Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review: High West Bourye - Tracking The Elusive Jackalope

High West has been up to some interesting things.  We got to sample their Midwinter Night's Dram at the Whisky Jewbilee last month, a blend of rye whiskies finished in port barrels.  We were so impressed by it that we decided to go hunt up High West's most famous creation, Bourye.

Bourye was High West's original bourbon / rye blend, made with a mix of age-stated whiskies: a 10-year-old bourbon, a 12-year-old straight rye whiskey, and a 16-year-old straight rye.  The product was discontinued when their stash of these older stocks ran out.  They now offer "Son of Bourye" which is a blend of 5-year bourbon and rye.  The older age statement on the original makes this bottle somewhat collectible, but you can still find them on the shelves so it's kind of a fun "hunter" bottle if you're into that sort of thing.  We found the below bottle in New Jersey a couple of months ago.



Details

We try not to focus too much on presentation, but we have to give High West points for their bottle.  It's very thick, high quality glass that feels like something you'd pick up in a saloon at high noon.  (Hang on to the empty bottle when you're done, the label comes off in the wash and it makes a great water pitcher.)  As for the whiskey, the 10-year bourbon is from LDI/MGP and the mashbill is 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley.  The 12-year rye is also LDI and it's 95% rye, 5% malted barley.  The 16-year rye is from Barton Distillery and it's 53% rye, 37% corn, and 10% malt.



Tasting Notes

Nose:  A lot of sweets on the nose, like Honey Nut Cheerios.  Some nice richness, not a lot of brown/butter like we'd look for in a big rye, but a good balance of the rye spice with the sweet corn of the bourbon.

Palate: The taste sticks with the same basic ingredients, sweet with a little spice.  It doesn't have a nice big thick mouthfeel, nor does it have the big rich buttery quality of our favorite American drams.  It does have a very drinkable light and flavorful essence with light wood, sweet honey, a little minty/citrus hint, and a nice basic rye spice.

Finish:  There's nothing really remarkable in the finish.  It's well balanced and very drinkable but doesn't leave you with a strong aftertaste.

Review

This is a good drinker and worth picking up if you see one on the shelves.  It's a very nice introduction to bourbon / rye for someone who's into malts or is a newbie on the whiskey front.  We find ourselves wishing the proof was higher.  At 92% it doesn't really have the flavor that we've come to love from higher test bottles.  But that's our only real complaint, it's a solid "B+" pour with a good balance of flavor, a lot of smoothness, and a fun all around experiment.  The man in charge at High West, our friend David Perkins, likens his bourbon/rye creation to the mythical antlered rabbit known as the Jackalope.  He signs the bottle with some important advice if you go hunting for this little bad boy:




Challenge Accepted

If you're a real SmokyBeast soldier, you'll remember that we made our own bourbon/rye vatting a couple of months ago, nicknamed "Frankenvat".  We had reviewed High West's top shelf 21-year rye whiskey.  It was delicious, but also lacked something in the balls department, so we decided to mix it with an obnoxiously loud bourbon: Stagg Jr.  Here's the result:


Bourye vs. The Frankenvat Round 1

While Bourye is the result of careful scientific research by a team of professionals, we do have something going for our SmokyBeast Frankenvat: age and liquor.  Allow us to explain.  High West 21 is on average about twice as old (and expensive) as the rye used in Bourye.  Stagg Jr. is a cask strength bourbon and bumps up the combined ABV considerably.  Our blend has been sitting in a sample bottle patiently awaiting its day in the ring, so let's put them head-to-head and see what happens.

Left: High West Bourye;  Right: "Frankenvat" of High West 21 and Stagg Jr.

Noses: They're actually surprisingly similar in the nose.  The Frankenvat is a little harsher (no surprise with the Stagg) and has a little more burnt butter.  The Bourye smells a little more professional :).

Palate:  Ok in our completely unbiased (read: totally biased) opinion, we've stepped the bourye concept up a notch here.  Stagg Jr is 134.4 proof, High West 21 is 92 proof.  Since the mix is 50/50, we can assume it ends up at around 113 proof.  And MAN does that make a difference against Bourye's 92 proof.  The big bourbon Gods have awoken in this freakish science experiment.  It just feels more ALIVE than the original.  Some of the refinement of the 21 year is still there, but the boldness and flavor are way more out front.

Finish:  The increased alcohol definitely leaves its mark on the finish.  There is admittedly a hefty does of that Stagg Jr burn here, which made the Stagg nearly undrinkable on its own.  But now, with the added refinement of the 21-year rye, it's more of a welcome warmth.  Also a couple of months blending has definitely worked its magic on our mix.

Conclusions?  Possibly none.  David Perkins might cringe at us swirling around his 21-year masterpiece with some admittedly terrible bourbon and then saying it's better than his perfect blend.  But seeing as David recently taught a blending class and sent us home complete with graduated cylinders, eye-droppers, and wild ideas, he can hardly blame us.  We like to think we did something special.  Either way, this was fun as hell.  Grab some High West, if you can find the Bourye pick it up, if not we recommend the Double Rye which is a mix of older and younger straight ryes.  There are also some High West private barrels that are awesome, we'll review some of those this fall.

Next week we're starting the "big Willett tasting" which will take us through the holiday weekend so stay tuned!

Cheers/SB