A Midwinter Night’s Dram (Act 4) Review

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of my temperance have been greatly exaggerated!

For the better part of winter, a busy work schedule has kept me from blogging, but I’ve been missing it a lot. Plus, I’ve had this guy pointing out my blog neglect and guilting me back into it.

Okay, I might be projecting a little…

Anyway, it’s been FAR too long since my last post, but I’m happy to say that I’m dusting off the Glencairns, breaking out the bottles, and gearing up for plenty more reviews. A Dram Good Drink is finally back in action!

To kick off my return, I thought I’d revisit one of my all-time favorite American whiskies: High West’s A Midwinter Night’s Dram. Way back in 2015, I reviewed “Act 2” of this awesome whiskey, but recently had the pleasure of trying the latest release (Act 4). Although it might not be “midwinter” anymore, this week has been chilly and dreary, and could certainly benefit from a cozy, warming dram like this.

As I’ve said before, High West is one of my favorite whiskey producers in large part because of the skill and care they take in sourcing, blending, and finishing their products. Though they’re sourcing most of their base whiskies from the same producers as many other brands (particularly MGP), they work all kinds of alchemy to turn these spirits into incredibly unique (and delicious) finished products. If it’s sounding like I’m a fanboy, well, yeah (though if you’ve read my other High West posts, you’d already know that).

This particularly whiskey begins as High West’s Rendezvous Rye (itself a blend of high-rye whisky from MGP and a high- and low-rye whiskey from Barton) before being finished in French oak and port casks, which add an awesome, fruity richness to the underlying rye spice.

Nose: Wow, this is rich and enticing. Plenty of cinnamon hits me first, followed by other warming, wintry spices like clove, nutmeg, and allspice. The spices likely arise a blend of both the inherent rye spice and the influence of the french oak casts. It’s not all straight spice, though – the port cask adds a ton of rich fruitiness on the nose, with plenty of cherry, blackberry, and plum. In the background, there’s a bit of lemon zest, walnut, and a hint of black pepper, with an aroma of sweet vanilla tying it all together. A few drops of brings out more vanilla, as well as an extra helping of fresh ground pepper and some more lemon.

Taste: The rye spice is definitely still the dominant element here, with plenty of clove, cinnamon, black pepper, and also some anise and caraway. It doesn’t come off as immediately sweet as I’d expected from the nose – the initial blast of pungent spices is relatively dry, rather than cloying or syrupy. The sweetness is there, though, it just takes time to arrive. Once the initial spice punch subsides, its replaced by longer-lasting vanilla caramel and chocolate covered cherries, which flow into a long, rich finish that’s packed with dark chocolate and rich fruits like cherries, raisins, and black currant. I also get a little coffee on the finish, which reminds me more of chocolate covered espresso beans than brewed or ground coffee. A little water softens the initial spiciness, allowing the sweetness to come through a bit faster. The vanilla takes on a more custardy flavor, mingling with the spices and fruits to remind me a bit of a freshly baked bread pudding.

Since this is the latest iteration of an annual limited release, I thought it would be fun to compare Act 4 to an earlier edition. Unfortunately, I don’t have a bottle of Act 3 around for a more recent comparison, but I was eager to see how this latest batch compared to my bottle of Act 2.

After a thorough comparison, I felt like the fruity notes were much more prevalent in this year’s batch. In Act 2, I found the port-influenced dark fruits came through primarily as subtle accents on the nose and then on the finish. Conversely, in Act 4, there’s plenty of cherry and other fruits on the nose, which also come through on the middle of the palate (though the fruit still persists into the finish). The overall level of spiciness seems similar between the two batches, though I didn’t get nearly as much of the characteristic MGP dill in this year’s whiskey. I also get a lot of mintiness in Act 2, which I didn’t really detect in this newer release. It’s possible that oxidation changed my bottle of Act 2 a bit, but my tasting notes match up to my old review pretty well, so I don’t think much of a change occurred.

Comparing them side-by-side, Act 2 and Act 4 taste pretty darn different. There’s enough similarity that it’s clear they’re related, but they’re definitely not twins. As for the obvious question of which I prefer, there’s no easy answer – both are delicious, but I think I’m leaning ever so slightly toward Act 4.

Questions of the Day: Have you tried A Midwinter Night’s Dram? What’s your favorite port-finished whisk(e)y?

Disclosure: Though I’ve since gone out and tracked down my own bottle (pictured in this review), thanks to Mara Flynn and High West for providing the sample used for this review. As always, all thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

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