Whiskey is a Slow Food
The sun had risen, delivering another day of winter-mountain perfection in Wanship, Utah, a small town of 400 that’s nestled in the Wasatch Mountains, an off-shoot of the western slopes of the Rockies. That day I was whiskey-bound, off to see the new High West distillery on a dude ranch, but needed to grab lunch in their restaurant first: a nearly two-foot long butcher’s board of pickled, cured, aged, smoked, and crisped meats. Wild boar salumi! A mixture of field harvested Texas wild boar and all natural pork belly, seasoned with cloves and juniper berries. Duck prosciutto! Locally made and award-winning Utah cheeses from Beehive and Gold Creek. If I reviewed restaurants, my one-liner for High West would be this: Every so often, an unassuming restaurant achieves a cult following thanks to a menu packed with gastropub fare and authentic mountain grub. They’re on to something.
Exit through the gift shop and move on to the state-of-the-art distillery, an architectural gem with wooden rafters and beams that pinch a roof so high that the window walls created by such an awesome height look out onto the snow-covered Wasatch. This view will steal your gaze.
Inside, there are machines that mash grains like rye, corn, barley, wheat, and oat, but not all at once. When the mash is added to the fermenter with any of the four strains of High West’s homegrown yeast, it will turn into a distiller’s beer. But 8-to-9% isn’t quite whiskey so the grains with sugar and yeast go into copper sills that pull off chemicals. After they take all the alcohol out—by steam—and put it into barrels, it will spend a few years there, taking on the color and aromas of American oak. The amber-colored liquid will fall into a vat. It will be bottled and labeled in another room.
You will pay dearly for this product.
What’s left over from this process are nutritious grains, in the form of an oatmeal-like grainy mush. They give it to a nearby creamery down the road. They say that the cows, which produced one of the cheeses I just ate, know this truck and because they love the mush so much, they’ll come right up to the truck.