A Conversation with 291 Colorado Whiskey’s Michael Myers


February 16, 2024

Michael Myers square

Fresh Off a ‘Brand Innovator’ Award, Colorado Distillery Keeps Looking to the Future

By Kevin Gibson

The journey Michael Myers began more than a decade ago may not be near completion, but it’s definitely found an upward trajectory.

Fresh off the whiskey brand he founded, 291 Colorado Whiskey, winning Brand Innovator of the Year for 2023 from the Icons of Whisky, Myers was in Kentucky and sat down with FredMinnick.com to talk about that journey, where it is currently and where it is headed.

“It’s just incredible validation of what we’ve built,” Myers said of winning the award. “It’s validation of my team and how hard they work for 291.”

And this isn’t exactly a mega-distillery we’re talking about – making winning such an award all the more validating. Starting 13 years ago when Myers, a former fashion photographer in New York, designed his own still and built it out of old copper photogravure plates.

After moving to Colorado Springs, he designed his whiskey based on what he learned from videos and reading material, essentially teaching himself how to distill and blend the kind of whiskey he wanted – and that whiskey he envisioned was something rugged. Something big. Something born of the American west. And that’s what it has continued to be. As Myers puts it, when making whiskey, he envisions something that an old west cowboy might have swilled in a saloon.

And even aside from that original still – which is still in operation – Myers sees his former and current careers as being intertwined in a way, creatively and otherwise.

“The darkroom and distilling for me are very much the same thing,” Myers said. The difference is that he was well studied in photography when he became a professional. As for whiskey, one might say he knew just enough to be dangerous.

“When I came to whiskey, I was not going to not know what was right or wrong, just, ‘Does it taste good? That’s what I did,” he said.

His first batch of 291, a bold rye, immediately received acclaim upon its release. It took tasters by surprise, one might say. Awards began piling up (look at almost any bottle of 291 Colorado Whiskey, and it is likely to be adorned with awards stickers).

And while many fledgling whiskey brands start by sourcing batches to bottle and sell, 291 was making its own liquid from the word “go.” There’s at least one very good reason for that.

“I never knew about sourcing,” Myers said. “If I had sourced my whiskey, it wouldn’t have been so unique. I’m grateful for that.”

Finishing every expression on Aspen staves for a smoky-meets-maple burst, 291 now features a variety of varying expression lines, from the extra-bold Bad Guy line to the “E” or Experimental series that toys with mash bills and experimental finishes.

And that first rye, he said, was unique and delicious even as white dog – pre-aging, pre-Aspen. He and those who tasted it could immediately tell it was something different.

Myers recalled: “I tasted it and I said, ‘That’s good – to my palate.’ So, I take it to a friend, and he said, ‘Damn, that’s good,’ and immediately made a cocktail. A white Manhattan. It was a phenomenal drink. I realized I was on to something.”

As part of experimenting with that initial product, he poured some white dog into a mason jar and added a few Aspen staves. He knew it would make the whiskey extra woody but was curious to see what other elements it would impart. Then came the spice and smoke.

“The American palate has changed over the last 20 years to where we are eating more spicy food,” Myers said. “That’s where I thought my whisky being spicy would be good for more people.”

The distillery began in what essentially was a 300-square-foot basement. It now is housed in a 26,000-square-foot, multi-still facility that is designed to continue expanding production.

Asked if he has any other interesting innovations in the works, he pauses briefly and confirms he does – but that he isn’t ready to divulge just what that might be. He does say he has a “blending idea,” but that’s as far as he would go.

However, after a few minutes, he produced a bottle that he essentially identified as a prototype, a whiskey that is destined for market. He asked that the mash bill remain undisclosed but did say that it was a four-grain wheated rye. Yes, a wheated, rye whiskey.

A taste confirmed to me that Myers isn’t kidding when he says he likes his whiskey bold. At 122 proof, this prototype whiskey, which should hit shelves later this year, is a burst of smoke, maple, dark fruit and myriad other notes and flavors. And yet, somehow, it’s surprisingly approachable, even at such a hefty proof point, softened perhaps by the wheat. The plan is the new expression will be an offshoot of the aforementioned Bad Guy series, and it will be called – you guessed it – Good Guy.

It’s a fair bet that Good Guy won’t be the end of Myers’ experimental journey. The whiskey will continue to be born of the same vision, just with variations. But don’t expect a straight bourbon finished in sherry casks anytime soon. Those whiskeys are everywhere.

“I know what I like and what I don’t like,” he said. “I also think about it in the way of everybody. So, my first experiment is still the bourbon we make today.”

Photos courtesy of 291 Colorado Whiskey