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!

2 thoughts on “High West – American Prairie Reserve (46%) batch 13J02

  1. David Perkins

    Hi Shane, thanks for the great post and provocative question about caramel coloring. To be honest I looked at the bottles and couldn’t really tell a difference either. Just to put it to bed, High West does not use any caramel coloring outside of the caramel that would come naturally from the barrel. Its just serendipity that the bottles look like they are the same, or more accurately the poor ability of our eyes to distinguish. If you had a spectrophotometer (and we don’t but we hope to get one this year), it would do a pretty good job of measuring the difference in color as color does come with time in wood. We actually age a lot of whiskey (malt and oat) in the used rye and bourbon barrels and those whiskeys are straw color, which I think is downright gorgeous and wouldn’t have the heart to color. Hope that helps! David

    1. Shane Post author

      Hi David. Sorry for the confusion. We’re all wrong sometimes, I guess. I’ve added a note to the post to reflect the truth. Thank you for the kind words and the clarification. Keep up the awesome work. Cheers!


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