I’ve never been a whisky drinker until this week when Dan, a friend of mine, had me try several Scotch and Irish whiskies of his, including one rare Scotch that I brought him back from my recent trip to San Dimas, California.  I won’t pretend to know the first thing about whisky, but I do have a pretty good palate. As Dan described each whisky’s flavor profile, I found myself noticing different aromas and flavors that I wouldn’t have perceived had I mindlessly been taking shots. In the past, I’ve only tried low-quality whisky in cocktails. Real Scotch whisky is something else. The bottle that I brought back from California was a Glengoyne 17. We also tried a Glenfiddich 15, a Glenlivet Nadurra, and a RedBreast (Irish).

As we tasted and talked about whisky, Dan mentioned that there was a distillery, called High West, in nearby Park City, Utah. I called the distillery to book a tour, and Dan and I headed up there a few days later. The tour was neat. I found it to be quite an informative experience and I learned a lot about the world of spirits and the history of Park City.

Once the tour was over, we went to the bar to have a few drinks. I like whisky and have a newfound respect for it, but I am not really passionate about it.  Food is much more interesting to me than alcohol alone, so I was pleased when I saw on the menu that High West Distillery offers a special pairing of chocolates and whiskies. This combination may seem strange at first, but as I learned on the tour, it all makes sense when you look at the chemistry behind whisky. It turns out that through the distillation process, whisky develops several chemical compounds that register on our palates as the taste of vanilla. As for the caramel, that comes from using American White Oak Barrels that have been charred. American White Oak is similar in composition to Maple wood, and we all know how much sugar can be found in Maple trees (think maple syrup). Charring the inside of these oak barrels caramelizes the sugars present in the wood. The caramelized sugars slowly seep through the wood and into the whisky during the aging process. Vanilla and caramel are both abundant in the flavor profile of all quality whiskies, and also happen to go very well with chocolate.

The chocolate and whisky pairing consisted of six chocolates and three whiskies. Each whisky was paired with two chocolates. The idea was to eat part of the chocolate then wash it down with a small amount of whisky. First came the High West Silver OMG Pure Rye whisky paired with Key Lime and Meyer Lemon chocolates. Next was the High West Double Rye paired with a Pomegranate chocolate and a Mint chocolate. Finally, there was the High West Bourye paired with Beehive Honey and Aztec Spice chocolates.

The chocolates were handcrafted by Ruth Kendrick, the head chocolatier of Chocolot Artisan Chocolates, a company out of Ogden, Utah. The chocolates were very good,  but what stood out the most to me was that each one was a real gem. It was obvious that a lot of talent and creativity had gone into the making of these chocolates, making them very eye-pleasing. I only tried the six chocolates that came with the whiskies, but I saw on a pamphlet that I was given that there is a large selection of other flavors (like peanut butter and lavender espresso)!  I appreciate creativity and thinking outside the box and I thoroughly enjoyed my sweets.

I won’t go into much detail about the whiskies, as I am not qualified to do so, but my favorite from the sampler was the High West Bourye. This whisky had a nice flavor and a peppery finish. It went really well with the Aztec Spice because both were a bit spicy. Because of the peppery finish, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I bit into the Beehive Honey chocolate, since honey is mellow and smooth. Despite my initial hesitation, the pepperiness of the whisky and the smoothness of the honey balanced each other out nicely, and the two worked well together.

While at the distillery, I also got a taste of the Peach Vodka 7000′, another one of High West’s creations. While vodka wasn’t the main focus of this tour, this was my favorite drink of the day and I will likely buy a bottle of it when I get the opportunity to. Once again, I know little about spirits, but this peach vodka actually tasted like peaches rather than artificial peach flavoring.

I didn’t eat anything other than the chocolates, so there is little else to report. I had a chance to take a look at the menu but I wasn’t hungry enough for a full meal and focused instead on the spirits. I’ll definitely go back to High West Distillery in the future for a nice meal and some more whisky and vodka. Until then, I recommend trying the tour (it’s free) and sampling some of their alcohol if you are in the area. There is a good selection, and if you need help, the bartenders are friendly and will hook you up with something good.
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