One late April evening I was in a peated scotch whiskey mood. That’s somewhat rare. I’m not overly fond of peaty whiskies. I tend to feel the phenols overpower the subtle sweetness and fruitiness of the malt. There are a few that I do enjoy however. On this particular evening I was sipping the last of my Compass Box Flaming Heart, and moving my way into a pour of Compass Box Peat Monster. What I enjoy about these two whiskies is the peat presence is absolutely felt, but not at the expense of the malt, the fruit, and the toffee. In short they are balanced.
As I continued sipping, pondering Compass Box’s ways with the art of blending whiskey, I thought, “Geez, why doesn’t a distiller or independent bottler in the U.S. get a hold of some peated malt whiskey to add to a bourbon blend?” To me it just made sense – the rich, sweet, and sometimes spicy qualities of the bourbon seems like a perfect compliment to the smoky quality of a well made peated malt. I quickly dismissed the thought, “that would be way too costly.”
About a week later I received an email from David Perkins, proprietor of High West Saloon and Distillery. After a relatively tame 2011 (by High West standards) Perkins and co. were working on a new whiskey release called Campfire Whiskey. David explained that High West had finished the blending of 3 different batches of Campfire Whiskey and wondered if I would be interested in trying them along with some fellow enthusiasts.
A sample tasting ensued and I was able to try each of the blends. My favorite, oddly enough, happened to be the one (Sample C) with the highest percentage of peated whiskey in the blend. High West however was going after a much more subtle peat influence, and selected Sample A for public release. In hindsight – probably the smarter move, but more on that later.
Here’s the gist of Campfire Whiskey. Its a blend of a six year old bourbon distilled and aged at Midwest Grain Products (Formerly Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana or LDI), a 5.5 year old rye whiskey also distilled at the former LDI and aged in the upper floors of the famed Stitzel Weller Warehouses in Kentucky, and finally an 8 year old peated Scotch whiskey from the Scottish mainland. Global blending anyone???
David Perkins is not at liberty to divulge the origins of the peated whiskey based on agreements (understandings rather) with the source distillery. And honestly, I’m sure some will complain about that, but I can live with not knowing. What I do know is High West is the first American Distillery (that I can recall) to produce a blended whiskey of this type.
It’s a wildly unconventional blend, and has a name that pays homage to the peat contained within. How does it taste?
Color: Deep Golden/Amber
Nose: Bright and fruity up front with a tang of honey, golden dried fruits (apricot, apple, peach), hints of cinnamon, toffee, and only a lingering peat smoke note. The peat is faint as a whisper on the nose, but very much threaded throughout.
Palate: The bourbon and rye influence is felt first, balancing honey, dried golden fruits, and vanilla with a spark of the rye spices. There’s a bit more “zip” in the spice quotient on the palate. As these flavors fade, the smoke and peat adds a great deal of interest and needed complexity.
Finish: Quite fruity with lingering peat and a smoky quality.
Overall: Leave it to a bunch of whiskey outlaws in Utah to spit in the eye of conventional whiskey blending. The result is without question one of the most groundbreaking whiskeys of recent years. Overly dramatic? I don’t think so. High West has managed to “mingle” (Jim Rutledge term) global whiskeys into something that stands on it’s own. It’s not overly complex, but it works well together. I know what you may be thinking. This is a gimmick right? No, it’s not. Rather than be heavy handed with the peat, High West has shown a great deal of restraint with Campfire. The result is a whiskey that is livened up and made far more interesting with a kiss of peat. Unlike the name implies – there’s no fire here, just great whiskey.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.0 (Superb/Outstanding)