Whisky Connosr

High West Whiskey

By Jason Pyle

When it comes to blended whiskey, America’s a mere babbling babe compared to its Scottish and Irish brothers. There is however a new breed of blender pushing American blends forward. High West Distillery and Saloon, located in Park City, Utah, has become the primary innovator in the space today.

High West proprietor, David Perkins, left a successful career for a “redo” in the whiskey industry. After working closely with such bourbon giants as Jim Rutledge, Master Distiller at Four Roses, David set out to open High West. The distillery’s objective was to make their own distillates for ageing, which they are doing quite well. The first aged release will hit some time later in 2012.

When it comes to blended whiskey, America’s a mere babbling babe compared to its Scottish and Irish brothers

In the meantime, Perkins was itching to put some unique products on the market until the distillery’s young whiskey was deemed ready. High West decided to follow a model similar to Compass Box Whiskey Company– sourcing and blending selected whiskeys. This move proved quite successful for the distillery. It was one of the first to capitalize on the rye whiskey boom that emerged over the last 3 years in the United States.

Many of High West’s whiskeys consist of straight ryes, blended to form what Perkins describes as “something better than the sum of their parts”. My favourite High West whiskey to date has been the Rendezvous Rye. It’s a marvelous blend of 16 and 6 year old rye whiskeys.

After a relatively quiet 2011, High West has even outdone itself with the distillery’s upcoming release, Campfire Whiskey. Some of you Peat Hounds out there might see where this is going. Campfire is a blend of the following whiskeys: • A Six year old bourbon distilled and aged at Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI now Midwest Grain Products). • A 5.5 year old rye whiskey distilled at LDI, and aged in the upper floors of the famous Stitzel-Weller Warehouses in Kentucky. • An 8 year old peated Scotch whisky from the Scottish mainland is the final whiskey mated to these Americans.

David Perkins is not at liberty to enlighten us on the origins of the peated whisky based on agreements (understanding rather) with the source distillery. I can live with that. What is important is High West is the first American Distillery to produce a blended whiskey containing peated Scotch, proving nothing is off limits for these guys.

Recently I was able to taste the three final blends High West was deciding on for final release. Each brought different elements to the table, but the one that will be released May 4th weekend was the fruitiest and brightest of the three. For the record, I preferred the peatiest of the group, but enjoyed the chosen blend immensely.

Is this a one-and-done or the start of a global blending trend? Not sure, but I am not surprised that some renegades from Utah have done what nobody before them have. I am looking forward to seeing where this goes. I hope you are as well.

TASTING NOTES: High West Campfire Whiskey: The nose opens up bright and fruity with honeyed golden fruits, toffee, and well integrated hints of peat and smoldering wood. The palate hits quickly with honey, dried fruits (golden raisin and apricot) and vanilla up front. Vibrant, zippy wood spices and smoky peat add interest and complexity. The finish is fruity with lingering notes of….well, campfire

Jason Pyle has a website at www.sourmashmanifesto.com