These days, rye whisky is hot. First off, it’s literally the spiciest of all the spirits, thanks to the rye. It has a level of fire and bite that’s remarkable, even in the mildest of the category. But this intensely beautiful spirit is also hot in terms of popularity. And the coolest place to drink rye whisky is at High West Distillery & Saloon in Park City, Utah.
High West is the world’s only ski-in, ski-out distillery, and you can sip their spirits underneath the shadow of the ski lift. This brand has a lot more going for it than fresh powder outside the front door, however. Whisky Advocate called them the “Whisky Pioneer of the Year” in 2011, and the James Beard Foundation took notice with nominations for the bar program (in 2012 and 2013) and executive chef James Dumas’s work in the kitchen (in 2013).
Proprietor David Perkins began selling his whisky in 2007 and opened the distillery and adjoining restaurant/saloon in 2009. “We’re located in Old Town, at the base of a run called Quittin’ Time. The ski lift actually goes up over us, and it’s quite picturesque,” says Perkins. “We moved to Utah with the idea of making great whiskies, and while Utah is possibly the worst state for a distiller [due to a large non-drinking Mormon population], the town of Park City has been very receptive.
“If you come by, we always have something seasonal going on that you can only try here,” adds Perkins. That starts with their straightforward, easy-drinking oat vodka, dubbed Vodka 7000′ as a nod to the distillery’s elevation. High West also blends whiskies sourced from outside the operation, and their top seller overall is Double Rye, which is a blend of two ryes: a two-year-old from Indiana and a 16-year-old rye blend from Kentucky.
Perkins and his team are very excited about their latest efforts at aging whisky in wine barrels. “We are filling syrah barrels from California right now with our Rendezvous Rye,” he says. “It’s this big, grapey, plummy, jammy enhancement to the spice of the rye.”
This winter is also when High West will open its new distillery, about 15 kilometres outside of town in “absolute cowboy country,” says Perkins. Not satisfied to be simply the world’s only ski-in, ski-out distillery, their second site will be the world’s only dude-ranch distillery, located on the property of the already operating Blue Sky Ranch. After the distillery is built, a boutique hotel and spa will follow.
“It’ll be the true western experience, just maybe a little nicer,” says Perkins, “and with really good whisky.”