High West Distillery has managed to navigate the very difficult waters of the craft distilling industry by supplementing their own produced spirits (including High West Silver Western Oat Whiskey and High West OMG Pure Rye Whiskey) with merchant spirit, bought and blended from a variety of sources.
High West really made its mark as a blender with their Bourye, a unique hybrid spirit that blends four different whiskeys (a 9 year old bourbon, 10 year old rye, 16 year old rye, and a 16 year old rye from another distillery). The fact that a craft distiller was buying and blending spirits created quite a controversy. This all came to a head in 2010 when the American Distilling Institute embarrassingly awarded Bourye the “Best in Show – Best Craft American Whiskey“. The aftermath of that ended up being positive for craft distillers and merchant bottlers, and High West rode this bucking bronco to great success.
The key to High West’s success in this space wasn’t just that they were buying and blending great spirits, it was also that they were being very honest about what they were buying, and where it was coming from (something that other distillers like Templeton would fail to do and end up paying a high price for).
High West followed up Bourye’s success with a number of other unique offerings, most notably High West Campfire, which blended American malt whiskey with blended Scotch whisky to great effect, and Double Rye!, which blended rye whiskeys from MPG Ingredients and Barton Distillery.
Now, High West has taken their popular Double Rye and finished it in a combination of Vermouth and Syrah barrels. Wine barrel finishing has been a hallmark in the success of brands like Angel’s Envy and Big Bottom Distilling and is quite commonly used (with Sherry casks) in the Scotch whisky category.
High West Yippee Ki-Yay Whiskey (46% ABV, $64.99) – dark amber in color, this blended whiskey has taken on a great deal of color from its time in the Vermouth and Syrah casks, which were probably pretty “wet” with wine when the whiskey was added to them.
The nose also reflects this with cinnamon, rye, and oak spice supported by the vermouth botanicals including black pepper, juniper, sage, and thyme. The nose smells a little like a Manhattan cocktail. It’s very well put together – all the elements come together in a way that makes sense, and it’s integrated with nice complexity.
On the palate, Yippee Ki-Yay is spicy right out of the gate with rye, cinnamon, and oak spice. The mouthfeel here is fairly solid, a touch less lush than expected, but still pleasant. Moving to the midpalate, the level of spice really intensifies with the addition of an intense herbal note from the Vermouth. In the midpalate there’s monster cinnamon, black pepper, sage, and thyme. It’s also in the midpalate where we see the presence of the Syrah barrels, with an undercurrent of blackberry and actual Syrah wine.
Towards the end of the midpalate things shift from spicy to slightly acidic with a touch of orange peel. This citrus character defines the finish which is long, spicy, and dry (albeit a bit too dry).
There are a lot of interesting elements in Yippee Ki-Yay, and High West has clearly drawn from their experience releasing the 36th Vote Barreled Manhattan bottled and aged cocktail. All the elements in Yippee Ki-Yay come together well, but there’s no hiding from the fact that the blended spirits here are on the young side. This results in a fairly spicy opening, a touch less lush mouthfeel, and a finish that ends up being a touch too dry. Some of these issues are mitigated when you treat this whiskey as a bottled cocktail and stir it over ice, which is probably how Yippee Ki-Yay will be most commonly consumed.
Minor issues aside, High West has again shown their aptitude for creating unique spirits from acquired spirits. Yippee Ki-Yay succeeds in delivering an interesting and unique whiskey experience, one which will appeal to Manhattan lovers as well as fans of their Double Rye release. 82 points.