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Whiskey Review: High West Valley Tan Utah Whiskey

High West Valley Tan Utah Whiskey

Image copyright The Whiskey Wash.

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.

It’s always exciting – and a bit nerve-wracking – when distilleries make the leap from non-distilling producer to distiller. Making great blends from sourced product takes skill, just like distilling – but they’re slightly different skill sets, and sometimes the transition can be a little rocky.

After building its reputation on great sourced, blended releases, High West is beginning its transformation into a production distillery. Valley Tan is one of their first major releases of their own aged spirit. It’s named after the homemade whiskey made by early Mormon settlers in Utah, and it aims to evoke a distinct Utah style that was once described as a “pretty sipping whiskey.”

High West Valley Tan Utah Whiskey Batch no. 3 uses a wheat-heavy mash bill, supplemented with a bit of oat and malted barley. While previous batches used more oats than wheat, High West says they’ve found historical records that local distillers actually favored wheat over other grains. The majority of the wheat used to make this whiskey was grown within the state of Utah.

Now here’s a fun piece of trivia for you: that handsome mug on the front of the bottle is Porter Rockwell, a Wild West-era lawman who was appointed a “destroying angel” of the Mormon church – in other words, somebody who could make bad guys vanish without worrying about the repercussions, legal or spiritual. “I never killed anyone that didn’t need killing,” he reassured an audience in 1869. Ah, simpler times.

Tasting Notes: High West Valley Tan

Vital stats: Batch No. 3, bottle No. 2046. 43.5% ABV. At least one year old. Retails for around $60 per 750ml bottle.

Appearance: White wine. I would feel remiss if I were not to remark on High West’s amazing bottles. They’re made of thick, embossed, slightly foggy glass flecked with bubbles and impurities. The effect works wonderfully, evoking a pre-industrial time where everything – containers included – had just a little more texture. Real cork closures are handsome, but alas, they always seem to leave a little residue on the neck of the bottle.

Nose: Ozone, lemon zest, gin, quickbread batter, banana walnut oatmeal, and a touch of honey. The wood character comes through in thin, fresh pencil shavings, graphite and all. The effect is very lively, almost spritely, in both the woodland nymph and lemon-lime soft drink sense of the word. 

Palate: Surprisingly thick and coating at first, but that thins out quickly to a fairly intense alcohol burn. The impression of quickbread batter from the nose carries through to the palate, with a very raw, floury kind of grain taste as well an odd baking soda-like lifting of the palate, a strange and enjoyable effervescence on the tongue. Powdery, with a hint of banana and lime juice. The finish is light yet surprisingly lingering, with a kind of permanence to it – soda water failed to scrub my mouth clean – but it leaves you with gentle tartness and alcohol heat, rather than oaky richness.

A touch of water is welcome: it tames some of that alcohol burn, amps up the thick, creamy mouthfeel, and retains some of those nice tart, citrusy notes. It’s like having an oatmeal highball.

Final Thoughts:

 Light and delicate, this might be a really great option for an afternoon dram, but it doesn’t really reward contemplation. That said, it’s definitely unique, and it’s nice to see a craft brand truly striking out on their own without emulating the big brands.

Score: 85/100 [SHOP FOR A BOTTLE OF HIGH WEST VALLEY TAN UTAH WHISKEY]

About the author

Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is a food and drinks writer based in Portland, Oregon. She's the managing editor of The Whiskey Wash, the managing editor of Edible Portland, and a regular contributor to local and national publications.