High West American Prairie Reserve

Bourbon is a spirit that I haven’t really given enough respect to over the years. I know intellectually and appreciate that there are some great bourbons out there, but all to often I focus on mixing it or drinking it over ice and don’t pay attention to the flavour of the spirit itself. Enough. I’ve decided to devote a chunk of my time to investigating the flavour variation in bourbon and developing my palate. First on the chopping block of my latest excuse to drink is High West American Prairie Reserve.

High West American Prairie Reserve

High West is a name that pops up quite regularly in whisky geek circles, with American spirit experiments like Bourye (a blend of Bourbon and Rye whiskeys) joined by slightly crazier bottlings like Campfire (Bourbon, Rye and smoky Scotch whisky). They’ve been mentioned on the blog before thanks to a bottle of their barrel aged Manhattan, The 36th Vote, that I got as a gift from the USA, but with favourites like Four Roses readily available I’ve not got round to digging much further into their whiskey range. However, discussions over on the the Whisky Bloggers Facebook group recently have started me wondering about the making and marketing of American whiskey, and High West are an ideal candidate for a bit of further investigation.

High West are part of a group of distillers (to be explored in a future post) who, at least as yet, don’t bottle their own whiskey. Instead, High West (quite openly) buy up stock from other distillers and then blend them to create their own whiskies. All the while, squirreled away in a rickhouse somewhere, barrels of their own spirit are maturing. We presume. And hope.

The American Prairie Reserve is a blend of two straight bourbons and in the usual High West fashion they give details:

  • Whiskey #1: 6 year old Bourbon. Mashbill – 75% Corn, 20% rye, 5% barley malt
  • Whiskey #2: 10 year old Bourbon. Mashbill – 60% Corn, 35% rye, 5% barley malt

A bit of reading around suggests that the first whiskey is distilled at LDI (Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana) and the second at Four Roses (using their B mashbill). The latter is already my goto distillery for bourbon and the former are one of if not the biggest producers of whiskey for ‘other people’ in the US, so I suspect I’ve unwittingly tried their spirit before.  The thing picked up on in a number of reviews around the web is that High West don’t chill-filter their whisky, unlike most US producers – so much American whiskey is drunk with ice that it makes sense to filter it and stop it from going cloudy. While chill-filtering is a big issue in the world of Scotch whisky it doesn’t pop up as much in whiskey discussion, so it’s interesting to try one that’s unfiltered.

On the nose it it has a base note of freshly stained boards with sweet gummi, candied lemon and a touch of cinnamon toast. On the palate it’s quite oily, with lots of pungent caramel, lemons (flesh and bitter pith), buttery cookie dough, developing dark wood and a touch of soap. It hangs around for a bit, with sweet cinnamon butter, developing apple skin dryness, sawdust, hints of green anis and a touch of bitter, woody resin. An ice cube thickens it up and knocks out a lot of the bitterness and the cloying edge of the sweetness, bringing out a touch of maple syrup and floral notes.

An interestingly oily bourbon with strong enough flavours to hold up to the evils of an ice cube and hopefully, further experimentation is needed, in cocktails. While it’s got a chunk of rye it moderates the rye spiciness to within my annoyingly low tolerance, making this a decent sipper as well as one for playing with in cocktails. It’s a touch expensive, but such is the joy of spirits only imported in small batches.

In related news, it’s named for the American Prairie Reserve and 10% of High West’s profits on the bottle are going to help the project.

High West American Prairie Reserve
Blend of Straight Bourbons, 46%. ~£45

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