THE HIGHEST WHISKEY IN THE WEST
"Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough,” wrote a spirited Mark Twain. Or maybe he was just full of spirits.
Either way, Twain knew a thing or two about whiskey—even Utah whiskey. The novelist and cultural commentator of the late-1800s put the “exclusive Mormon refresher” known as Valley Tan to his lips, as documented in Roughing It, and noted that, “Tradition says it is made of [imported] fire and brimstone.” It’s hard to say if Twain thought Valley Tan was whiskey of the good or bad variety.
Regardless, whiskey in Utah has a somewhat silly and sordid history—as one might imagine. Some of the drink’s historical waypoints: Around 150 years ago, the strip of road for horse-drawn drunkards, er, carriages, on Main in Salt Lake City was known as “Whiskey Street.” At the turn of the century, there were nearly 90 saloons. What’s more, there were 37 distilleries on record during the railroad boom. And finally, what no other state can take away from us, Utah was the 36th and deciding vote to end Prohibition.
Despite these fun facts, there’s still a nasty blight on Utah’s booze history that lasted the 137 years between 1870 and 2007. What was this blight, you ask? A severe lack of distilleries. As in, there were none.
So very sad. How did we even make it through?
Cue Bonnie Taylor’s “Holding Out For a Hero”…
Enter David Perkins. This modern pioneer filled the whiskey void that had spread across the Wasatch Front and Back when, in 2007, he rolled into Park City and opened High West Distillery & Saloon.
Perkins has always known he was fated to make the brown drink. His background is in biochemistry, he developed a love of bourbon from his Southern heritage, and he’s an avid cook, which all meld together beautifully for this venture—like a nice High West blend. The decision was a no-brainer when you add to this another fun fact: Perkins’ wife, Jane, had a great-grandfather who founded one of the country’s leading distilleries in the early 1900s.
High West makes small-batch craft whiskey in Park City’s historic Old Town. This high-elevation distillery’s blends are blazing trails throughout the world of whiskey. Its first blend, Rendezvous Rye, a mix of un-buyable ryes that Perkins sourced, was given a 95 point rating by Whiskey Advocate. Suddenly, High West was on the map. The magazine went on to name Perkins “Whiskey Pioneer of the Year” in 2011, noting that it was largely because of his prowess at blending and sourcing whiskeys in order to make something fresh and original.
The proof is really in the tasting. Get your lips around some of the most beautiful whiskey blends on the market. Sipping perfection lies at the heart of Son of Bourye, a marriage of rye and bourbon. Or wrangle up something refined with Campfire, which blends smoky Scotch with spicy rye and smooth bourbon. And there are many more varieties in the High West line of boutique spirits, catered to people who appreciate quality and the finer things. The distillery has also been cranking out vodka and whiskey all its own, much of which rests in oak casks in Salt Lake or can be purchased un-aged.
While you’re sipping on the stuff, you might as well get schooled in whiskeyology. The distillery offers educational tours of the operation, often by Perkins himself. He’s an ideal and witty tour guide. “Turnin’ people on to whiskey is probably the thing I enjoy more than anything,” Perkins said in the KUED documentary, Beehive Spirits.
During the tour, guests see the traditional 250-gallon copper pot still and learn the process by which whiskey is made. You’ll see the high-quality corn, oats, and other grains that go into the mash, and you might be surprised to learn that before whiskey becomes whiskey, it’s beer. You’ll even get to taste the “beer” before you taste the whiskey, to get a little bit of perspective (obviously, the whiskey tastes better). After the distillation, a combination of oak, time, and some ethereal wonderment that we can’t quite pin down turns the concoction into liquid sunshine.
High West is the world’s only ski-in gastro-distillery, so after you hit the slopes at Park City Mountain Resort, you can slide into a chair for a dram of apres-ski goodness. After your tour, dine on the tastiest New West food in the state in one of the many eclectic saloon rooms. And you can take bottles home by purchasing them in the General Store, even on Sundays.
You can also enjoy High West’s offerings at most bars in Salt Lake, at your hotel, at Concourse E in the airport, and at each of the four Ski City resorts. Enjoy a sip at Whiskey Street—a classy downtown bar named for the aforementioned section of Main Street—or find an establishment near you with this handy High West locator.
High West Distillery and Saloon
703 Park Ave, Park City, UT
2:15 and 3:30 p.m., Monday - Thursday
1:00, 2:15, and 3:30 p.m., Friday - Sunday.
Space is limited. Reservations are highly recommended.
Words & Photos: Austen Diamond Photography