Remember a couple of years ago when the whiskey world was in a great debate about whether we should drink a whiskey that was sourced from some large, faceless warehouse in Indiana or Canada? At the heart of the debate was a question of authenticity. It’s still a valid question, but there’s not much of a debate anymore, mostly because many of us realized that some of the best American whiskey is being sourced. If these upstart bottlers didn’t buy and distribute this whiskey, most of which is purchased from MGP’s massive supply of booze that’s aging in Indiana, we’d have far less options on the market. And if a company is honest about not producing the whiskey themselves, and if they take that sourced whiskey and do something interesting with it, like aging it in a ship for a year, or juggling it between different second-use barrels, then who the hell are we to complain? And if sourcing whiskey allows a company to make some money while they carefully distill and age their own whiskey, then all the better, right?
At this point, I’m talking specifically talking about High West, a distiller and bottler out of Park City, Utah that can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. High West does a couple of things. Mostly, they source good whiskey from MGP and other distilleries in Kentucky and make it great by aging it further in various second-use barrels. They also make their own spirits, released on a limited basis until they can age it long enough for public consumption. I’ve had the opportunity to taste both sides of the coin, and I can say that the results are impressive, whether it’s an un-aged rye fresh from their own distillery or a blend of bourbons sourced from undisclosed distilleries in Kentucky.
A Midwinter Night’s Dram, which lands in the “sourced” category, is one of High West’s most anticipated releases. If you can find it at your local store, it’ll run you about $80, but people will pay hundreds for this whiskey on the second market; It’s that good and it’s that limited. High West takes their Rendezvous Rye, which is a blend of two straight ryes (both of which have really high rye mash bills) and then ages it further in port and French oak barrels. It’s High West’s annual holiday release (yes, there are seasonal whiskey releases, too), and it’s built for, well, winter nights. The whiskey pours a deep mahogany and emits big notes of caramel and vanilla on the nose. It’s enticing, but there’s some heat there too—alcohol notes that singe.
On the sip, you get that caramel and vanilla on the front end, but then the high-rye content kicks in and delivers pepper and cinnamon to the back of your tongue. Everything is delivered via a thick, creamy mouthfeel that plays Devil’s Advocate to the sharpness of the rye in this hooch. And let’s not forget the second-use barrels, which deliver more spice (from the French oak) and notes of plum (from the port barrels). Put it all together and you have a rather sweet rye, but there’s also a boozy heat that I didn’t expect from a 98.6-proof whiskey. This whiskey plays hot.
I’ve had previous versions of Mid Winter Night’s Dram before and I’ve complained that it was too sweet, but that’s not the case with this year’s iteration. It’s sweet, it’s spicy, it’s hot, it’s creamy. It’s damn good.
Distillery: High West
City: Park City, Utah
Style: Rye whiskey
Availability: Limited, seasonal