Few things pair like the marriage of long, cold winter nights and whiskey. Although its not technically winter quite yet, High West’s ‘A Midwinter Night’s Dram’ could become the archetypical cold weather whiskey that defines this marriage – regardless of season. A Midwinter Night’s Dram (MWND) is High West’s inaugural ‘Rendezvous Rye’ (a blend of a 5 – 19 yr rye whiskeys) which is then finished in ex French Oak and Port barrels.
As you may have guessed, the name ‘A Midwinter Night’s Dram’, is a take on Shakespeare’s comedy play ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. On that note, the front label mimics the original playbill for A Midsummer Night’s Dream down to the exact typography you would have found commonly in the English language until the mid 19th century. Another interesting yet archaic aspect of the label is that they even use ‘Long s’ which is a form of the minuscule letter s which was used where an ‘s’ would occur either at the beginning or in the middle of a word (e.g. ‘fuccefffuleness’ for ‘successfulness’).
In my opinion however, the coolest feature of MWND’s label is how High West decided to distinguish each year and batch from one another. Instead of using the usual vintage date and batch number for each bottle, they decided to use ‘Act’ and ‘Scene’ respectively. The first two versions of MWND were released in 2014, in which case you will either find an ‘Act 1’ (distillery only release – early ‘14) or ‘Act 2’ (national release – Fall ‘14) and then the batch would be the ‘Scene’. For example my bottle from 2014 was Act 2.3, so my bottle was the second release of the Fall and is Scene 720 (batch number). Well for 2015, they basically kept this concept but are only using whole numbers: my bottle from 2015 reads ‘Act 3, Scene 3’, much more simple but still keeping with the Act/Scene concept. It’s the little things like that I feel make this dram so unique, and give it its rustic charm.
As stated above, my bottle is from Act 3, Scene 3 and comes in at 98.6 proof.
2015 High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram
ABV: 49.3% // 98.6 proof
Age: 5-19 years
Mashbill: 95/5 MGP, 53/37/10 & 80/10/10 from Barton Distillery
Batch: Act 3, Scene 3 (2015)
Barrels: New American Oak, French Oak, Port
Color: Dark violet, ruby bronze
Nose: Richly ambrosial. Fresh potpourri with blueberry and boysenberry concentration, still hot in the pan. The French oak and port barrels come through more than Act 2 from 2014 but the rye isn’t overwhelmed by this. Creamy vanilla, crips fresh mint from the rye with some Belgium waffles, orange icing and hints of blood oranges and tangerine. The additional barrel aging takes your standard Rendezvous Rye to new heights on the nose without choking out the classic Rendezvous profile. Dried cranberry, dark purple grapes, Trader Joe’s fruit leather (the apple ones) home-made Christmas fruitcake, cinnamon sugar and vanilla custard. I actually prefer this sweeter nose as opposed to last years Act 2. On the back of the nose I got some gentian and quinine bark, no doubt from the port cask which reminded me of Bonal or Byrrh (port based fortified wine), for you Manhattan drinkers. In fact this is about as close to a Manhattan in a bottle as you’ll get without buying some premixed cocktail garbage. Some apricot and dried fruits round out the nose with some light spices.
Palate: If perfume could translate to a palate, this whiskey has it. White floral notes, rose water with a black and blue berry medley. The lightest of mint and menthol notes delicately dry things out through waves of creamy vanilla. More dark blood oranges, tangerine, plum, sweet cereal and rye grains come through but not as green and earthy as you may pick up in your average rye – the wine barrel finishing def polishes things over. As MWND opens up in your glass you’ll find thick figs and prunes and some vanilla-lemon custard. I also get this reminder of raisins from those little boxes my mom would put in my lunch bag as a child. The body is medium in density and has a very nice mouthfeel, the wine barrel maturation and rye play very well. At the back of the palate oak quietly shows its head, enduring throughout the wine heavy journey in your mouth, and settles onto the tip of your tongue as the port has the last word which comes across as dry, which I find really pleasant.
Finish: Sticky raisin, black pepper, black licorice and anise star. Oak is subtle. Lots of sweet winey notes and mint, smoked fruits, Luxardo cherry syrup, banana chips, rose petal, some white pepper. Like a manhattan in a bottle with little to no bitterness.
Bourbon and House Rating: 91.5
I’m happy High West is staying fairly consistent with MWND so far. What started out as an interesting concept of aging their Rendezvous Rye in French oak and port barrels has turned out to be a sleeper amongst the established limited edition juggernauts of each year. Earlier this year until about February, I remember seeing Act 2 sitting on the shelf at a few places….well see if Act 3 sticks around that long into 2016. Alas, my guess is it won’t be – but for those still searching by then, hopefully i’m wrong…