Last week I interviewed David Perkins on the patio of a boutique hotel nestled in the Hollywood Hills. A heavy marine layer of clouds, the Southern Californian version of winter, largely obscured our view of Los Angeles. Had I been sitting with Mr. Perkins on the porch of his High West Distillery & Saloon in Park City Utah, we’d be drinking bourbon, wearing skis, and staring out at snow-covered mountains. Mr. Perkins speaks passionately about his company, which is new compared to many of the legendary distilleries of the South. In 2004 he left a career as a biochemist in the biopharmaceutical industry to try his hand at making bourbon. “It was now or never,” he said, and High West was born. His dream is to become one of the leading whiskey makers, and from the taste of his labels, I’d say that dream is soon to come true.
The spirit I was most eager to try was The 36th Vote, the world’s only barreled-aged Manhattan. The story goes that back in 1933 the country needed one more state vote to end Prohibition. Utah stepped up to the plate. The Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, the Twenty-first Amendment was ratified, and lucky for us, the production, sale, and consumption of alcohol became legal again. There are many pre-mixed cocktails on the market, but this one is definitely in a class of its own. As soon as you’ve shaken the Manhattan with ice and strained it into a chilled martini glass, you’ll entirely forget that it came from a bottle. And during the busy holidays, taking a few shortcuts without sacrificing taste can really be a life – and party – saver.
Mr. Perkin’s scientific instincts have paid off with his Rendezvous Rye, a daring blend of 6-year-old and 16-year-old ryes. Taking risks like combining a younger rye with an older one is probably why Rendezvous is the liquor that put High West on the map, catching the attention of distillers around the globe. It’s a full flavored and complex blend of whiskeys that according to the proprietor, “tastes like Christmas.”
I’m the first to admit that I’ve got a weakness for buying a new spirit because of a clever name or a smartly designed bottle and label. Campfire whiskey has both and it comes through in the taste department too. The combination of a sweet honey flavor from a ripe bourbon, hints of floral fruity spices, and – one of my personal favorites – smoke from peated whiskey, make this spirit one-of-a-kind. If you’re like me, your fireplace may be the closest you’ll get to a real campfire anytime soon. But after a few sips of this whiskey you too may imagine the nip of the high dessert night or the howl of a distant coyote. It’s that good.
When I asked Mr. Perkins about his long-term plans for High West, he told me about the new facility they are building about 20 miles away on a dude ranch set to open this time next year in Wanship, Utah. But this isn’t just another distillery. It’s a paradise for the whiskey lover. “Blue Sky High West Distillery” will also be a corporate retreat, hotel, and spa. It will undoubtedly have a restaurant and bar serving the best whiskey and whiskey-inspired food in the west. Oh, and I’m guessing they may just have a campfire or two. Someplace warm to rest after a hard day on the slopes and enjoy a superb drink.