Category Archives: High West

High West – Valley Tan batch 3 (43.5%)

highwestvalleytanThere’s an arms race going on in the world of hot peppers. Most people have heard of the ghost pepper by now, the former hottest pepper in the world according to the Guinness Book of World Records, but since 2007 four others have taken the title, the latest contender winning the title in 2013… the Carolina Reaper.

What makes the Reaper so hot? Well, in normal chili peppers most of the yellow capsaicin is in the white, fleshy “fins,” otherwise known as the placenta. In superhots such as the reaper, the veins that hold the capsaicin grow all over the inside of the flesh and not just the placenta. The flesh is also rolled around and folded so the actual size of the pepper is misleading. In a normal pepper, when you remove the seeds, you take out most of the spice, but there’s no such shortcut with the Reaper. It’s everywhere.

I can tell you… this shit is HOT! Worse, it tricks you. Once you start chewing, the unreasonable amount of oily capsaicin takes a few seconds to settle and connect with your wet mouth flesh, so at first you say to yourself, “Naw, this isn’t that bad. It’s actually kind of good!” Then it makes you look like a complete idiot. It slurred my speech, destroyed my concentration, and the morning after it proved something I never really believed in all my years of loving spicy food: hot in, hot out.

So, now that you just learned something really cool, let’s talk about something really dumb: this whisky. This whisky is dumb. Really, really dumb. I would rather try to eat an entire Carolina Reaper than cough up another $60 for a bottle of this garbage. I’m kind of sad that somebody burned a shitload of fossil fuel to bring this to me.

Inside the Carolina ReaperHaving tried a lot of fantastic whisky from the Utah based distillery, I can’t see how any sane employee there would think selling this was a good idea. It’s not like they have terrible taste in whisky. On the contrary, their rye whiskies are some of my favorites. How did this happen?! I can’t even bring myself to repeat the bogus story they sell this crap with so I’m going to truncate it.

The Mormons who settled Utah had all kinds of crazy ideas: like how men should have as many wives as they can manage; Native Americans were from Israel; magic underwear; black people are cursed by god; and Mormon whisky, if it tastes anything like this, was delicious. I could go on… but I won’t.

Nose: Oof! Wood. Like a freshly sanded floor in a house made, finished, and furnished entirely of wood. Even adding bitters and citrus-y syrups can’t overcome the stomach wrenching wood. It smells like someone took a whisky that wasn’t quite ready and then cut it with a whisky that definitely wasn’t ready.

Palate: I wasn’t sure it was possible, but it tastes woodier than it smells. It kind of reminds me of Kansas Spirit whisky, except, you know, more terrible and not nearly as sweet. I kind of wish they advertised with a similarly douchey campaign as Kansas, because at least then I would have had a laugh, too. If you can choke down the wood, there’s some buiscut-y flavor… like a biscuit made with sawdust. If you really dig, there’s an indiscernible fruitiness I can’t quite put my finger on.

Rating: RiskyIn one sense, this whisky has a lot in common with the Reaper. There isn’t a whole lot you can do with it that everyone will love. In fact, only a certain subset of people who like chili peppers or whisky will try to grow or acquire them, and an even smaller set will actually enjoy them more than their less infernal cousins. In a historical sense, this whisky was interesting for about ten seconds while I thought about how this was designed to taste like the booze of antiquated Utahn society. As a repeatable commodity, both seem kind of dumb, with the chili being a little less so. The rest of my Reapers will be mixed in with friendlier peppers and enjoyed in moderation, while the Valley Tan will sit on a shelf undisturbed.

I’ve read rumors about the next hottest pepper coming up… the HP56 aka Death Strain, roughly 50% hotter than the Reaper or almost 1,200 times hotter than a mild jalapeno. I can’t imagine how much hotter that is any more easily than I can imagine how much worse High West’s next dumbest whisky will be. I don’t plan on trying either… but then again, if I know anything about myself it’s that I’m curious to the point of extreme stupidity.

High West – Rendezvous Rye (46%) batch 13H27

Rendezvous RyeToday I bid farewell to this block of High West reviews by reviewing the other blend of straight rye whiskies in their lineup, the Rendezvous Rye.

This company is doing great things. Their transparency, while not all encompassing, is still refreshing and quite a bit more honest than most of their whisky sourcing competition. I’m very interested in seeing how their house-distilled, oat and rye stocks turn out. Hopefully, they’ve laid down a strong foundation to bottle from and we’ll see some exciting stuff somewhere on down the line. In the meantime, I’m as excited to try any other blended or sourced products they choose to send to market.

This Rendezvous Rye is, like the Double Rye!, a mix of Barton and MGPI straight rye stocks. The MGPI component is now 6 years old instead of 2, but still the classic 95/5 mashbill. The Barton stock is still 16, but pushes the rye in the mashbill from 53% up to 80% with the remainder evenly split between corn and malt. The lack of corn sweetness plays out in a much bolder, spicier expression. It’s grittier, with more herbs and resin; a very sturdy spirit with a fearless streak.

Nose: Darker, much spicier and not nearly as sweet as the Double Rye! Potatoes and flapjacks served by an old lady who’s wearing a lot of perfume. Batter fried ether. Sun beaten saddle leather smeared with sweet potato pie. Granite boulders brought to life by Bob Ross, living under happy little pine trees. Charred apples and mint. Smacks of sage, rosemary and cocoa powder.

Palate: Slightly bitter and ethery, opening up to brown butter sauce as you forge on. Charcoal pencil. Pickles and sweet potato pie. Bolder than the Double Rye. Grilled candy apple, charred around the edges. Powdered potatoes with dried herbs. Cooling finish that leaves your tongue and gums a little numb and lights a little fire in your chest.

Rating: RecommendedWhile the Rendezvous seems truer to the spirit of the grain, I can’t help but miss the slightly younger, cheaper Double Rye! It’s a hard act to follow. This one is more expensive at $45-50 and has more of a chemical signature to it, though it’s a fine rye none the less.

Thank you Katie Flanagan for High West for the bottle!

High West – Double Rye! (46%) batch 13H01

High West Double RyeDouble Rye! Shazam!!!

The official title includes the exclamation point but they should have included two more because this stuff is awesome!!! High west does a great job pairing whiskies from disparate sources to make unique products, but in my opinion, all of their blending skill culminates in their rye line-up. Maybe they were lucky and found some extra delicious stocks, but then again, maybe they’re just awesome at blending. I would lean towards the later. Either way, everything about this bottle is stunning.

The whisky is a mix of 2 year old and 16 year old straight rye whiskies. The younger of the two is LDI/MGPI’s 95% rye. The more mature stocks are 53% rye from the Barton 1792 Distillery which used to get funneled into Fleischmann’s. The rest of the mashbill in the 16 year old is corn, making it sweeter and fruitier to contrast the enthusiastically youthful MGPI. It’s the best of both worlds; spicy and sweet, young and old, bold and reserved, yin and yang.

At its average retail, $35, I would buy this up before it goes the way of Black Maple Hill, being filled up with higher priced, mediocre stocks while becoming impossible to find.

ECard Parody

Nose: Pumpernickel, mashed pencils, and black licorice ornaments on a freshly sawn Christmas tree. Polished jump boots filled with pear and rocks. Sweet desert sage and tempered mint. Light juniper sings with a citrus harmony. Melon liqueur and Cocoa Puffs. A few minutes of air finds a bowl of Beefaroni buried under toasted almonds and caramel cubes. Perfect. Goddamn perfect.

Palate: Nicely balanced. It’s the young, punchy rye and the mature, fruity rye mixed together. Crisp celery and juicy raspberry candies under a granite waterfall. Farmy hay couple with sugared lime, orange and lemon zest. Woody grape skins, melon and cooling white pepper flirt with beef. The yellow layer of a #2 pencil and mint rock the finish.

Rating: Highly RecommendI can’t say enough nice things about this whisky. There are so many whiskies out there that are not only worse, but more expensive and harder to find.

Thanks go to Katie Flanagan from High West for the bottle!

High West – Campfire (46%) batch 13H16

High West CampfireIt’s been cold in New England, lately. Of course it’s always New England in New England so it’s also been inexplicably balmy and rainy between waves of polar humiliation. The people here don’t all like the crazy weather, but to some, unpredictable seasons are part of the charm of living here. Personally, I’d be happier having a grandparent-type relationship with the cold and snow, like if I could come and visit it for a while and then go home if it starts to annoy me. Maybe I would write it long winded emails IN ALL CAPS WITH NO PUNCTUATION EVER while ignoring all of its replies.

Unlike the atypical mix of weather that’s happening all over my driveway, the atypical mix of whisky I’m about to review today is really nice. This is an American/Scottish hybrid; blended Scotch, mixed with straight Bourbon and straight rye. Peat and rye can both be delicious when they’re still young and punchy. The peat also benefits from the sweetness of the Bourbon. In turn, the Bourbon and rye dilute the peat’s smoke, showing us what blended scotch could taste like if they used more virgin casks.

In fact, I could see using this as a blended Scotch in mixed drinks to punch up the Scotch flavor. Try using it in a Penicillin for a little extra pop!

Nose: Band-Aid phenol and rye vinyl intertwine for the most obvious parts of the first impression. Agitating or swirling the glass sends the vanilla up. It smells a little bit like cocaine in autumn. Other evidence of the pedigree; raisins mashed in cocoa, and traces of coconut suntan lotion. Sandalwood and blueberry macerated in brown sugar put it all together.

Palate: It starts off blatantly Scotch, with a peat that the Rye and Bourbon layers are applied over. They enter the palate in that order for me; peat > spice > sweet. Leafy peat and a mild pepper meander throughout. Onions and woody toothpaste change into fish sauce and sambal olek chili paste. Next come apricots and blueberries. There’s almost a butterscotchy Canadian sweetness to it all.

Rating: RecommendedUnlike the Son of Bourye, which left me scratching my head, the reasons for blending the Campfire make a lot more sense. I wouldn’t assume any of the parts were amazing alone, but together they definitely make something really nice.

Thank you Katie Flanagan of High West for the bottle!

High West – American Prairie Reserve (46%) batch 13J02

High West American Prairie ReserveWell, I took a little more time off after the holidays than I anticipated. It was nice to just sit back and drink whisky for the sake of drinking it without neurotically taking notes and mulling over every sip. The time-off was refreshing but I obsessively take notes for a reason; it’s not a chore, and I’m definitely ready to get back into the swing of things!

I’ve said it a bunch of times on the blog, but I’m a sucker for svelte packaging. High West’s hefty wooden bottle stoppers and wanted-poster style labels set a gritty Western tone. The walls of the bottle are flecked with tiny air bubbles and lit with the slightest blue tinge. The bases are all lop sided, some steeply sloped, others with shallow ripples, but all clearly the work of a single worker manually filling the molds. They’re manufactured in a small town in Mexico that also makes Tequila bottles. Very cool!

On the other hand, caramel coloring is a legitimate “blending material” for anything labelled as a blend, even blends of straight Bourbons. Other than the unaged, OMG Pure rye spirit, all of High West’s stuff I’ve seen is exactly the same rusty pigment. (EDIT 1/17/14: Owner David Perkins left a comment below confirming there is no caramel coloring in High West’s line-up but that the color is pretty uniform. Taking a second look myself, I can see the Double Rye is an iota lighter, probably from the 2 year old spirit. We’re all wrong sometimes. Cheers, David!) Is spirit caramel really a big deal? Probably not, but the adjunct uniformity makes me feel like it’s suddenly a little less “artisanal”. I’m not quite sure what the image evokes in me more: creepy clone army or homogeneous forest of blandness. It’s a strange departure from the vintage looking bottles. I think with a little more variety in color, this could be America’s sexiest looking whisky line-up.

On the other-other hand, it’s not chillfiltered (yay!) and who really cares what the bottle looks like so long as it’s warm and inviting in the glass. These folks do some really cool stuff with their sourced stocks, probably the coolest stuff out of all the sourced releases I’ve tasted to date.

Nose: It has a minerally/dusty feel at first. Eucalyptus. Sweetly artificial for moments, like Mad Scientist Monster Lab Monster Flesh Compound. It can seem lightly floral, too, but it always comes back to sweet. Stale Bazooka Joe, golden syrup, Cow Tales candy, canned vanilla frosting, and some roasted marshmallow. Light wafts of cracked fennel seed over strawberries and a drop of reduced red wine.

Palate: Popcorn and oak turns over to banana nail polish remover and then on to a simple sweetness. Peppered caramel, blackened marshmallow, and modest amounts of roasted grain. The bubblegum leaves a faint trace along with some celery salt in the relatively short, woody finish. This could use some more richness to round it out. The after-sip leaves me feeling a little flat, though the unique profile keeps me coming back to double check.

Rating: Try itThis “blend of straight Bourbons” is a mix of 6 year MGPI (LDI) stocks and 10 year old Four Roses. Mixing in some Four Roses is a very creative way to add some extra dimension to a product that’s currently saturating the market (MGPI). I wish the palate were more robust and that the price were a little bit lower, but this is still great stuff worth a shot if you’re looking for something new to try.

Thank you Katie Flanagan of High West for the bottle!

High West – Son of Bourye (46%) batch 13G11

Son of BouryeI’d like to start off this next wave of reviews about High West with my least favorite of the bunch: the Son of Bourye. The Son is the sequel to the original Bourye. As the name suggests, it’s a younger incarnation, but still a blend of straight Bourbon and Rye whiskies, this time from Four Roses and LDI respectively.

A lot of people want to attribute the Bourbon/Rye blending concept to High West. Both Wild Turkey and Jefferson’s recently released new Bourbon/Rye blends after the Bourye, so the obvious thing to say would be that High West was the first to come up with the idea and inspired a new genre. While High West may be the first in recent times to visibly market such a product, I still can’t help but think of another prominent school of whisky thought that may have arrived at that idea before them.

While Rye is the colloquial term for whisky there, Canadian distillers actually began their distilling history with wheat. Wheat makes a very mild, subtle whisky, so when they discovered that adding a splash of rye gave it more of a kick, the practice took off and the term became the Canadian status quo. Incidentally, corn replaced wheat as the new grain of choice up north, and this mixing of corn-based and rye-based whisky is just one of the reasons why most Canadian whisky bears the term “blended” on its label when it arrives in the US.

Of course, there’s a little more to it. Bourbon is an American product, and the whisky being “blended” in Canada is usually a mix of bold straight whisky much like our rye, blended into a mild base whisky which is very unlike our Bourbon. The two parts are very different, so adding one to the other provides complexity. In that respect, the Canadian style makes more sense to me than what High West did right here.

Mutant Baby

Lots of Bourbons use rye in the mashbill already, and conversely, lots of Ryes also use corn. There’s a grey area where the two can be very similar. For instance, in the US, a Bourbon can use a mash that’s 51% corn and 49% rye, and a Rye can use a mash with reversed proportions, 51% rye and 49% corn. There’s only two percent difference in the ratio, but they are legally two different products. Why mix them if they can be so similar already?

For me, this whole thing is like mixing Coke and Diet Coke. Either you want a bold, sweet Coca-Cola or you want a low calorie soda. While it seems possible that some people might want a few less calories than Coke Classic and a little more taste than Diet Coke, that crossover market isn’t actually as big as some might think it is. People reaching for a low calorie drink don’t want the extra sugar, much like how people who hate the taste of Diet Coke won’t find a Diet Coke blend any more appealing. Coca-Cola did try to market a middle-ground soft drink before. It was called C2. You don’t remember seeing it on shelves? Well, I imagine that in a few years we’ll see the Bourye novelty move in the same forgettable direction.

Nose: At first it’s like a bag of rocks but then it opens up to honey. There’s a vegetal, flinty note. Its sweetness is reserved and only opens up for moments. An old graphite smudged pencil box filled with custard and garnished with a sprig of huacatay. Extremely distant raspberries and pear with a pinch of cumin salt.

Palate: Drier and woodier than expected, like I took a spoonful of the custard from the nose but it was pencil box flavored custard made with wooden eggs. The fruit is more of an after-thought behind the first sip but builds up as it goes. After a few sips the raspberries come out. Medium, short finish with some numbing.

Rating: Try itThere may actually be a reason for mixing the two spirits, though. A good whisky is a good whisky, no matter what it’s made of. If the two stocks they chose made sense mixed together then it’s a win no matter how the government forces the company to label it. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t impressed with this particular result. I do, however, think the way they marketed this whisky was smart and helped the product reach further than it would have as a simple blend of straight whiskies. It gave bloggers and marketing guys a romantic theme to write about, an easy target, but for me, the novelty is just that; novelty.

Thank you Katie Flanagan of High West for the bottle. Cheers!