High West Distillery: Newborn and Mature Rye Whiskey

High West Distillery: Newborn and Mature Rye Whiskey

High West’s OMG Pure Silver rye is, without question, a connoisseur’s whiskey. That’s perfectly appropriate because why else does one purchase an un-aged rye whiskey in the first place unless it’s to do a little experimentation with something new?

OMG Rye comes from the high mountain distillery in Utah named for the Old MononGahela river (anglicized native word mechmenawungihilla translated as “falling banks”) in Pennsylvania, the source of inspiration for the rye whiskey. As an historical note, it is also the area that rose in the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.  The whiskey itself is indeed a “pure” rye in that its grain bill is 80% rye with the remaining 20% in malted rye. It’s bottled at just shy of 100 proof… a good deal stronger than most American whiskey coming in between 80 and 95.

OMG was a revelation in many ways. The aroma was light with an almost white wine quality to it; not at all the heavy smoke quality that many people associate with (aged) whiskey. Drinking it neat revealed a very sharp and clean spirit that was immensely smooth for such a high proof finishing with just the barest whisper of sweeter malt. The mouthfeeel was chewy with cereal qualities… probably due to the fact that it’s not chill-filtered (with the lipids adding a feeling of solidity to the liquid). The distillery recommends drinking neat (if you can’t age it in your own barrel and drinking when you’re ready). We decided to put it through it through a few more trials.

Directly contrary to the distiller’s recommendations, we tried it with a little ice. This is where we re-learned a very important lesson: when the distiller tells you something about their own spirit, the rule is to believe them. On ice, the citrus/wine aroma vanished and the whiskey seriously felt like it curdled, leaving a kind of bitter taste. With ice water… no better. But mixing it with room temperature water was a great improvement… the water smoothed out the heat and evened out the flavor profile. Lesson 1: if you’re going to cut OMG with water, make sure it isn’t cold water and never put it on ice.

Not satisfied with that experiment, we moved on to test it in a classic vodka cocktail. After all, lots of moonshine is billed as the vodka alternative. We mixed it up with ice (gluttons for punishment that we are), some fruit liqueurs and the whiskey. We learned very quickly that (cold) + (sugar) + (OMG) is contra-indicated as well. Don’t do it. Ice just doesn’t work here.

But wait, what if we made a room temperature cocktail? There is such a thing, after all. We invented a cocktail on the spot with 2 parts rye, 1 part Cointreau, and  1 part water feeling that the brandy in Cointreau would do well in a warmer setting. This particular cocktail was absolutely fantastic. The rye and the orange mixed in wonderful ways with just a touch of sweet. It was a sophisticated beauty. And you don’t have to shake a damned thing to make it. So yes, High West warns that OMG is difficult to mix with but it can be done with a little daring. (By the way, the same drink with vodka was absolutely boring as hell… it needs the whiskey.)

So this is our own personal verdict on the OMG Rye: it’s a fantastic whiskey but not one that belongs in every home’s liquor cabinet. It belongs in the liquor cabinet of any snob out there that thinks they know everything there is to know about whiskey. Aside from being very well-crafted, it’s an intricate, complex, and surprisingly different. It will stretch your preconceived notions of what a whiskey is and what it can do.

Contrast this with the more traditional Rendezvous Rye whiskey. This is a blended whiskey of two different ages that, we suppose, “rendezvous” in the barrel at High West (these are not whiskeys that they distill themselves but they do the bottling and blending). One of them is a youngish 6yr rye while the other a much more stately 16yr.

This is the quintessential rye whiskey. Sipping on ice is something we absolutely recommend for the Rendezvous and it’s a great example of what aging can do for a spirit. It creates a long, lingering finish on the palate with the high, spicy rye note singing throughout. It almost goes without saying that it was superb in a classically made Sazerac cocktail.

Rye should be good in a Sazerac cocktail; so we decided to put the Rendezvous through some trials with simpler cocktails (and those more likely to be found in home bars, unlike the Sazerac’s requirements of Peychaud’s bitters and absinthe, which tend to be found only in geeky home bars like ours). Ginger ale is a long-held standard with whiskey and, while it might seem a tad sacrilegious to mix a $50 whiskey with ginger ale we tried to recover by being sparing with the ginger ale and generous with the whiskey at ratios of about 1 or 1 ½ to 1. On ice, this makes a delicious and refreshing drink… a classic cooler that is gulpable rather than merely shippable (why else dilute a fine whiskey if not to gulp rather than sip?). In fact, the ginger was so good with the rye that we went ahead and made a bastardized version of the Rusty Nail cocktail using the Rendezvous Rye for the scotch and a ginger liqueur for the Drambuie. This new drink kicked the living daylights out of the traditional one… a veritable ménage a trois of age and spice and sweet that we imagine is rivaled only be a real, genuine ménage a trois.

Our verdict is such that Rendezvous Rye is every bit the rye whiskey that demonstrates the breadth and versatility of the class. It has just enough blending of other grains to ratchet back the blazing arid dryness of pure ryes and just high enough in proof to be mixable. It’s an outstanding example of the genre.

Published by Proof66.com