High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 10 Rye WhiskeyPhotos via High West Distillery Drink Reviews whiskey
When it comes to limited release bourbon and rye whiskey, the “finished” corner of the market is an interesting little fiefdom. Although many of the most hyped, premiere products in this space simply feature big age statements and big proofs, finishing a spirit in fortified wine or alternate spirit barrels can also confer “prestige” status in some cases … though not all. There are a handful of “finished” brands, however, that the whiskey world really embraces with the full-on hype usually reserved solely for Buffalo Trace products, and one of those is definitely High West’s A Midwinter Night’s Dram—a port barrel-finished rye whiskey.
This bottle is certainly a boon for High West, giving the company a legit, blue chip “hype brand” that whiskey collectors frequently go far out of their way to acquire. Though it boasts a pretty luxe MSRP (which has risen as of late) of $150, it’s not uncommon to see whiskey hunters offering $300-400 for this one on the secondary market. This year’s release, meanwhile, is Act 10, commemorating a decade of Midwinter Night’s Dram releases.
But wait, there’s more. This year, High West is also celebrating the brand’s first decade with an even more limited edition version of “MWND,” (whiskey geeks love acronyms) dubbed Encore. Like the original version, Encore is likewise rye whiskey finished in port barrels, but the considerably more limited Encore is finished only in barrels that previously contained white port, as opposed to the ruby and tawny ports features in the standard MWND. It carries the same $150 MSRP, but the secondary market is likely to be orders of magnitude more ridiculous. Regardless, I don’t have a sample of Encore to taste anyway. Suffice to say, you’re not likely to run across that one in the wild.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 10 (Scene 4). This is the brand’s Rendezvous Rye Whiskey, finished in ruby and tawny port barrels, and bottled at 49.3% ABV (98.6 proof). As an expression of Rendezvous Rye, it contains both 95% rye whiskey from MGP and High West’s own, in-house 80% rye, 20% malted rye distillate.
On the nose, I’m getting musty rye and earthy tones, supporting by stewed and dark dried fruit. There’s a molasses-like caramelization with a suggestion of a little bitterness, and also a tea-like maltiness, perhaps indicative of the brand’s own distillate with malted rye. It’s a significantly earthy profile, with a grain character the evokes something like a hayloft, combined with the more expected vinous notes and concentrated fruitiness, clearly byproducts of the port barrels. Overall, though, it doesn’t immediately strike me as the most assertive nose.
On the palate, though, this one is quite fruity and expressive. The texture is smooth and slick, almost slightly syrupy, though that doesn’t necessarily translate to a lot of residual sweetness—it’s only moderately sweet in fact, and that sweetness is balanced mostly by spice and heat rather than the drying effect of oak. The fruit notes evoke plum and cranberry, certainly giving this the festive vibe that is often associated with the brand, and over time the fruitiness becomes increasingly vinous and wine-forward. You also get some charred oak, along with punchy spice evoking pepper and chile flakes, along with hints of licorice. Ethanol heat is present in a measured way appropriate to the proof, while trailing oak makes itself felt on the back end. Over time in the glass, this one seems to grow richer and a touch sweeter, with the fruitiness growing ever clearer and rounder.
All in all, it’s a spirited and festive sort of feeling, though not a super decadent one as I thought it perhaps might be. A Midwinter Night’s Dram will remain a highly coveted bottle, though it will appeal most to drinkers who really appreciate its more vinous aspects.
Distillery: High West
City: Park City, Utah
Style: Blend of straight rye whiskeys
ABV: 49.3% (98.6 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $150 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.