Wednesday, July 11, 2012
High West Campfire
David Perkins of High West distillery is fast becoming America's version of John Glaser, the mad genius blender behind Compass Box Scotch (Glaser actually is American, but he works in England). Perkins burst onto the scene with blends of excellent old ryes, then created Bourye, a blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys. Now he's got something else the likes of which we've never seen before.
Campfire is a blend of bourbon, rye and peated Scotch. Yes, you heard that right, bourbon, rye and Scotch. The bourbon and rye are both made at Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana; the bourbon is made from 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% barley mash; the rye is the high rye LDI mash of 95% rye and 5% barley.
The only thing Perkins will reveal about the Scotch is that it's from the Scottish mainland (which means it isn't from Islay). The label refers to it as a "blended malt Scotch." This could mean that it is "teaspooned." Teaspooning is the practice of adding a teaspoon of malt whisky from one distillery to the barrel of another so that the barrel cannot be marketed as a single malt. Distilleries will sometimes do this when selling a barrel. For instance, if Lagavulin wants to sell a barrel but doesn't want someone marketing it as Lagavulin single malt, they can add a teaspoon of Caol Ila to it. Since the barrel is no longer composed of whisky made at a single distillery, it's no longer a single malt and must be classified as a "blended malt."
According to High West, all three of Campfire's component whiskeys are over five years old. After I was part of a group that tasted some prototypes and gave him some feedback, Perkins was kind enough to send me a bottle (sell-out alert!!) which I'll review today.
High West Campfire, Batch 1, 46% abv ($54)
On the nose I first get a whiff of chimney smoke, then a generous dose of rye spice. The smoke and spice go back and forth making for a nice combination that's somewhat reminiscent of cigar smoke. On the palate that same interplay takes place. Smoke and spice are definitely the most prominent notes but late palate a sweetness comes in as well, as if the bourbon is fighting for its place in the blend. In subsequent sips I'm getting something different each time. There will be a sip with more prominent rye, one with more prominent smoke, all with the underlying sweetness. The finish has some dry smoke (like...a campfire) on the nose and some smoky spice on the palate.
This is a fascinating and totally unique whiskey. Among the prototypes I tasted was a higher proof version of what became Campfire, and the lower proof version is actually better than the higher proof version was. Mad scientist Perkins has yet again hit on a winning, if unexpected combination.