Debuting within a whimsical masquerade ball in Wanship, Utah—home of the High West Distillery—A Midwinter Night’s Dram: Act 10 marks the 10th edition of one of the most beloved blended rye whiskies on the market. High West might not be a household name yet but those familiar with the signature bottle and exemplary portfolio look forward to this annual limited edition launch, and people in the brand’s home state line up bright and early on release day. Much to the delight of attendees in Wanship (and those who have learned of its existence since), High West also used the festive affair to announce a scene-stealing sister product: A Midwinter Night’s Dram: Encore.
To understand the fever surrounding Act 10 and Encore requires taking a look at the brand’s flagship product, Rendezvous Rye, which acts as the base of all “Dram” releases. The first whiskey High West ever bottled, back in 2009, Rendezvous Rye recently transitioned to a seasonal release (with the most recent iteration bottled this March).
“It’s one of the most dynamic blends that we have,” Tara Lindley, High West sensory QA and new product development manager, tells us during a tasting of all three whiskies at the distillery. “We use both MGP rye distillate [which they source] and High West distillate [which they produce]. Over the years we’ve been able to showcase both distillates really beautifully as they’re blended together.” Lindley notes that the golden amber liquid noses of pie crust, juicy red fruit, botanicals and spice. On the palate, there’s ginger and molasses, along with more ripe red fruit. It’s bold, spicy and smooth—a strong foundation for what’s to come.
Lindley, who oversees High West’s sensory lab, worked with Brendan Coyle, the brand’s renowned master distiller, on the development of Act 10. Historically, she explains, for A Midwinter’s Dram blend, “we take our Rendezvous Rye and we finish it in port barrels. We use both ruby and tawny port barrels sourced from Portugal. I source them from different providers so that I can capitalize on complexity.”
Each year Coyle and Lindley blend a different ratio of tawny and ruby port finished rye as they seek the perfect profile. “The majority is ruby,” Lindley explains, but “this year we have even less tawny than last year. Visually, it’s this dark amber color. Then there’s a dark jammy fruit on the nose, like smashed plums and, I want to say, a thyme note.” As with previous A Midwinter Night’s Dram releases, there’s blackberry on the palate, along with plum pudding and caramel custard. A rye spice flavor builds after each sip, and lingers, amidst Act 10’s higher 98.6 proof.
The ultra-limited Encore, which was only bottled on Wednesday of last week, has been named as a way to convey that it’s one more surprise performance from the brand this year—and should not be mistaken as the end of the “Dram” line. Perhaps surprisingly, the idea for it began at last year’s Act 9 release party. “Brendan and I were sitting at a table in the corner, after about three courses and three drinks into the night and we were wondering what we were going to do to make Act 10 special,” Lindley says.
“I had an idea: let’s blend a white port finished Rendezvous Rye into the blend of ruby and tawny and have this trifecta of port barrel finishes,” she explains about the uncommon move. Coyle thought it was a good idea so Lindley sourced the barrels. Their blending team filled and stored them—until it came time to put Act 10 together. “We look at each barrel and batch separately,” Lindley says. “We loved the white port! We thought it was so beautiful. But when we started putting it in with the ruby and tawny, all the beauty was masked.” They decided to pivot and create an entirely new product.
“We felt that we needed to do it justice,” Lindley says. The resulting 101.6 proof rye whiskey is utterly astonishing, beginning with sweet pear notes on the nose. Ginger and molasses also appear on the palate, but there’s a vivaciousness that’s unique to this tipple. Encore’s only disappointing attribute is that it’s only available at the distillery and the High West General Store and Saloon in nearby Park City, where it retails for $150. (Act 10, also listed at that price, is being distributed nationally).
Lindley says that she’s in a constant state of discovery at High West and both of these releases are the result. “I have this library of flavors and aromas in my head through all of our whiskey inventory when it comes to making new blends,” she says. “When it comes to finishing barrels, that kind of throws in a variable that I cannot always predict. They’ll always be different.” The variable here produced something unexpected and extraordinary, though it’s only been bottled thanks to the care and masterful skill of the High West team.
Images courtesy of Dan Campbell for High West Distillery