Whiskey Review: High West Campfire

, | September 16, 2016

High West Campfire

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.

Utah’s High West, which is rumored at the time of this review to be up for sale, has become the poster child for great sourcing practices and thoughtful blending. Their popular Campfire release continues in this vein, combining three very different whiskeys into a single, miraculously harmonious whole.

Campfire is an unusual blend that crosses geographic and stylistic borders. The blend was inspired by a trip to the Bruichladdich distillery, where High West’s founders, David and Jane Perkins, were served a delicious-sounding dish of melon drizzled with syrup made from sugar and peated Scotch. Inspired by the combination of sweetness and smoke, they wondered what might happen if they blended peated whisky with sweet American bourbon.

After some experimentation, they landed on their final formula, which includes straight bourbon, straight rye, and peated Scotch. The bourbon and rye are both sourced from MGP, and are aged at least five years. The Scotch is a peated blended malt, and though they can’t disclose their source, High West does tell us it’s “not from Islay.”

When I hear the word “campfire,” especially in the context of High West, I think dry, crackling, wispy smoke, the kind that might come from a campfire built on a mountain slope somewhere near Zion National Park, ringed with resinous pine trees and jagged red rocks.

But this whiskey offers a different kind of experience: this is wetter, funkier smoke, and a much lusher sweetness than my imaginary Southwest landscape suggests. Rather than being the campfire, Campfire seems to belong alongside one. It’s just the thing to tuck into your backpack or cooler before you hit the road out of town.

Tasting Notes: High West Campfire

Vital Stats: 92 proof, a blend of straight rye, straight bourbon, and peated blended malt Scotch. Aged at least five years. $50 to $60 for a 750ml bottle.

Appearance: A ruddy amber.

Nose: A very rich, wood-heavy nose at first, with lots of caramelized sweetness, but then things take a strange turn: metal friction, melted plastics, solvent, a bit of wet paint, and an odd note of rubbery medical equipment and disinfectant. Sort of dystopian, like a Chinese factory – but not as unpleasant and intense as that sounds. The smoke is subtle at first, but as the dram opens up more it becomes apparent: a distant campfire, dry and smoky; and then a wetter, ashier note, like extinguished coal. An industrial symphony – very interesting.

Palate: This is very strange. Lots of peat at first, the wet, earthy, decaying kind, coupled with a vanilla-scented, chocolate bourbon-y sweetness, just like a Christmas bourbon ball. Punchy, spicy rye with dill emerges strongly in the mid-palate, trailing off into a lovely dénouement of sweet malt and melon coated with cracked black pepper. A bit of water irons out some of the high values, taming the rye a bit while retaining that peated earthiness. 

Final Thoughts:

Yum yum yum. This hits all the buttons – spicy, sweet, smoky – for a supremely satisfying experience. Once you know the concept behind this whiskey, it’s fun to pick out each of the three major components, yet the overall effect is pretty integrated. This would be a great stumper to serve blind to your know-it-all whiskey friend.


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Margarett Waterbury

Margarett Waterbury is the author of Scotch: A Complete Introduction to Scotland's Whiskies and a full-time freelance writer and editor. Her work has appeared in Whisky Advocate, Food and Wine, Spirited Magazine, Artisan Spirit, Edible Seattle, Sip Northwest, Civil Eats, Travel Oregon, Artisan Spirit, and many other publications. She is...