“Come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness” – The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 1, Scene 1.
Ye know that I abhor the borrowers,
Those that present sourced whiskey as their own,
And look to earn a name unto themselves,
With strangers’ products in their livery.
Whoever seeks to purloin the all the praise,
Due others’ stills, and brandish it with pride,
Shall, verily, be dealt with harshly here,
And put to shame before the internet.
I would not have my share of stolen fame,
Nor honor any thief, save that he were
To make embellishments so good as to
Result in but more pleasing whiskey hence.
Yet here I stand upon a precipice:
A newly-purchased bottle in my hand
Whose contents came ne’er from its labeled sire,
But rather from south Indiana’s plains.
Those readers fearing that the entirety of this review would be written in iambic pentameter can now breathe a sigh of relief. I fully intended on carrying on, but the sound of the Bard spinning in his grave was getting to be a distraction. Still, those of you who have noticed my proclivity for quoting Stratford-upon-Avon’s most famous denizen will know that I’m fully in my element here.
This is a whiskey from High West, which might not be immediately apparent from a glance at the label. Eschewing their normal cowboy aesthetic, High West has (literally) taken a page from Shakespeare’s eponymous “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and reproduced a leaf from the first quarto edition of that play. Inspiration for the name and packaging is the full extent of Shakespeare’s involvement with this whiskey, so we can now dispense with him (as if!) and move along.
Down to brass tacks: this is a blend of straight rye whiskeys finished in French oak and port barrels. Beyond that, we’re left to cobble together the specifics from a handful of clues. The “Technical Details” section of High West’s own site for this expression is relatively light on, um, technical details. Verbatim, it begins and ends thus: “Ratio of whiskeys: top secret! Filtration: not chill-filtered, or carbon treated.”
OK, cool. They throw us a bone a little bit later on, indicating that this is comprised of whiskey with a 95% rye, 5% barley mash bill from MGP, plus whiskey with an 80% rye, 20% malted rye mash bill from High West. They also mention that this is the same precursor blend as High West Rendezvous Rye, which is itself described by High West as “a blend of older Straight Rye whiskeys ranging in age from 4 to 7 years.” So, this is moderately aged rye whiskey, but none of the lavishly matured 21-year-old stuff comprising the Rocky Mountain Rye that garnered such high praise from John.
This also comes with a finish in somewhat exotic casks, at least in American terms. You’ve got French oak (though with no mention of the predecessor libation, if any, that these barrels held) and Port casks, the latter of which will be familiar to Scotch whisky drinkers. Though finished whiskey is appearing with increasing frequency (and mixed results) in the U.S., these expressions are still a minority exception to the majority rule of new, charred oak.
I’m probably earning a reputation as a scourge of sourced whiskey, but I hope the uncoerced purchase of this bottle will assuage any concerns about my impartiality. Sure, High West has sourced whiskey from MGP, but they’ve let us know that in a public forum. They’ve also opened up, via the finishes, the possibility that this will be different from and/or better than the whiskey that everyone else gets from MGP. As a consequence, I am approaching this with more anticipation than fear, hopeful that I can fulfill the promise of this review’s epigraph.
Speaking of purchases: what should one pay for such a concoction? Suggested retail price for this is now $100 per High West; as with other “Limited Edition” whiskey, though, these appear on shelves for a ludicrously wide range of asks. I was able to find a bottle for $81 in a podunk liquor store on the New York-Vermont border. Checking in on the Instagram channels devoted to shameful whiskey pricing shows these running up into the mid-$200’s. To those of you tempted to pay that type of premium: “Let’s teach ourselves that honorable stop, Not to outsport discretion,” in the words of a prominent Moor.
A few further specifics before we get to tasting: This is from the edition labeled “Act 8, Scene 4.” It comes to us at 98.6 proof (49.3% ABV), the same as prior releases in the series, and a delightfully odd non-integer around which to standardize.
A Midwinter Night’s Dram – Review
Color: Medium brown with ruby glints
On the nose: The initial impression is of caramelized brown sugar meeting a gentle note of dill, the latter being a telltale sign of MGP whiskey. There’s definitely the rich and round aroma of vintage port, but also some subtly smoky notes of campfire. With time in the glass this starts to take on the meaty, ferric quality of beef blood.
In the mouth: Starts with an elegant and fine presentation, harmoniously balanced between the intrinsic rye flavor and the port influence. There’s a bit more of an acidic character as this moves toward the middle of the mouth, though this evens out against some of the rich dark fruit flavors imparted by the port cask. Through the finish, there’s a peppery rye note, a bitter nip of dark chocolate, and a mild textural astringency, though there’s enough follow-through of the winey notes that these hard edges are once again softened.
I’m enjoying this a great deal, regardless of where it came from. This has a quality that can be elusive to those of us accustomed to (over)analyzing whiskey: the ability to hypnotize the taster with its deliciousness, short-circuiting the critical impulses and making itself disappear during the long, pleasant reverie of savoring the whiskey.
Returning to my star-crossed prologue: I am considering this in terms of additional flavor, and whether or not that results in a profile that is sufficiently compelling to justify the premium price. I’m happy to report that this is definitely the case. That port note is distinct, delicious, and plays well against some of the sharper aspects of the rye, particularly MGP’s hallmark dill flavor. This isn’t quite the revelation that Wild Turkey Revival was, but it’s a solid pour for the price. I’d be a repeat buyer at $100-and-under, as this is – appropriately – an ideal palliative for the winter (of our discontent).
Their earlier batch 2 and 3 were amazing…wondering if that was because of the older ryes in there. Subsequent batches, especially their first ones using their own distillate, fell quite a bit in flavor…but sounds like they’re hopefully getting better again, although not to the level of the batch 2 and 3
PB, I’ve heard similar comments from others re: batches #2 and #3. I don’t have the benefit of that perspective, but as a standalone I think this performs well for the price I paid, and I’d be a repeat buyer. As always, thanks for the interaction and GO BLUE!
I have to say, I quite enjoyed your effort at poetry Taylor! Though, I’m personally predisposed to the Sweet Swan of Avon myself – and so enjoy any reviewer who ventures to imbue him in their consideration of this dram. After all “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so” and is that not the basis of this cottage industry?
As for the tipple at hand, as someone who only occasionally enjoys rye whiskeys I always find myself reaching for this one in the winter months. Sure, the Shakespeare inspiration has its part to play in that, but I also really enjoy the melange of fruit, spice, and rye that High West manages to put together year after year in this bottle. I agree, it doesn’t reach the heights of Master’s Keep Revival, but at the price and with annual availability it certainly hits the spot for me as a tasty American whiskey with a port cask influence. Cheers, and happy New Year to you!
Frank, too kind but much appreciated nonetheless. And nice quote! Indeed, High West hit the bullseye on a good winter whiskey, even for those who are relatively rye-averse. Cheers and happy New Year to you, too!