High West 16-year old Rocky Mountain Rye

Opened: January 7, 2012
92 proof (46% ABV)
Price: $89.99
[*Kentucky] Straight Rye Whiskey – 16 years old
Bottler: High West Distillery
Tasting Date: March 21, 2012

Color in glencairn glass: Rusty golden copper. Cloudy.

Nose: Freshly baked banana bread. Mint-strawberry bramble, sweet fruit jelly. Thick and gooey alcohol wax. Banana leaf and custard.

Taste: Soft, sweet entry turns to a bracing spice on the palate. There’s a sweet, stinging, almost dill-like bitterness encasing a custardy ginger spice. The finish is a tame, yet fiery red hot cinnamon that leaves a round vanilla after-taste. Beyond the aggressive spice, there’s plenty of warm, cherry-infused vanilla custard to chew on.

This is a contradictory rye: delicate but packing bold flavors, a full body, and remarkable spice kick considering its proof. The toned down proof softens the whiskey’s impact while the non-chill filtering leaves a healthy mouthfeel fit to chew on. It’s a unique whiskey that shows a lot of finesse. It’s too bad that I can only guess at what this may have tasted like straight out of the barrel; for another $10 or $15 I would have loved to find out. $90 is a lot to ask for an American whiskey, and most bottles in that price range are bottled at cask strength. As unique and “rare” as it might be, $90 remains a bitter pill.

Value: $84/$90

High West runs an active distillery, but having only been in existence since 2007, its own young distillate makes up only a minority portion of the company’s offerings. As dutifully noted on the bottle’s label, this 16-year old Rocky Mountain Rye (RMR16) comes from a mash of 80% rye grain, 10% corn and 10% barley malt. The label also mentions that the whiskey was found “quietly aging in a Kentucky warehouse,” though it does not specify who owned the warehouse or, more importantly, where the whiskey in the barrels was distilled. To the best of my knowledge, it was distilled at Barton, AKA Barton 1792 Distillery, AKA Tom Moore Distillery. It’s the same place that makes Very Old Barton (VOB) and 1792 Ridgemont bourbons. As the label states, “[t]hese incredible whiskeys were destined for blending into Canadian Whiskey… until we sipped them.”

Most companies that bottle sourced whiskey do not disclose in such detail the mashbill or origin of their juice, so for this High West should be praised. The first product High West sold when it burst on the scene in 2008 was called Rendezvous Rye, and it used this same 16-year old whiskey as a component in that blend. Unlike the current Sazerac 18-year old and Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye, which were distilled in the 80’s and put into stainless steel barrels, RMR16 would have been distilled in 1991 or 1992 for the use in a Canadian whiskey. I don’t know if it was meant to age for 16 years when it was distilled or if it sat around the warehouse absentmindedly waiting to be bought, but High West has a particularly romantic – not to mention truthful – story to tell in the rescue of this rye, and it’s refreshing to see a bottler market their product with such industrial straight talk.

I picked up and reviewed this whiskey in accordance with my fascination in the aged ryes disappearing from today’s marketplace. In addition, I am a fan of the VOB BiB flavor profile, so when I found out the source of some of High West’s whiskies was the Barton Distillery, my curiosity finally won out. It’s another whiskey going the way of the dodo that was distilled when the American whiskey industry was still treading water in the wake of a calamitous market share depression. The next crop of aged ryes we see will have been made during a new era of production, so I feel compelled to educate myself on flavor profiles that will likely not be duplicated.

Man, education tastes good!

*High West Distillery, located in Park City, Utah, prefers not to call attention to the state of Kentucky on the front of their label. As this is a straight rye distilled in Kentucky, however, it is a Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey.


~ by WhiskeyWonka on March 22, 2012.

2 Responses to “High West 16-year old Rocky Mountain Rye”

  1. […] a very enjoyable conversation with the proprietor of High West, David Perkins. As I mentioned in my review for High West’s 16-year old straight rye, Mr. Perkins’ first product was Rendezvous […]

  2. […] whiskey in every respect but that it was aged in reused cooperage. Just as High West’s (HW) 16-year old Rocky Mountain Rye was distilled at the Barton distillery, intended to be sold and blended into Canadian whisky, so […]

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