From Strength To Strength



A review of the Dalton Alma 2009 and two High West Distillery Whiskies.


By Joshua E. London and Lou Marmon


Washington Jewish Week  March 1, 2012


“May you go from strength to strength” is one of the more common blessings. In the wine and spirits world, “strength” commonly refers to the sometimes controversial subject of alcohol content. In wine, too much alcohol can interfere with how well a wine pairs with food; in spirits, too much dilution interferes with one’s evaluation of that spirits’ character and flavor. Of course, “strength” can also refer to one’s appreciation for the artistry, bravery and longevity of a winery, distillery or brewery.

Using those criteria, Dalton is one of Israel’s strongest wineries. Located in the Upper Galilee, the Dalton Winery was established in 1995 as the region’s first commercial winery since ancient times. Dalton is now the cornerstone of the area’s wine-making industry and is a leading producer of some of the country’s finest single-varietal and blended wines.

Dalton’s portfolio includes Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Viognier, Rose and a lovely Moscato. All Dalton wines are kosher for Passover and are released under a number of labels including Canaan, Dalton “D,” and Safsufa Vineyards along with several reserve and special bottlings. Their Alma series of Bordeaux and Rhone style blends are designed for early enjoyment and are perfect choices for the upcoming holidays. Try their full-bodied, blackberry and floral-scented Alma Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Cabernet Franc 2009 ($26), a well-built beauty with dark plum, red cherry and cassis flavors along with a light touch of spice, tea and chocolate.

Spirits-wise, those who produce distilled spirits have convinced themselves that American consumers require some interesting or fabled “backstory” that points to heritage, history, and some semblance of authenticity. Why any of this should matter in a distilled spirit is irrational. The spirit either tastes good or it doesn’t, and it is either worth the asking price, or not.

Still, as we’ve noted before, there must be something more significant to all of this than we’d care to admit because nearly every producer does it. The proof is in the profit.

A good example of this – marketing nonsense coupled to enjoyable product – may be found courtesy of the High West Distillery & Saloon. “Utah’s first distillery since the 1870s, High West Distillery and Saloon offers a truly unique experience as the world’s only ski-in distillery and gastro-saloon.” The company started “with one man’s passion to make a great Rocky Mountain Whiskey. Proprietor and distiller David Perkins married his background as a biochemist, his love of bourbon and cooking, and his passion for the American West to bring the craft of small-batch distilling back to Utah, of all places.”

There is plenty more on the website suggesting that Perkins is a craft-distiller, and that he is reviving a bit of Utah’s heritage in this regard.

So what whiskey does Perkins produce? Tricky question actually. From what we can ascertain reading between the marketing blurb, he distills nothing currently available, but does blend and bottle plenty – and does some of this very well. The whiskies currently available were sourced from excess stock produced from undisclosed distilleries far from his operation in Park City, Utah. Our best guess is that the rye whiskies in particular were sourced from the old Seagram’s distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ind. So, yes, he produces whiskey, but no, he does not distill the High West Distillery whiskies currently available. This also means that he has not, in fact, brought the craft of small-batch distilling back to Utah. At least, not yet.

Does any of this matter? Depends on one’s perspective, and how easily one is put off by marketing blather. High West and Perkins were named the Malt Advocate’s “Pioneer of the Year” in its 17th annual Whisky Awards (2011), and even though that publication, now named Whisky Advocate, made a point of noting why this was a controversial decision, they made it anyway. As they put it, “Perkins has a distillery in operation, and is tweaking it to create great whiskey … all in good time. While we wait for that to reach true maturity, he’s delivering properly aged whiskey, blended masterfully from existing stocks.” All of which is true enough.

So long as the product is good, we’ve no problems with whiskey blenders or whiskey traders who simply slap some label on some product. This is all the independent bottlers are doing anyway – but the honest guys don’t pretend otherwise. We are bothered, even if only mildly, by folks trying to smudge the margins between fact and fiction, especially when there is no need.

The real test, of course, is in the taste, and on this score it is hard to argue with success.

Here, then, are two of the better and more unusual High West Distillery & Saloon creations:

High West Rendezvous Rye (46 percent ABV; $45) is an enticing blend of six-year-old and 16-year-old rye whiskies, giving both depth and vibrancy to a this spicy, complex whiskey with aromas and flavors of cinnamon, fennel, licorice, something like mint, caramel, molasses, vanilla, cocoa, and preserved fruits, all with a warming, piquant finish.

High West “Son of Bourye” (46 percent ABV; $40) is a blend of five-year-old rye-accented bourbon and three-year-old high-rye content rye whiskey, resulting in an oddly named but lovely drinking whiskey with aromas and flavors of honey, vanilla, fig, cloves, citrus fruits, caramel, pepper, dried herbs and spicy oak. Sweet and creamy, but with a solid, muscular spiciness to keep it interesting. L’chaim!

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