High West Campfire, according to the description on the company’s website, “is the world’s only, and possibly first, blend of Scotch, bourbon and rye whiskeys. A very unusual, distinctive, yet delicious whiskey.” I can’t argue with their claim because although I know that there have been experiments combining Irish and Scotch whiskies, and also some similar explorations with Japanese and Scots whiskies, the fact that High West Campfire combines bourbon, rye and scotch may make it the first such whiskey to be produced and brought to market.
Given that High West Campfire is a rather unique (mostly) American whiskey, but that is also part Scotch whisky – and which certainly creates a bit of an identity crisis, at least when trying to categorize the whiskey – so who could possibly be in a better position to provide us with a review a whiskey made of spirits produced in both the US and Scotland, than an American living in Australia, yes, our own Australia-based reporter, Mike D! An absolutely natural fit!
High West Campfire
The story behind the creation of this whiskey is another one of those fantastic, “life experience becomes whisky-inspiration” stories commonly found on the back label of so many of the new releases in today’s “whiskeysphere”, where marketing seems to have taken over as the creative force behind most of the new whiskies now being produced (Thanks, Ardmorangie!™). So, anyway here’s the story behind the inspiration of the High West Campfire whiskey:
One morning at the Bruichladdich distillery B&B, High West Founders David and Jane Perkins smelled peat in the air. The great ladies that made the meals were simmering a bottle of peated whiskey and sugar! Later that night, they brought out dessert of ripe honeydew drizzled with the peated syrup. That was the most unusual, delicious and memorable ending to a dinner they had ever had. The combination of melon and sweet smoke really worked – so (naturally…) David thought why not mix sweet bourbon and peat? The main flavor (or melody) is sweet honey from a ripe bourbon. The enhancing flavor (or harmony) is floral fruity spice from a mature rye whiskey. The accent (Satchmo’s gravelly voice!) is smoke from a peated scotch whisky. The proportions? Top secret.
One positive that to recognize about High West is that they have generally been very forthcoming about their whiskies. While they didn’t originally disclose much about their whiskies, for the last several years they have been clear that they often source their bourbon and ryes from MGP (Midwest Grain Products), the behemoth spirits producer in a not very romantic, mega-industrial plant located in Lawrenceburg, IN. And that is the case here; High West acknowledges that both the bourbon and the rye component whiskies were produced by MGP.
The other facts that we know about High West Campfire is that the whiskey is neither chill-filtered nor carbon treated and that all of the component whiskies are 5 years or older. High West also provides specific information regarding the bourbon and the rye whiskies. To provide the “Sweet” notes, they used a straight bourbon whiskey with a mashbill consisting of 75 percent corn, 21 percent rye, and 4 percent barley malt. The rye is a straight rye whiskey that provides the “Spicy and Floral” notes. This whiskey has a mashbill of 95 percent rye and 5 percent barley malt. The “Smoky” notes, well, there is no disclosure. Now, to be fair to High West, I suspect that they were prohibited by the actual producer from disclosing the source, so we’ll cut them some slack. What they do disclose is that the Scotch whisky is a blended malt of 100-percent barley malt that has been peated, and that it does NOT come from Islay. A few years ago it might have been relatively simple to narrow down the source to one or two mainland distilleries, but in the current era, where even the most traditional distilleries are now, at least occasionally, producing peated whiskies, the challenge to pin an identity on the source is quite difficult.
So, let’s turn it over to Mike and get a review of this interesting whiskey!
I went to Varnish on King today; this is a whisky bar in downtown Perth that we looked for when Eric and Teri visited us last October. We ultimately located its rather innocuous front door, only to find the bar closed until several hours later….and our non-whiskey-loving wives didn’t want to wait! So, naturally, I had to go back on my own! Varnish on King offers a nice selection of American Cuisine, a wide selection of cocktails, beer and wine, as well as a very good line-up of whiskies. They also host a Whiskey ‘101’ Masterclass on the first Monday of the month.
Review: High West Campfire, Batch 15E05, Bottle 1029, 46% abv
As mentioned above, High West Campfire is a blend of bourbon, rye and peated scotch whiskies, mixed at an undisclosed ratio. The bourbon is a medium-level rye mashbill, while the rye is from a 95% rye mash. The scotch is peated, and identified only as non-Islay. An interesting concept; let’s see how it is!
Color: Pale straw
Nose: Starts very fruity, with notes of ripe melon with honey and soft smoke. There is something slightly musty, sort of like a fire put out with water. In the background are some spices.
Palate: In the arrival there is a touch of heat but no real alcohol burn. Like the nose, there are the melons and honey; these are strong flavors but come across as individual tastes and not like honeydew melon. The peat sneaks in after a moment, but it remains a very gentle peat. It reminds me of Caol Ila, but after reading the label, it can’t be Caol Ila if this is not an Islay peated whisky (wonder where???) There is the cinnamon note and a bit of citrus.
Finish: The finish is sweet and spiced with a light smoke.
Region: Utah, USA
Distillery: MGP (Bourbon and Rye), Undisclosed (Scotch)
Bottler: High West Distillers
Type: Blend (Bourbon, Rye, Scotch)
Age: Not stated beyond all whiskies being a minimum of 5 years old
Maturation: Not disclosed
Price: $60 (Total Wine – Texas)
Availability: Specialist Retailers
Sample Source: tasting at local whiskey bar $22.50 AUD