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Interview: Head To The Rockies For High West Distillery Whiskey Inspiration

As Americans get back on the road for travel, some find distilleries destination locations for interesting trips for those that imbibe.

As the temperatures cool down, this is a great time of year to adventure into the Rocky Mountains and enjoy a whiskey-filled weekend with friends … and you can check out the High West Saloon in Utah.

Located on Main Street in downtown Park City, Utah, the High West Saloon literally blends into the surrounding scenery. It’s one of the few, if not the only, distillery you can ski right into and grab a cocktail. Visitors (by foot or ski) to the Park City landmark can try a High West flight to sample the core High West blends such as American Prairie Bourbon, Double Rye!, Rendezvous Rye, and Campfire.

High West’s director of hospitality, Steve Walton, chatted with The Whiskey Wash recently to share the stories of High West’s Park City distillery and saloon.

High West distillery
The High West distillery (image via High West)

The Whiskey Wash: Tell us about the High West Distillery as a destination. What can folks do when they visit?

Steve Walton: High West Distillery located in Park City, Utah is known as a true destination in and around Park City, offering multiple experiences for travelers visiting. The first is the Saloon, located in the heart of downtown Park City and is High West’s original location with an onsite General Store featuring High West spirits and memorabilia available for purchase.

Two doors up the street from the Saloon is The Nelson Cottage, High West’s fine dining establishment. This is home to our unique prix-fixe whiskey-paired dinners, which are an exciting culinary and educational experience for our guests.

A 20-minute drive outside of Park City will take guests to High West’s Distillery & Refectory in Wanship, Utah which opened in 2015. Sitting high up in-between the Wasatch and Uinta mountains, the Distillery is home to most of High West’s production, housing a 1,600-gallon copper pot-still, sensory lab, bottling line and barrel warehouse. Sensory tasting tours take place Thursday-Sunday, walking guests through High West’s distilling process, innovative blends and four whiskeys.

The Refectory, High West’s restaurant and tasting outpost is located right next to the distillery, and offers whiskey tastings, western, inspired fare, cocktails, and stunning views of the expansive surrounding valleys Thursday-Sunday of each week.

The Refectory invites guests to spend their Wednesday evenings at High West Supper Club, which features live music, a chef’s set menu served family-style, a recommended whiskey pairing and original High West cocktails.

The Refectory also offers an exclusive quarterly Distiller’s Reserve Dinner, an intimate Chef’s choice dinner hosted by High West’s blending artisans that takes guests through the High West “vault.” Master Distiller Brendan Coyle, Distilling, Blending & Distilling Manager, Isaac Winter and Sensory Quality Assurance Manager, Tara Lindley lead patrons through whiskey pairings from High West’s coveted Reserve collection, making for a really special experience.

TWW: Tell us more about the saloon at High West.

WALTON: The High West Saloon is in downtown Park City, just steps away from Quittin’ Time ski run and next to the Town Lift. It’s known for its unique charm as a historic landmark and as High West’s first location. Operating as a saloon and restaurant since 2009, the historic buildings house the original 250-gallon still from High West’s beginnings. The restaurant offers a full menu of alpine-inspired western fare that embodies the culture and spirit of High West, as well as the distillery’s full line of spirits in the form of sippers, tasting flights and signature cocktails. Guests also can pop-in to the on-site General Store to purchase High West spirits and merchandise. The Saloon was a James Beard Foundation semi-finalist for Outstanding Bar Program in 2012 and 2013 and ranked in the top ten on The Daily Meal’s Best Bars in America list in 2015, 2016 and 2019.

High West Saloon
The saloon at High West (image via High West)

TWW: What are some of the must-try cocktails that you can only get at the saloon?

WALTON: Our bartenders are constantly innovating to come up with new and exciting recipes for the cocktail menu. We update our offerings on a seasonal basis, but our famous Old Fashioned, Dead Man’s Boots and the High West Lemonade are available to enjoy year-round. We know that our guests are an eclectic mix of whiskey lovers and their travel tag-alongs, so our split-base cocktails ensure there’s something for everyone.

TWW: Are there special, one-offs that people can search for at the distillery that they might not be able to find on their liquor store shelves?

WALTON: There are several limited Utah-only releases that visitors can get their hands on when visiting the General Store at the Saloon and the Distillery & Refectory in Wanship, such as our Campfire whiskey, Bourye and exclusive barrel selects.

TWW: How pivotal is Park City tourism to High West Distillery’s success?

WALTON: There’s nothing quite like the apres-ski scene in Park City, and High West welcomes guests fresh off the slopes with open arms – about 300,000 visitors annually between all locations. They come for the snow but stay for the whiskey. We love that winter sports help introduce new friends to our distillery. And the road goes both ways. Once High West put down roots here, Park City has grown beyond just a ski destination to become a hub for craft distilling. Since High West obtained the first distilling operations permit in 2006, the business and craft of distilling has boomed throughout the state. Contrary to popular belief, you really can get a drink in Utah!

TWW: What makes High West’s spirits different, unique, special?

WALTON: We craft spirits for people who want great taste and quality ingredients with the flair of the American West. We distill in a traditional copper pot still, taking pride in our unique aged whiskey blends. Known for our rye whiskey and innovative blends, we are honored to have been named the 2016 Distiller of the Year by Whisky Advocate. We’re probably best known for our Double Rye! blend (wonderfully spicier than your average rye whiskey) and our American Prairie Bourbon (supporting the American Prairie Reserve), but we also love being able to offer something truly special in both our limited releases and Utah-only bottlings.

TWW: What is one thing most people don’t know about visiting High West in Park City?

WALTON: High West’s Saloon was the first ski-in gastro distillery in the world.

TWW: Anything new coming from High West in the near future?

WALTON: This month marks the annual release of the long-awaited A Midwinter Night’s Dram, Act 9. For our fans, it’s the whiskey release of the year, and we’re excited to share this latest expression with everyone. It’s High West’s Rendezvous Rye finished in both Ruby and Tawny Port barrels for an additional 1-2 years. We’re also excited to be launching the High West High Country Single Malt in December. And of course, our Barrel Finished Old Fashioned and Manhattan cocktails will make great stocking stuffers.

Last year, The Nelson Cottage by High West introduced a unique Après Ski Whiskey Lounge where guests can kick back after an adventurous day on the mountain in the Cottage’s socially distanced outdoor heated lounge areas. This winter, a life-size private dining snow globe will once again grace the patio of the cottage to offer panoramic views in a magical outdoor setting. Sip High West hot toddies and take in the beautiful vistas. Don’t miss the seasonal ice bar on the saloon patio, too!

Gary Carter

Gary Carter has been at the helm of metro newspapers, magazines, and television news programs as well as a radio host and marketing manager. He is a writer/editor/photographer/designer by trade, with more than 30 years experience in the publishing and marketing field. Gary enjoys working to build something great, whether that be a novel project, a start-up, an organization, a fresh-face to the journalistic world, or even something as simple as a short story. A native Texan and a Pacific Northwest convert, he is a whiskey enthusiast who cut his teeth on it ... literally!

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