High West’s Tragic Whiskey: A Midwinter Nights Dram

“Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A Midwinter Nights Dram from High West is a “blend of straight rye whiskeys finished in French oak and port barrels, bottled by High West Distillery.”  This whiskey comes in an absolutely beautiful bottle, which appears to be hand blown because of the the tiny bubbles remaining in the glass–and it has a great label.  It’s limited edition, and you know we all are a sucker for something limited edition.  This is Act 2.9, scene 1450, coming in at 98.6 proof.  It has all the makings of an amazing whiskey, great rating, great labeling, etc… yet, it falls tragically short.  FYI, this is a sourced whiskey (the rumor is MGP, which makes wonderful whiskey by the way), and High West finishes/bottles it in Utah.

Let me start by examining precisely what is means to “finish” a whiskey.  According to wikipedia:
Finishing (also known as double matured or wood-finished) is the procedure that some whiskeys undergo whereby the spirit is matured in a cask of a particular origin and then spends time in a cask of different origin (generally 6 months to 2 years. Typically, the first cask is an American oak cask formerly used to mature bourbon. The second cask may be one that has been used to mature some sort of fortified wine, often sherry, though sometimes port, madeira, or even wines such as red burgundy or chardonnay are used.  Some of the more well-known finished whiskies include Balvenie “Doublewood”, which is finished in sherry casks, Glenlivet “American Oak Finish” and “French Oak Finish”, which are finished in brand-new casks of the respective woods, the Glenmorangie range of sherry, port, madeira, and burgundy finishes, and the Diageo line of “Distiller’s Editions”, a “Double Matured” expression of each of their classics line of single malt scotch whiskies.

Like most labeling in the American whiskey world (small batch, crafted, barrel strength, sour mash, etc) finishing does not have any legal definition.  This is problematic for the consumer who expects a quality product of unique blended flavors.

“And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.” (or in whiskey production)
-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Scotch is most famous for finishing in sherry casks, and now many whiskeys in America are using a variety of finishes to differentiate themselves from the market.  It seems to me that that most producers would like us to believe that they purchase very expensive used barrels from the best Port houses like Taylor’s, Graham’s, Warre’s and Dow’s, soaking wet with the latest highly rated vintage and age their product in it for months or years, causing the whiskey to absorb complexities from the previous producers brilliance.  I think the reality is starkly different.  My guess, and if I am wrong, I’d love to be educated on this, most of them buy cheap barrels, dump a few bottles of low end tawny in it, mix their product in for a few days, and bottle away.  This is what exactly what A Midwinter Nights Dram tastes and smells like.

Now for the review…

The color is very dark, not whiskey like, rather if you took 4 parts whiskey and one part tawny port and mixed it together… (hey Shakespeare fans… this is what you call foreshadowing!)

The nose has a hint, just a hint of what a rye should smell like, instead you get canned plums, cheap tawny port, raisins and some mint toothpaste.  Call it plummy flavored cheap bubblegum.

The taste is obnoxious.  It’s more of the sweet aspects of low end port without any of the complexity, along with a young, sharp rye that lacks character.  Now at this point you may accuse me of someone that just doesn’t like port… how wrong would you be!  I happen to love port and collect and drink vintage port; in fact I have over 150 bottles of port going back to 1960 in my wine cellar (I had a 1908, but sold it)… so my love of Port can not be understated.  The flavor profile just is not one of quality port that appears to have been used in the finishing. The mouthfeel is initially mildly redeeming, yet the longer you keep it in your mouth the toothpaste taste starts to emerge and all I can think is what a waste of money this was.

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”  (Nor did this whiskey)
-A Midsummer Night’s Dream

I thought perhaps a few drops of water could partially redeem this experience… I was wrong.  It just diluted the pain, but the menthol and minty toothpaste just became more prevalent.  I also thought more air a week between openings would help the bottle evolve… time and air did not solve the problem either.

What a complete waste of my money, calories and time.  I am shocked at how much people like this, and I think the idea of “finishing” really needs to be examined closer.  For those producers who are investing in high quality finishing barrels–more power to you!  For those who think just dumping a few gallons of crappy ruby or tawny port, swirling it around some barrel you found with some French oak staves and charging $100 for it: shame on you!  Now, if I am completely wrong and this product actually was aged for a long time in high quality Portuguese Port barriques, then High West has ever bigger problems on it’s hands, because the product just stinks.

Instead of calling this A Midwinter’s Night Dram, they should have considered have found a way to make a play on one of Shakespeare’s tragedies instead, because the only thing comedic about this product is that I was foolish enough to buy it.  66/100.

“If we shadows have offended,
Know but this and all is mended.
That you have but slumbered here,
While these visions did appear,
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding, but a dream.”

-A Midsummer Night’s Dream



4 thoughts on “High West’s Tragic Whiskey: A Midwinter Nights Dram

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