The other day, I got a care package from High West!
Naturally, my cat had to investigate. Since the delivery was met with his approval, I thought it would be a good idea to feature it here.
In all seriousness, it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of High West’s whiskies. I’ve said in multiple posts that they’re doing an excellent job sourcing and blending whiskies, and creating delicious, unique products as a result. However, one thing High West isn’t really known for is distilling and producing their own aged spirit.
High West Valley Tan represents an exciting development for these whiskey innovators, in that it’s the first aged whiskey that the distillery has distilled, aged, and bottled in-house.
A Bit of History
The name, “Valley Tan” has quite a bit of Utah history to it. One of the first industries to develop around the Salt Lake Valley was leather tanning, and “Valley Tan” was the name given to any leather goods produced in the region. Eventually, the term became a moniker for any product produced by the Mormon population in the Territory (as opposed to goods imported from the United States). This included– yes – whiskey.
With Valley Tan, High West has released a whiskey based on the recipe of original Mormon spirit. And in adopting this name for their first aged whiskey, the distillery has done something quite clever; they’re recognizing the history behind the spirit, but also acknowledging that it’s a uniquely Utah drink, too. In fact, it’s made primarily with wheat grown in-state.
This all makes for a fun story (and I geek out about history, so it’s great for me), but you’re probably all waiting for me to get to the important part: How does it taste?
I’m happy to report that High West has succeeded admirably here. They’re developed a highly enjoyable, unique whiskey. It’s light bodied, fruity, and floral. In my opinion, it makes a great summertime dram.
Nose: It’s immediately clear that this is a whole different animal from a bourbon or rye. The nose is invitingly sweet, with notes of vanilla, marshmallow, and soft caramels. There is a pronounced floral note that reminds me not so much of a particular flower as a fresh-cut bouquet. I also get notes of apples and peaches, mingling with a slight acidity and a hint of toasted oak. There’s also a notable, earthy richness woven throughout the nose that helps to offset some of the sweetness.
With a drop of water, some of the sweetness and floral notes fade. In their place, I get more toasted oak and a light vegetal note, reminiscent of freshly chopped parsley.
Taste: The whiskey is light bodied, but packed with plenty of flavor. The arrival is sweet and toasty, like freshly baked banana bread, coupled with notes of golden raisins and baked apples. Towards the middle, I get fresh red apple and the caramel that I smelled on the nose, along with some toasted coconut. There’s a prickle of heat that reminds me of black pepper or ginger, and it nicely offsets the sweeter, fruity notes. For a whiskey with so much sweetness, it’s not at all cloying. The finish has notes of apple, raisins, and candied ginger that come together before drying up and leaving me ready for the next sip. Before I knew it, my glass was empty, and I was left wondering how that happened.
As on the nose, a drop of water mutes the sweetness considerably, creating a much drier dram. It also gets considerably spicier, with much more ginger and black pepper interwoven with the apple notes. Personally, I think I prefer it without water, but it’s quite tasty both ways, and just comes down to personal preference.
At 43.5% ABV, this whiskey is lower strength than a number of other offerings from High West, but it holds its flavor very nicely (that said, I would love to see what this would be like at cask strength…).
Valley Tan is something absolutely unique; it has very little in common with bourbon, and definitely no similarities to rye. If you want to try something totally different, I heartily recommend it. Unfortunately, Valley Tan is currently only available in Utah, but perhaps that’s just one more excuse for a trip…
Initially, with the whiskey being relatively light-bodied, I figured that “Squar” (The old Mormon word for “neat”) would be the only way to go. While that’s definitely going to be my go-to for this tasty dram, some experimentation has showed me that it can work really well in a summer cocktail, too. With that in mind, I bring you “The Prairie Breeze.”
The Prairie Breeze Cocktail
- 2 Oz High West Valley Tan whiskey
- 1/2 Oz ginger liqueur
- 3/4 Oz apple juice
- 1 Grind fresh black pepper
- 3-4 Dashes black walnut bitters
- Lemon Twist (for garnish)
The flavors in this drink are subtle, and the proportions are balanced so that they don’t overpower the base spirit. Instead, each element complements a different component of the whiskey. The fruitiness of the spirit pairs really well with the kick of ginger. The mild burn of the black pepper accentuates the slight spiciness of the spirit, and the rich flavor of the black walnut bitters brings out the earthiness that I got on the nose from the whiskey.
This cocktail is smooth and easy to drink, with a pleasantly warming finish. It’s tasty on the rocks, but I found that I prefer it strained and served up in a cocktail class.
However you choose to drink Valley Tan, I think you’re going to enjoy it. If you get your hands on a taste of it, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Either leave a comment here, or reach out to me on Twitter (@adramgooddrink). Cheers!
Questions of the Day: Have you tried High West Valley Tan? What’s your favorite “unconventional” American whiskey?