...where distraction is the main attraction.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Bourbon and Rye Day Friday: Two scenes from High West's A Midwinter Night's Dram

Corporations and independent distilleries

Our favorite indie distilleries are getting bought up, one by one. And I don't expect it to end any time soon. In some cases, the distillery had already proven to make a high quality product (see: Westland), thus a future was clear and the purchase had promise. In other cases, the distillery had created overpriced low quality product (see: Hudson Whiskey), and, well, I don't know why William Grant bought them.

In yet other cases, the wisdom behind the purchase is questionable because the distillery had not yet proven to distill a product of quality but instead gained notoriety from good blending of great sourced whiskies. For instance, High West. This is not meant as a poke at the Perkinses. There hasn't been enough time for their own whiskey to come to the market. But that's not their problem now, and they made out with a nine figure sale.

My question to Constellation Brands is...why buy them now? High West's great success was from blending together purchased barrels to create Rendezvous Rye, Bourye, and their brethren. How do you scale that up? Is there some sort of scheme to push ahead in line to grab more MGP distillate? How do you plan on making teenage Barton rye appear upon demand? Or are you banking on as-of-yet unproven products?

I've been thinking about this a lot recently, because it'll probably be only a few months before Smooth Ambler is scooped up too [UPDATE: Holy crap.] . And then another half dozen companies that did well thanks to MGP distillate. Willett, perhaps?

Awkward segue

Anyway, this has (hopefully) little to do with today's whiskey review. Rendezvous Rye is a favorite in my house, and I've enjoyed seeing High West tinker with their formula by doing extra maturations for private barrels. A Midwinter Night's Dram takes this to a more committed direction as the producers create a widely(-ish) distributed Rendezvous varietal by sticking it in port barrels and French oak barrels for an unspecified amount of time. Is it a short finish or an extended secondary maturation? I don't know.

So there's my intro, or my two intros. And sure enough I have tried two editions (or "scenes") of A Midwinter Night's Dram. Thank you to WhiskyWithRyan and Florin (a prince) for these opportunities.

The Stats

Product: A Midwinter's Night's Dram
Distillery: Barton/Tom Moore and MGP distilleries
Producer: High West
Ownership: Constellation Brands
Type: Blend of Straight Rye Whiskies
Region: Utah (High West), Indiana (MGP), Barton (Kentucky)
Age / Mashbill: 16 years, 80% rye 10% corn 10% malted barley (Barton) + 6 years, 95% rye 5% malted barley (MGP) -- more of the latter than the former in the mix
Primary Maturation: charred white oak barrels
Secondary Maturation: "port and french oak barrels"
Alcohol by Volume: 49.3%

ACT 2.6, SCENE 1120

I recently met with a pair of local whiskey geeks to do some public drinking. One of these gentlemen, Ryan, brought his bottle of AMND. Because I took my notes in outside my usual hermetically sealed tasting location, and spent much of the time in conversation, I'm going to give this a grade range rather than a specific score.

You can see the rosy brown color in the accompanying photo. The nose has a vanilla + smoked toffee shell with a lemon + cocoa interior.  The port is subtle in the palate, at first. A few scattered red berries. Peppery rye, dark chocolate and mint. Then the port influence expands with time as a nice tart berry fruitiness moves to the fore. The finish brings the nose and palate together. Vanilla, mint, tart raspberries, lemon candy and black licorice.

I wasn't blown away by the whiskey's nose, but the finish was so layered and lovely that I'll happily ignore the weak link. I'd expected this to be a port-soaked soaked thing, but instead the elements held a good balance most of the time. Good stuff.

RATING RANGE: 86-89 (B/B+), for Act 2.6, Scene 1120 only

ACT 2.9, SCENE 1322

This second scene/batch's nice sized sample comes to Diving for Pearls courtesy of Florin. I've been looking forward to trying it for, what, two years? Now's a good time.
Since I am tasting this in my hermit zone, it will get scientifically precise score, rounding up to the nearest ten-thousandth.

The nose is the opposite of Corti Brothers Exquisite Whiskey's schnozzola. One can actually smell the whisky part. But there are plenty of blackberries and blackberry jam. Also black pepper, wood smoke and orange peel. Burnt grain and soil. A little bit of milk chocolate in there, and a small flower blossom note. Okay, more chocolate's coming; it's sort of hot fudgy.

The palate also has plenty of well-aged, but still peppery, rye. There are some tart berries, sour limes and a zippy bitterness. I'd expected chocolate, but found toffee instead. Also some fizzy raspberry schweppes. Fresh ginger and cayenne pepper. Ah, bitter cocoa. Hints of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg. Grape juice tries to poke out but the spicy rye hammers it down.

The zippy bitterness runs into the finish, as does the pepper, nutmeg and clove. It has weird glue and notebook paper notes at first, but those vanish with later sips. There's some grapey sweetness, toasted marshmallows, and wood smoke, but a youthful rye rumble continues underneath.

Perhaps the port is slightly louder in this scene, but a desserty Rendezvous Rye is an acceptable Rendezvous Rye to me. I liked this batch better than my high strength Barrel Select bottle I reviewed in October, and it stands up pretty well to the regular Rendezvous. Which is all good news. I hope High West keeps produces subsequent scenes.

A Midwinter Night's Dram distinguishes itself as a different product than the RR, is more expensive to produce and is legitimately scarcer. The question is, how much of a premium would one be willing to pay for it? If I find it for $80 or less, then I'll go for it. But I can't say its quality calls for most of the prices I'm seeing online. It's very good American whiskey, but I'm not paying three figures for very good American whiskey.

Availability - A few dozen specialty retailers in the US
Pricing - $70-$140, a few idiots are charging $200+
Rating - 87 (for Act 2.9, Scene 1322 only)