For all of you whiskey lovers or for folks who like unique small batch booze, add High West Distillery and Saloon to your “must try” list. What makes High West unusual? You know what they say about location, location, location, well they are in Utah. No, Utah is not the first place we think of when we say distillery, but High West lays claim to Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870. And you can ski to it. Yes, it is the only ski-up gastro distillery. Located at the bottom of a ski run and next to a ski lift, you can add a whiskey and a small meal to your ski outing. Tasting Pour might have some recommendations concerning whether you should imbibe before or after ascending into heights of thinning oxygen, but you are a grown up and we won’t tell your mama.
Even if a trip to Park City, Utah is not in the plan, High West Distillery and Saloon has some widely distributed cool concoctions that you can pick up at your liquor store or try at your favorite bar. We found an opportunity to taste at a local restaurant where the General Manager just happened to be from Utah (another sign we should plan a trip?) and is a big fan of High West. We decided to try two of High West’s most popular whiskeys – Double Rye and Rendezvous. Double Rye, as you would guess, is a blend of two rye whiskeys – a 2 year old that is 95% rye and a 16 year old that is 53% rye and 37% corn. We found the Double Rye to have a bright top note and a definite sweetness from the corn. Flavors such as cinnamon, cloves and vanilla added complexity. The alcohol was a bit fiery. Tasting Pour would definitely be interested in picking up a bottle for some cocktail experiments.
Kieran Walsh, High West’s Whiskey Apostle, explains “Double Rye is for the casual whiskey drinker looking for a quality whiskey suitable for drinking and mixing while Rendezvous is for the whiskey enthusiast.” We agree. Rendezvous has every bit of the slightly bitter, spicy bite you want from a rye whiskey. It is unique in its class because of the high rye content. To be labeled “straight rye whiskey” requires a minimum of 51% rye. Rendezvous far exceeds this requirement. It is a blend of a 6 year old whiskey that is 95% rye and a 16 year old whiskey that is 80% rye. Because of extended aging, the alcohol is dangerously smooth. The flavors are broad and complex, layering ripe banana and vanilla with the rye. Rendezvous is definitely one to sip and savor.
These are two very different renditions of rye whiskey. The example we were given is if you like English peas you will like Double Rye. Sweeter, less complex, lighter flavors – makes sense. For lima bean lovers, the earthier flavors of Rendezvous are the ticket. We like both English peas and lima beans and both whiskeys. (Don’t worry you do not have to eat your veggies to drink High West!) We did try them both with food – quail and savory waffles, a high end take on chicken and waffles- were a hit with both rye whiskeys, especially Rendezvous. Okay, we admit we like lima beans a little more.
Look also for 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan. This is not your grocery story line cocktail premix. This is Double Rye, Vermouth, and Angostura Bitters aged in a barrel. It is kind of a nod to the late 1800’s when people did not mix cocktails at home but bought them from the in-house bars at hotels. Hotel guests would often ask for the popular Manhattan to go. To save time the bartenders would mix batches in advance. They noticed a more complex, richer result when storing in barrel vs. bottle. “But we can mix our own rye Manhattan at home,” we protested. “Yes, but do you have a barrel?” retorted Kieran. Um, well no. Kieran goes on to explain that Vermouth changes the ph of the cocktail allowing an infusion of extracts from the wooden barrel that would not happen with the whiskey alone. Three months in barrel makes a richer, smoother mouth feel. He says his dad too was a skeptic but now asks for a bottle every time he is in town. We wonder if this smooth cocktail in a bottle is a little dangerous. At least stopping to mix the cocktail slows you down! This would be great for a dinner party – a ready to go quality cocktail that doesn’t draw you away from your guests. And it comes with a good story . . . It is named 36th Vote because Utah positioned itself to be the 36th vote needed to end Prohibition. Yes, Utah, who would have thought.
Visit High West Distillery and Saloon’s site for more of their interesting whiskeys, cocktails, and great history. If anyone tries the very smoky and aptly named Campfire – the world’s only bourbon, rye, scotch blend – let us know what you think.