We’ve had the opportunity to try High West whiskey once before in the spring of 2011 where we marveled that this Utah-based distillery—famous for beehives and teetotalers—could produce any whiskey and then marveled anew that they could make spirits of such quality. Since then, the folks in Utah were kind enough to provide us with samples of several more of their products.
The first was something in between a Ready-to-Drink (RTD) cocktail and a flavored whiskey. They call it The 36th Vote Whiskey and it is meant to commemorate the end of that absurd and awful period of time when these United States suffered under the Prohibition. Utah, ironically, was the deciding (36th) vote to repeal. While we still have the Prohibition detritus of regulations, strange laws, and crony distribution infecting the industry, it is partly due to Utah that we get to drink (legally) at all.
The 36th Vote begins its life as the High West Double Rye, itself a blend of a 2yr old rye (95% rye grain) and a 16yr old rye (53% rye grain). For the record, we at Proof66 adored that rye whiskey. For it to become the 36th Vote, they mix the whiskey with sweet vermouth and Angostura bitters (2 parts whiskey, 1 part vermouth)—in essence, they make a Manhattan cocktail. Then they throw this brew back in an oak barrel for 90 days to let the flavors marry and gain an additional depth, while smoothing out the spirit. Afterwards, High West announces that they have created a “damn fine elixir.”
What did we think? Well, to find out we decided to pit it against a homemade Manhattan.
First, to get ready, we caused mass panic among the snobbish and elite by making a Manhattan out of Jack Daniels Old No. 7 for our baseline of comparison. No it’s not rye and no it’s not even bourbon and no, now that you ask, it’s not even a highbrow whiskey. But really, what better baseline than to compare against the most widely consumed whiskey on earth? We finished our Manhattan with the same published proportions as the 36th vote using Noilly Prat Rouge and a dash of genuine Angostura bitters.
On the nose: JD smells like, well, Jack. Except it also smells like Jack with a bunch of vermouth perfume poured all over it like a “French bath.” Not bad but kind of a glancing re-acquaintance with the college bar scene. The 36th Vote is a lot more subtle on the nose: a lot more oak and dryness, perhaps a hint of black pepper. Very unlike the aroma of the JD and far more intriguing.
On the palate, our Tennessee Manhattan was way too heavy on the vermouth—at least in the 2:1 proportions suggested by High West. It was drinkable… but barely. Getting this in a bar would ensure that we’d be drinking whiskey neat for the rest of the night (the one cocktail poor bartenders can’t mess up). In contrast, the 36th Vote had an opening flavor that was far more pleasant: cool sweetness followed by a mix of whiskey and a tangible dry pepper taste on the finish. Don’t know where the pepper comes from because we’ve never tasted anything like it anywhere else. Having tasted the Double Rye that gives birth to the 36th Vote, we can say with authority that the pepper is not coming from the rye so it must come from the bitters or the vermouth. It’s a very intriguing and unusual flavor that should delight any number of whiskey connoisseurs and a reason to go out and try the product.
For recommendations, we feel the 36th Vote would go absolutely perfectly with a steak. In fact, every steakhouse in America should be purchasing a bottle right now. It also has a classic, old-school cocktail aura about it. The more water dilution from ice (shake shake shake that martini shaker) the more the pepper is subdued… in our opinion, letting it sit in ice a bit longer sands off the rougher pepper edges of the finish.
We can also recommend this whiskey as a manly masculine kind of RTD in that you can take it tailgating, camping, or other activities and drink it right out of whatever vessel contains it with no fuss. Outdoors is definitely the place for this spirit. No mixing, no fuss: just pour and drink by a campfire where heavily seasoned and seared meats are the order of the day. As a caution, it should go without saying that you have to somewhat enjoy Manhattan cocktails to enjoy this whiskey.
Verdict: This is highly drinkable for Manhattan drinkers and those who want something straight out of the bottle. Makes an excellent digestif: pour in lieu of straight cognac or whiskey.
Additional Verdict: we can decidedly recommend against Jack Daniels in a Manhattan.