Two extraordinary whiskeys from High West Distillery

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When you think whiskey, what’s the first U.S. state that springs to mind?  Kentucky?  Maybe Tennessee?

I’m not gonna lie.  Up until a couple of weeks ago, Utah would have been pretty low on my list.  But not anymore.

I drink a lot of different whiskeys, but it’s been a while since a new one came along and won my heart. 

Yup, there’s a new sheriff in town.  And it’s the High West Distillery in Park City, Utah.

High West Copper Stills - 2.6MBI was first introduced to their whiskeys at the Beer, Bourbon, and BBQ Festival.  I said some nice things about them in that article, but it wasn’t until I bought my own bottles and brought them home with me that I truly understood how remarkable they are.

Night after night, faced with an array of choices from Pappy and Stagg to Templeton and Balvenie, you know what I find myself reaching for?  High West Rendezvous Rye. 

High West is a fairly new distillery, and hasn’t had time to distill and age their own whiskeys.  They do distill their own vodka, but for now, they are getting the ingredients for their award-winning whiskeys from distilleries “back East.” 

I don’t understand what magic genius voodoo they’re doing out there in Utah, but they have blended together a masterful bottle of hooch. 

High West Rendezvous Rye

rendezvousRendezvous is a blend of two straight rye whiskeys with high rye mash bills, rather rare in the rye world.  Bulleit rye, one of my favorites, is also a high rye recipe.  Straight rye whiskeys have to be at least 51% rye, but most are deeply blended with other grains.  Rendezvous, like Bulleit, is primarily distilled from the rye grain. 

In general, I find that a high rye mash bill translates to a strong spiciness and lush botanicals in the finished whiskey.

Rendezvous, in particular, is a blend of a younger rye that has aged for six years, and an older 16-year-old rye.  The younger brings boldness and intensity, while the older gives sweetness, deeply textured flavor, a long finish, and a luscious mouthfeel. 

The nose is primarily cinnamon and mint with a hint of a bourbon-like vanilla quality, fresh apple, and even some unexpected brown sugar and chocolate underneath. 

On the tongue, the rye spice, cinnamon, and mint continue to dominate, with burnt sugar and vanilla present as well.  It is unusually sweet for a rye, with a beautiful clinging quality in the mouth. 

The finish is very long for a rye as well, with rye and cinnamon spiciness and some remaining mint and vanilla notes.

And I can’t stop drinking it.  Not in a “needs an intervention” kind of way, but in a new favorite whiskey kind of way.  At the price point, which is typically in the mid-$40 range, it’s in a league of its own.  There are other whiskeys I like as much, but most of them are nearly twice the price, or more. 

If you (like me) are a fan of straight rye with a high rye mash bill (you would know, because Bulleit Rye would be one of your favorites), Rendezvous Rye is a no-brainer.  Just go buy some.  But even some non-rye-drinking friends have been completely seduced and captivated by this whiskey.  Because of the bourbon-like sweetness, it’s an excellent introduction to rye from the bourbon world.  Just don’t expect any other ryes to live up if you use Rendezvous as an introduction.  Because they totally won’t.

High West Campfire

High West Distillery and SaloonIt’s hard to even talk about anything else after talking about the Rendezvous.  I’m all hot and bothered with my new love.  But the Campfire is so unusual and delightful that it deserves some attention.

Hey, Scotch drinkers, sit up and pay attention.  This one is for you.

Reportedly inspired by a dessert of melon topped with a sweetened Scotch syrup served at the Bruichladdich distillery B&B, Campfire is a blend of a straight rye, a bourbon, and a peated Scotch whiskey.

Yeah, you heard that right.  David Perkins, genius voodoo magician who created these High West masterpieces, is mixing together bourbon, rye, and Scotch.  Crazy talk, I know!

I promise, you have never had a whiskey like this before. 

The nose is intoxicating and mysterious.  There is floral honey and peach, caramel, vanilla, and just a whisper of peat smoke. 

On the tongue, the three flavors almost take turns, with bourbony caramel and vanilla on the tip of the tongue, strong rye grassiness and spicy pepper mid-palate, and the peat coming in towards the end.  By the time the finish hits, the peat is dominant, but it’s still well balanced with fruit and toffee.

Campfire is not as strongly peated as the name might suggest.  The smoke is an accent in a beautiful blend of sweetness and spice.  I would say this whiskey would be a winner with Speyside Scotch drinkers, with its dance of sweetness, fruit, and peat. Midwinter Night's Dram

Another truly wonderful whiskey from High West.

If you have a chance to go to the High West Distillery and Saloon, do it!  Apparently you can ski in, which is cool.  Although I would seriously question my ability to ski out again after tasting as many of their amazing whiskeys as I can. 

At their distillery, you might be able to get your hands on some of their newest creation, A Midwinter Night’s Dram, which is Rendezvous Rye finished in port and French oak barrels.  It won’t be available in stores until the fall, but mark your calendars.  It will be one to look for and will disappear quickly, I have no doubt.  From shelves, and also from my liquor cabinet.


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