After much thought and considerable procrastination, I’m excited to introduce a new feature here on Boston BarHopper – the BBH Tasting Room. The idea is pretty simple. Once in a while, I’ll write a brief piece that focuses on a particular spirit, beer, or other boozy product. That’s the long and the short of it, so I don’t know why it’s taken me months to move forward with the idea. Actually, part of the reason for the delay is that I wasn’t sure how to characterize such a post. I didn’t want to call it a “product review,” because I like to reserve that term for newer products. Nor did I want to lump it in with “Spirits in Focus,” because I didn’t want to limit myself to spirits.
This is exactly the sort of quandary that keeps me up at night. Seriously.
Anyway, I settled on the Tasting Room idea because it’s inclusive. It’s simply a forum for sampling alcoholic beverages – old, new, familiar, obscure – and discussing their merits. I’ve always found that one of the great pleasures of trying a new drink is being able to share the experience with someone – talking about what you like, what you don’t, and what flavors you detect on your palate. So I suppose this is my way of starting the conversation. I invite you to share your own thoughts.
The subject of the inaugural Tasting Room post is High West American Prairie Bourbon. My brother got me some as a Christmas gift, and as you’ll see by the two-thirds-empty bottle in a few of these pictures, I’ve enjoyed it.
High West Distillery is located in Park City, Utah, which is one of the last states in America you’d expect to find a distillery. Utah has long had its share of quirky liquor laws, and when High West opened its doors in 2007, it became the first legal distillery in the Beehive State since 1870. It also bills itself as “the world’s only ski-in gastro-distillery,” which is neat little advantage of operating a distillery in the Rocky Mountains.
As you might guess by its moniker, High West celebrates the culture and natural beauty of the American West. Its Park City home was a silver-mining town back in the 19th century, and a frontier aesthetic is evident in everything from the design of the labels to the saloon-style restaurant at the distillery. In that vein, High West is particularly passionate about the American Prairie Reserve, a nonprofit organization that is endeavoring to create the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states. If and when complete, this 3 million-acre reserve in Montana will allow animals such as bison and the pronghorn antelope (an image of which graces the label of American Prairie) to thrive in their natural habitat. And High West is willing to put its money where its whiskey is; 10% of after-tax profits from every bottle of its American Prairie Bourbon will be donated to the American Prairie Reserve.
On to the whiskey.
High West makes no secret of the fact that it sources its whiskey, meaning it purchases its spirits instead of distilling them on site (a common practice in the industry, though rarely acknowledged). American Prairie is a blend of three bourbons – a 2-year from an industrial distillation factory in Indiana, along with a 6-year and 13-year from Kentucky. The proportions are secret.
The color is light and coppery. On the nose are notes of honey and caramel. Butterscotch is evident on the first sip, and prominent vanilla notes emerge in the middle. The sweetness is different than that of the typical bourbon; it’s almost candy-like, but robust, with a biscuit-y mouthfeel that keeps it from being overly sweet. On the downside, it’s a little bit hot, and the finish is sharper than I’d like. I suppose that’s the 2-year-old bourbon talking. But it seems fitting that a whiskey inspired by America’s Western heritage would be a little rough around the edges.
Even without a smooth finish, I’ve been enjoying this bourbon neat. On the rocks is fine, too, but doesn’t change the experience much. What does make a noticeable difference is adding a little water. Just a few drops, and those subtle caramel notes become big and round.
I also gave American Prairie a whirl in an Old Fashioned and discovered that a muddled orange peel brings out some citrus notes. Highly satisfactory.
This is a solid, drinkable bourbon with a little big of an edge, refined enough to enjoy in a cocktail but rugged enough that you can pass a flask of it around the fire, singing cowboy ballads by the light of the moon.
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