While on a business trip to Salt Lake City, I found myself with a day to kill and decided to head to the mountains and check out High West Distillery in Wanship, Utah.
The drive was scenic. Upon exiting highway I-80 and a short 2-mile drive, I was greeted by an attendant at the Blue Sky Ranch gatehouse. When asked what I was doing, I replied “headed to High West Distillery for a tour.” The attendant then phoned the distillery to let them know I was on my way up, gave me a pass to put on my dash and opened the gate. The narrow 1-1/2 mile road wound through the hills of the Rocky Mountains and ended at the distillery. What a breathtaking view!
The distillery is beautiful. One building houses the tasting room, gift shop, restaurant, and offices for the distillery. The second building is the distillery, blending room, and bottling room. The buildings are new, but don’t look out of place, as all are designed with local mountain architecture utilizing barn wood in their design.
Upon walking into the gift shop, I was greeted by an employee asking what I was looking for. I replied, “ I’m a huge fan of your whiskey and would like a tour!” He told me that he was my guy, and that he would guide my tour at the top of the hour.
After a few minutes waiting on others to arrive, we headed out the door and to the distillery building. Right as we walked in, our guide was surprised to see the large overhead garage door open exposing the bottling room. He told us that this was a special treat, that we were able to see the room in action. There were around 6-8 employees in the room doing various tasks. There were to people at a bottling stations that filled and corked maybe 8-10 bottles at a time. Once filled the bottles slid down a stainless steel table to another group that was labeling, heat shrinking the corks and hand numbering the bottles. From there they were boxed and carried to a pallet for shipment. These people bottle approximately 5,000 bottles a day! Our guide also told us that this room would be expanded soon to double their daily capacity. I was really surprised to see that all High West whiskey was hand bottled.
From there the tour went on to discuss mash bills and the distilling process. For those who may not know, High West has come to fame nearly entirely on their blended sourced whiskies. But in fact they do distill, and production has recently ramped up where High West distilled spirits may soon hit store shelves in greater quantities. We were allowed to walk up the stairs and stand on the platforms around the fermentation tanks.
Then, we proceeded on to the stills. High West uses a one-of-a-kind hybrid still utilizing both a pot and column still. Finally, our guide discussed barrels and charring. Before leaving we were able to see Master Distiller Brendan Coyle.
Notably, High West does not age the products at this property, so noticably absent from the tour were the large rickhouses that many of us have become accustomed to seeing on distillery tours. The whiskies are actually aged in large warehouses in Salt Lake City.
When finished with the tour, we were taken back to the first building to the tasting room. It is illegal to serve more than one shot of liquor at a time in the state of Utah. High West spent four years working with lawmakers to be able to serve samples of their whiskey. The tasting room area is the only place on the property where you are allowed to have alcohol. We ordered four ½ ounce pours form their lineup. They did not have Midwinter’s Night Dram or Bourye available. Given that I have a large collection of High West products, I opted for the Valley Tan, 14 Year Light Whiskey (Distillery only), Silver Whiskey Western Oak and Silver OMG Pure Rye. I was immediately blown away by the Light Whiskey (I had to have one). The Valley Tan is High West’s only distilled aged whiskey at this time. The two Silver Whiskeys were both fun to try.
Before leaving, I hit up the gift shop to get the 14 Year, Valley Tan and a Glencairn glass! Upon returning home, I’d sit down with Chris Crow, Scott Hill, Phil Horvey and Alumni Member Joe Jacumin and give them both a formal review.
High West Valley Tan (NAS, but “aged no less than one year”) (87 Proof):
Nose: Young; cream corn; vanilla; grass and herbal notes; pepper; late arriving butterscotch candy. Interesting, but young. (2.5/5)
Palate: Salty; candy corn; wedding mints; thin. The youth continues to dominate. (2/5)
Finish: Short to medium; heat; creamed corn; caramel; salt and other mineral; black pepper and sweet raw red pepper. (2/5)
Overall: The sum may be greater than its parts. The High West Valley Tan is an overall enjoyable experience, despite its overall thin consistency and youth. (2.5/5)
Value: At $49, this is priced much like many craft whiskies on the market today (which, in essence, this is). While craft products bring something different to the table, it is hard to argue in favor of “value” with so little time in the barrel. With that said, as a gift shop purchase, each of us would probably pick one up for the collectability alone. (2/5)
“The High West Valley Tan is an overall enjoyable experience, despite its overall thin consistency and youth.”
High West Light Whiskey (14 Year) (92 Proof) (Note: 100% corn aged in second fill barrels):
Nose: Clean, like warm fresh dryer sheets; very light overall with a hint of even lighter floral; light brown sugar; a hint of white pepper; apple; vanilla bean. Uniquely clean. (3.5/5)
Palate: Salted caramel; green apple; Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. (3/5)
Finish: Lingering heat; more green apple, this time leaning a bit towards apple crisp; baking spice; vanilla bean; light rum sweetness. (3.5/5)
Overall: We debated this one a bit. The High West Light Whiskey is unique. It has no real age notes other than complexity. Remarkably clean from start to finish. (3.5/5)
Value: This is a limited edition bottle, with only 100 barrels ever produced. It is available in the distillery only, for a price tag of $114. This doesn’t hold up to its price, but its uniqueness gives some satisfaction. (1.5/5)
“The High West Light Whiskey is unique. It has no real age notes other than complexity. Remarkably clean from start to finish.”