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21 Sep 2019 | Randy Kemner

Boom and Bust in Craft Distilleries

Market Watch magazine, a wine and spirits trade journal put out by the Wine Spectator people, recently reported that craft distilleries are closing at an increasing rate.  Even so, new ones seem to be opening at breakneck speed.  Long Beach has recently opened its first distillery, Portuguese Bend Distillers at 3rd and the Promenade.


Each distillery is manned by dedicated artisans who are passionate about their work, experimenting with revolutionary oak treatments, infusions and still systems.  Some of them may be dreaming they can be the next High West, crafting whiskies in Park City, growing their brand and ultimately being snapped up by a publicly traded corporation like Constellation Brands for a billion dollars.


That won't happen for the vast majority of them, who will continue to go to work each day dreaming up new concoctions, patiently waiting for their whiskies to mature while they churn out new vodkas, gins and other early-release infusions.


It's up to the marketing and sales teams of these micro distilleries to try to get their products in front of influential mixologists, spirits store buyers and journalists to try and carve out a market for their products. 


The fact is, very few craft products have something unique to say to us.  We always have to ask ourselves if our customers will be interested enough not only to try their products, but to buy them again and again.


Recently, we added a beautiful Texas reserve Bourbon from Garrison Brothers and some impressive brandies, infused brandy liqueurs and a vodka made from grapes (Tin City) from Wine Shine of Paso Robles.  Earlier we discovered Amass Gin and Loft & Bear vodka, each created in downtown Los Angeles.


Which ones will be able to sustain themselves in the hyper-competitive specialty spirit marketplace, and which ones will be relegated to history are yet to be seen. 



Re-Visiting High West Distillery

Park City, Utah


When we heard High West had been sold to Constellation Brands a few years back, we were worried that the small-batch reputation for hands-on quality would be diluted with the inevitable production expansion to follow.  I'm happy to report that isn't the case--at least just yet. 


The sale provided the capital to construct a modern distillery in the outskirts of Park City in Wanship Utah in 2015, and for the first time, High West, which previously sourced almost all its whiskies, now has its own Utah whiskies to add to the mix.  If all goes well, nearly all of High West's production will be locally made. 


For all you conservation-minded folks, a tenth of all after-tax profits of American Prairie Bourbon is donated to The American Prairie Reserve in northeastern Montana, an organization dedicated to preserving the prairies, grasslands and wildlife of western America.


Recently I sat down with our local reps to try out the latest versions their "four core" whiskies, a highly regarded seasonal release and a wildly impressive cocktail in a bottle.


High West American Prairie Bourbon, Park City, Utah

Bourbon-y aroma, Bourbon-y flavor.  Solid effort.  10% of the profits goes to The American Prairie Reserve in Montana.

$34.99 per bottle


High West Double Rye, Park City, Utah

A blend of ryes aged 2 to 6 years in barrel, the first release with whiskey made at High West in the blend..  This is an exciting whisky, much improved from previous bottlings.  There is a spicy aroma of nutmeg and clove, which adds to the great character in the flavor. 

$34.99 per bottle


High West Rendezvous Rye, Park City, Utah


This is a blend of rye whiskies from 6 to 16 years of age.  Vanilla and spice are the dominant aromas in this mahogany/dark amber-colored whiskey, with a hint of cooked, overripe peaches.  Very warm flavors, with an equally warming finish.  92 proof.

$64.99 per bottle


High West Campfire Whiskey, Park City, Utah

The current blend of this whiskey has shown the most improvement of the High West Portfolio, at least to me.  Older versions of Campfire were so smoky, drinking them were like licking ashtrays.  This is a subtler go at it.  Still an unconventional and original blend of Bourbon, Rye and Scotch Whiskies, the newer release isn't as aggressive as the previous bottlings, either in the aroma or flavor.  The peat and smoky character is way more in the background, giving the spirit a better balance of flavors.  Nicely done.

$68.99 per bottle


High West Yippee Ki-Yay Rye Whiskey, Park City, Utah

This is a seasonal super-premium release, meaning when it's gone, we'll have to wait until next year to enjoy it again.  Aged in American oak, vermouth and Syrah barrels, the base is drawn from Rendezvous Rye.  With a spiciness in the aroma, the whiskey has a more subdued style, yet the flavors are able to penetrate.  A very sophisticated rye.

$79.99 per bottle


High West Distillery Barreled Manhattan, "The 36th Vote" Park City, Utah

Named for the 36th and deciding vote to end prohibition, High West Distillery's Manhattan-in-a-bottle is nothing short of masterful.  I usually rubn the other way from prepared cocktails, preferring to craft them myself for freshness and vibrance, I was smitten by the richness of this product, and I've enjoyed it at home ever since acquiring it for The Wine Country.  Made from High West's Double Rye with red vermouth and orange bitters, then aged 6 weeks in barrel, it has a soft, agreeable flavor with some cherry notes.  Rich, soulful flavor.  Pour over ice and enjoy it.  Immensely.

$44.99 per bottle




George Benham's Sonoma Dry Gin, Sonoma County 

Derek Benham, founder of Purple Wine Co., decided to try his hand at spirits, launching his venture in 2016.  One of the initial releases, produced at Graton Distillery, was this impressive gin.  Using twelve botanicals--Juniper, Meyer lemon, peppermint, coriander, cardomom, star anise, buddahhand, Angelica, chamomile, Orris Root, and a couple I'd never heard of, Galangal and Grains of Paradise--and finished at 45% ABV, this gin possess fierce aromatics, with a lovely taste, smooth, easy and nicely balanced, especially considering its 90 proof strength.

$37.99 per bottle



Dos Maderas Double Aged Rum 5 + 3, Guyana & Barbados to Jerez

Simply put, I love the rums from Dos Maderas at all expressions.  The 5 + 3 is the subtler of the Dos Maderas rums at The Wine Country.  Aged 5 years in the Caribbean, then transported to Jerez Spain where they it is aged a further 3 years in sherry barrels, this smooth and easy rum is almost like sipping brandy.  A lighter-style rum compared to its 5 + 5 PX older brother, yet still pretty.

$34.99 per bottle

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