I don’t do a ton of day drinking, especially on a Thursday, so it felt unusual to be drinking with the sun streaming through the windows of a ski lodge. But then I would look outside at the cowboy strumming guitar for people sitting around a fire pit in wooden rocking chairs and think, well, it kind of fits.
It’s becoming harder to find whiskies I haven’t tried for my New Year’s Challenge to taste 33 new whiskies in less than 30 days, especially at a typical bar that doesn’t have 100 kinds of American whisky on the shelf or an immense collection of Scotches. We’ve left Brooklyn for sure, Toto, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t good whiskies to find in Colorado – even if the pairings are a little less calculated and a little more “what can I try from this menu that I haven’t tried yet.”
Today, that took me to a couple of interesting options – a High West bourbon called American Prairie Reserve and a Scotch from Campbeltown – Springbank 15 year old.
What I knew: Blend of straight bourbons, 92 percent alcohol
What I discovered: High West does some interesting stuff. Their whiskies are “bottled by” High West Distillers, meaning the whiskey is sourced elsewhere (in this case, MGP out of Lawrenceburg, Indiana). But I still think they try to do different and valuable things with the taste even if they don’t distill the whiskey themselves. They are the makers of Midwinter Night’s Dram from an earlier New Year’s Challenge posting.
They labeled the American Prairie Reserve as a “great sipper and thinking whiskey.” I wouldn’t disagree with that. Actually, the more I sipped, the more I thought “I kind of like this.” It wasn’t initially my cup of dram. It doesn’t have a robust flavor for a bourbon and veered more toward the wood and herbal, grassy flavors than the vanilla, toffee, caramel that I like. But it was mellow, a little soft like the snow after some sun hits it.
I got into it eventually, although I felt like I would have liked a sweeter aftertaste. It didn’t linger long on the tongue, though, so that didn’t end up being much of an issue. By the end of the glass, I really felt it had become a fuller richer flavor than my initial impression.
What I knew: single malt from Campbeltown, 92 percent alcohol
What I learned: Campbeltown is a town in Scotland that used to have so many distilleries – around 30 – that it was considered one of the whisky regions of Scotland. The number has now dwindled to three distilleries, and Springbank is one of the few remaining.
Having no expectations for this whisky, I was pleasantly surprised at how well balanced and well developed it was. It was soft with a slightly leathery aftertaste. It was a little peaty, a little sweet, with a little orange and a little honey, and they all lingered on my tongue and had a nice happy flavor party. It was mellow, yet flavorful, with a tinge of ashiness on the tongue.
It reminded me of that feeling you get when you hit your stride while skiing, that natural rhythm that makes you think, “yeah, this is how it should be.”