnua Distillery snagged the title of first single pot still distillery in America. I know what you are thinking – what is single pot still distilling? Contrary to what you may think, it has nothing to do with the equipment you use. Whiskies are defined by the grains that you include in them, not the pieces of equipment. Pot Still Whiskey uses raw barley and that’s what makes it unique.
Single Pot Still Whiskey Distilling
This style of whiskey started in Ireland and by definition needs to be at least 30% raw barley, at least 30% malted barley and you can use up to 5% of other specialty grains if you would like to, but that last 35% has to be raw. So essentially 95% of your mash bill has to be barley. The raw barley generally brings more spicey notes to the whiskey. However, raw barley is inherently a little bit oily and kind of coats your mouth. But triple distilling the batch puts it in a sweet spot where it’s velvety and creamy.
Take a distillery tour at Talnua and learn about all of the history of how pot still whiskey came about in Ireland, and how it nearly died out. Its history includes tax evasion, the potato famine, and competition with Scotland – some real exciting stuff!
But how did pot still whiskey end up in Denver? Megan and Patrick Miller long shared a love of whiskey and had their honeymoon in Ireland where they first learned about pot still whiskey. They continued to go back and study it intensely with the goal of opening their own distillery in the US.
The Talnua whiskeys are aged in a variety of barrels; bourbon, port, white oak, and Pineau des Charantes casks. Taste them all and see what appeals to you. And if you take a bottle home, be sure to check out their website for cocktail ideas for each of their bottles.
This is a fairly small operation; I saw the owner putting stickers on the bottles by hand! It’s new to Colorado, but it’s growing like crazy as they are looking to expand. I’m pretty sure they won’t be putting stickers on by hand much longer!
You can do tastings of all of their whiskeys, take a distillery tour, sip cocktails at their cozy bar, and enjoy the patio. I recommend the inventive Elote Mexican Street Corn Old Fashioned cocktail. Yes – there really is corn in it and even a husk chili syrup!
Talnua is the perfect addition to the Whiskey Row in Olde Town. And you’ll find Talnua Whiskey in each of the bars mentioned above. It’s one big happy Arvada whiskey family!
Talnua Distillery Events
Become a member of the Triskelion Society and get first rights on new bottles, limited releases, and special events. Membership also gives you the chance to attend bottling parties!
Basking in their Irish traditions, Talnua holds a big event for St. Patty’s Day as well as Halfway to Saint Patty’s Day! They block out the whole parking lot, put up a big tent, have live music and fun cocktails. See more on their Instagram Channel.
I learned more about whiskey from these Arvada experts than I ever did on my trips to Whiskey Row in Kentucky! I loveed how Casey from Stockroom boiled it down to the beauty of simplicity. “Whiskey is simply a few very basic things in the world that are then put together and left to age in a barrel. From that comes an incredible industry of flavor and entertainment.”
If you too are bitten by the whiskey bug, then skip the gimmicky places that title themselves a whiskey bar or whiskey row and just come to Olde Town Arvada and have experience the Denver whiskey bars. See how it’s made at Talnua Distillery. Train your palette for the big barrel selects at Bluegrass. Marvel at the floor-to-ceiling library of 2,100 whiskey bottles in Schoolhouse. And finally, stop at the super-secret and sexy Stockroom and help stock a few boxes in exchange for a whiskey cocktail nightcap.
I was a guest of Visit Arvada while doing my whiskey research. However, all opinions expressed here are my own.