Tempered Spirits

Homemade Cocktails — Experiments, Critiques & Travels

High West Distillery Whiskies

Yes, it’s time for Part Two of the Southwest Booze Roundup: Yeeeeeee-haawwwwww!!


This second offering comes from the High West Distillery, located in Park City, Utah, just outside of Salt Lake City. No, Matt, Jack, and I didn’t manage to make it that far North. We spent our time in and around Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, enjoying the beautiful scenery and the oh-so-delicious fare found in Springdale. However, me being who I am, I was on constant lookout for new booze and spirits, and during our stay in Bryce Canyon City (essentially a motel and resort incorporated into a city) I spotted some High West Rendezvous Rye sitting on a shelf of the hotel’s liquor counter. I’d heard the name before in some obscure blog post on rye, and immediately went about finding alternate sources that didn’t charge $50-something bucks a bottle. Unfortunately, my undertaking was delayed by the hotel/motel’s pitifully slow internet, and it wasn’t until a few days later that I found that their site actually tells you were you can find their products. Hallelujah!

So, in between Zion and Las Vegas we stopped in St. George and ran into one of Utah’s state-owned liquor stores. Yes, you read that correctly, state-owned. Utterly bizarre and foreign to us Georgians, I know, but there it is. Unbeknownst to us at the beginning of the trip, Utah has, over the years, adopted a set of very odd liquor laws. Not overly restrictive, mind you, but quirky. I cite the following from our trusty Southwest USA Travel Guide by Lonely Planet:

  1. To drink anything, even a beer, at a restaurant, you must order something to eat (Workaround? $1 chips and salsa)
  2. “Taverns” or “beer bars” serve beer, and only beer, without food, and it can only be up to 3.2% alcohol by weight…but not by volume, so you gain a few extra percentage points (3.2% by weight ≈ 4% by volume).
  3. “Bar” bars, food-free, are counted as clubs and require “membership,” asking that you pay what amounts to a cover charge to get a membership card (not many of these exist outside of Salt Lake and Park City). **Note: this law has now gone out of effect, according to David Perkins of High West.
  4. Only one ounce of liquor can be poured into a cocktail (!). Additional alcohol is served as a “side car” and poured in afterwards (I don’t know how High West deals with this in their restaurant, which seems to serve cocktails, and good ones, at that).
  5. A second container of alcohol cannot be placed on your table until the first is finished (though I imagine this is frequently violated).
  6. All liquor stores are state-owned (Oh Hi extra revenue!)

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful place with friendly people, but these laws are kinda funky. Enough said, time to move on to the tasting.

I picked up their Rendezvous Rye, Bourye (an interesting bourbon-rye hybrid, a la the jackalope), and their Silver Western Oat Whiskey, passing on their vodka offerings. I did not, however, get these spirits at any reduced cost (all three hovered around $40-50 for a 750 ml…ouch, but c’est la vie, and I was determined, and this was a vacation, dangit)In talking with the gal at the liquor store, I found out that their bottles are apparently hand-made in Mexico, marked with the distinctive High West horseshoe logo. I also found out that if you store them in a car trunk in Vegas in 100°+ weather, funny things happen and they leak. Don’t worry, I lost less than a 1/4 ounce from the aged whiskies and none from the silver…plenty left over, and they made it through the airport.

The Rendezvous Rye is very similar to Russell’s Reserve 6 year, perhaps a bit smoother and deeper, with more spice, and it is excellent. Top-notch, with little-to-no alcohol burn on the way down.

The Bourye, aside from being hard to say and type, is very good, and comes out much like you think it would: as a spicy bourbon. Very smooth and drinkable, if you like bourbons, but I find myself wanting a bit more of that classic rye kick.

The Silver Western Oat is truly interesting stuff. The spirit on my shelf that is closest in character is Catoctin Creek’s Mosby’s Spirit, a clear, unaged rye whiskey, but the two are almost completely different animals. Almost. The Silver Oat tastes distinctly of oats, of course (think granola), and Mosby’s and the other Catoctin spirits taste distinctly of rye grain. However, there’s a certain amount of un-aged alcoholic funkiness going on in both whiskies that links them in my mind. Also, I would say that the Silver is smoother, perhaps rounded out during the distillation process. Check out the review on Drink Spirits, which seems to have a low opinion of this “white dog” whiskey, but be sure to read the posted comments, especially the response by David Perkins, High West’s proprietor.

In short, all three are highly recommended, so get yourself some small-batch booze next time you’re in Utah. I’d like to get to Park City someday, since High West’s restaurant/bar/ski lounge looks like a great place to warm up in the winter months. In the meantime, however, their massive list of cocktail recipes will have to mentally transport me there. These guys are doing really interesting stuff in a really professional, high-quality way. The total package is just, well, magnificent. Oh, and extra points for great website design! On another note, I spotted a bottle of High West’s 21-year Rocky Mountain Rye resting on a bar shelf at the Vesper in Las Vegas, and was sorely tempted to order a glass, neat, but I didn’t think my bank account or the financial area of my brain could handle the shock. Alas, it seems to have been a missed opportunity.

Finally, thanks to our server (if I could only remember her name!) at the Bit & Spur Saloon in Springdale for asking her friends about the High West Rye. If it weren’t for her, I would have never double-checked their site, remaining whiskey-less and wandering through the badlands of the southwest.

Wait a minute, what’s this!? High West liquor in ATLANTA!? HURRAH!!

This is what happens when you don’t pay attention on the internet. Go here and look for your nearest store. If you’d like to try their Silver Whiskey, Rendezvous Rye, Double Rye, and 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan, check Mac’s in Midtown. Numerous other bars and stores around here carry their stuff. Well, it takes the uniqueness of my purchase out of the equation, but I got mine in Utah, so it still counts as a souvenir. Now I have more whiskies to try! Before doing so I’ll be taking a glance at Drink Spirits’ Double Rye Review (most likely my next High West purchase) and their Barreled Manhattan review.

UPDATE: September 16, 2011 — Brad Kaplan of “Thirsty South” got a chance to taste High West’s upcoming spirit, OMG Pure Rye silver whiskey at Quality Wine & Spirits’ Holiday Show. He also recommends their 21-year Rye (“…simply spectacular”).

Photos by IJL.

5 comments on “High West Distillery Whiskies

  1. David Perkins
    September 1, 2011

    Hi Ian,
    Thanks for the kind posting. I get google-notified whenever there’s a High West post. Kinda cool. Actually…awesome post! Glad you came to Utah for vacation and better yet found the local quaff. Too bad Utah has the bum perception of goofy liquor laws. Looks like the Lonely Planet info is a bit out of date so I wanted to update a couple items:
    1) “To drink anything, even a beer, at a restaurant, you must order something to eat (Workaround? $1 chips and salsa).” I think the law says you have to “intend” to have something to eat!
    2) “The membership,” requirement: Yes, we had a great Governor before the current that was clever enough to get rid of this one which did nothing other than irritate Utah’s guests (our #1 industry is tourism). In fact, he’s a pretty cool guy (John Huntsman) and is running for President now. He won’t make it for this run as its really a warm up for the next one.
    3) “Only one ounce of liquor can be poured into a cocktail”: that got changed too. You can get a 2.5 ounce drink max. The goofy rule is that no spiritous component can be larger than 1.5 ounces. So when we make a Martini, we may use 2 brands of Vodka.
    4) All liquor stores are state-owned (Oh Hi extra revenue!): yes, we are one of 13 control states. Fortunately this doesn’t mean you pay more than in other states (in general). It does limit selection however Utah’s control does a pretty good job.
    Other than that, I enjoyed your post. Glad you liked our stuff. I actually grew up in Atlanta and went to High School at Northside and Henderson. I am coming home to see my parents the weekend after Labor day. I was hoping to pull a tasting event together and if I do will let you know. It would be fun to say hello in person. Best regards, David Perkins (david@highwest.com)

    • IJ Lauer
      September 1, 2011

      Thanks, David. the Google notification is very cool, and yup, that edition of the guide was from 2009, and things appear to be changing quickly out there in Utah. I was wondering how y’all managed to put together the great cocktail menu with the ounce limit, but now I know. I’m in the Lawrenceville-Suwanee area. A tasting would be fantastic! Cheers!

  2. ThirstySouth
    September 16, 2011

    Hi IJ, this is Brad (not Jason) from Thirsty South, thanks for the shout out! First time seeing your blog, looking forward to following it.

    • IJ Lauer
      September 16, 2011

      Terribly sorry, Brad! I corrected the post just after writing it , but not quickly enough, it seems. Don’t know where the “Jason” came from : )
      I’d seen your site a while back, then forgot about it completely until looking up a few things on 13th Colony today. Love the photos.

  3. Pingback: High Times at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic | Tempered Spirits

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This entry was posted on August 31, 2011 by in Bourbon, Rye, Spirit Tasting, Spirits, Whiskey and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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