Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by High West. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
The High West Distillery has long been one of the more interesting whiskey brands on the American landscape. It was founded in 2006 as an unabashed blender. It didn’t use sourced juice and try to hide that fact; it promoted the idea that it was buying good whiskey from others and blending and finishing it in distinctive ways.
High West’s first release, in 2007, was its Rendezvous Rye – still one of its signature annual bottlings. It opened its own distillery in 2014 and was acquired by Constellation Brands in 2016, but pledged to continue blending sourced whiskies as much as making its own. It continues to live up to that pledge today.
I happened to be in Utah in the fall of 2017, and stopped by High West’s Park City Saloon for a tasting flight. The saloon likes to call itself “the only ski-in gastro-distillery in the world,” but we neither skied in nor ate anything. We did, however, relish the majesty of the place and enjoyed some whiskey.
There was no A Midwinter Night’s Dram available in the saloon at the time – or I don’t remember it in the flight we tasted, in any case – but they did have Double Rye! and Rendezvous Rye. My brother and I had an enjoyable visit, and we enjoyed the the flight.
Fast forward a few years, and I finally get to try to A Midwinter Night’s Dram, a limited release of Rendezvous Rye that has been finished for an extra year or two in Ruby and Tawny port barrels. It’s High West’s most sought-after annual release, and I’ve been looking forward to finding out whether it justifies all the attention – and to see what I missed out on in 2017.
Vital stats: Blend of two straight ryes – one distilled by High West that’s 80% rye and 20% malted rye, and one sourced from MGP Ingredients that’s 95% rye and 5% barley; ratio between the two ryes is not disclosed; 98.6 proof/49.3% alcohol by volume; MSRP of $100 for a 750 ml bottle. Park City, Utah.
Appearance: Deep bronze color, with legs that stick to the side of the glass.
Nose: Sawdust, wet wood, cherries, and caramel sweetness. There is rye spiciness, but not the earthy scents you sometimes find with rye whiskey.
Palate: The rye spice is more front and center in the mouth than it was in the nose, though it’s friendly and gentle. I also taste cinnamon, vanilla bean ice cream, figs, leather, and toasted oak. It provides a medium-long finish with a peppermint candy finish that runs along the sides of the tongue.
“Take pains. Be perfect.” William Shakespeare famously wrote these words in the first act of “A Midwinter Night’s Dream.” High West did not make a perfect whiskey with A Midwinter Night’s Dram, but it did take pains to make a very good one. I have a lot of ryes on my bar, and High West has created one that is distinctive and stands out next to any of them. I look forward to visiting the Park City Saloon again one of these days, and making sure I find A Midwinter Night’s Dram when I do.
Reporting and writing has taken Scott Bernard Nelson all over the world, giving him an opportunity to cover everything from 9/11 to an Olympic Games to the invasion of Iraq. These days, he’s retired from daily journalism but still enjoys talking with interesting people and writing fun stories. When he’s...