High West Distillery’s Bourye Limited Sighting – 2017

Batch 17A13 (2017)

MASH BILL – blend of MGP rye and bourbon (Rye: 95% rye / 5% barley; Bourbon 75% corn / 21% rye / 4% barley)

PROOF – 92

AGE – NAS (blend of whiskeys aged 10 to 14 years according to High West)

DISTILLERY – High West Distillery

PRICE – $92

WORTH BUYING? – For a whiskey fan on the journey, yes, but for casual drinking, there are more affordable options offering similar experiences.

When I wrote up notes on the 2018 Bourye release, I struggled with a paradox. It was very good, very easy and enjoyable to drink, with pleasing autumnal colors and flavors. But it wasn’t terribly memorable, and the price-to-experience ratio felt off to me. I didn’t know why to pay so much for Bourye when I could get a similar, overall more pleasing experience in terms of complexity and autumnal tasting notes from Russell’s Reserve, for example—at roughly the same price for a single barrel release and under half the price for the standard release.

That 2018 batch was a blend of three whiskeys aged 10 years. That’s been High West’s admitted age for Bourye from 2018 onward. Prior to 2018, however, Bourye batches often contained whiskeys as old as even 17 years. So when I saw this 2017 batch gathering dust at a little grocery store off the beaten path, I gave it a shot. Would some extra age in the mix make all the difference?

Age never guarantees either quality or its lack, of course. Older whiskeys can be astringent and tannic as easily as they can be deep and refined. Younger whiskeys can be sharp and green as easily as they can be bright and tangy. The various factors of grain, water, yeast, wood, weather and time all figure into the mystery of what happens in the barrel, whether that mystery plays out over two years or twenty.

Nevertheless, I’ve found I have a special fondness for the fine nuances of oak flavors, and these often show themselves in older whiskeys. So here we are.

I uncorked this bottle the night I brought it home. That first pour—tasted in a Cibi old fashioned tumbler—was bright, herbal, oaky and sweet on the nose. The taste was notably nutty, with nice rye and oak spices on a layer of caramel and vanilla. The finish brightened again with tangerine and orange peel alongside the various spices. Overall it was an elegant, fun, earthy whiskey right out of the gate—a much stronger first impression than I recall the 2018 release having made.

Now it’s just over a week after uncorking and I’m a handful of pours into the bottle. Here are some brief notes tasted in both a traditional Glencairn and simple tumbler.

COLOR – a lovely, pale, at some angles rusty, pumpkin-orange

NOSE – bright and spicy oak, spicy rye, fresh ground black pepper, coffee, thick creamy caramel, orange citrus peel, a whiff of an almost BBQ smokiness

TASTE – oak and rye spice, black pepper, the caramel with some vanilla swirled into it, some thick cream toward the end, a granular texture and creaminess keeping one another in check

FINISH – a light and tingly peppery warmth lingering with the oak, black pepper, and creamy caramel notes…

OVERALL – more spicy than creamy, with the spices grabbing attention and the creamy aspects grounding things

I just might enjoy this more in tumblers than in the Glencairn. The tumblers seem to allow for greater balance overall, while the Glencairn really pushes the oak and rye spices forward.

Today there is something more saccharine to the sweetness of this whiskey, most noticeably toward the end of the taste and into the finish. For me this tilts things off just enough that, today, it’s not a whiskey to which I’d be inclined to reach for a second pour. That wasn’t the case last week. And it may not be the case in another week. Perhaps this one’s an evolver. Time will tell…

I remain inclined toward the impression of this 2017 outing as coming off stronger overall than the 2018. It has more distinction to it and grabs my attention more. It’s that pronounced spiciness of the oak and rye.

I like the concept of High West’s Bourye. I’ve always liked the jackalope as a symbol of plausible magic. Such a creature seems somehow possible, despite the actual mating mechanics of rabbits and antelopes not being doable in the slightest. I remember a stuffed jackalope in an antique store in my hometown—more jackdeer than jackalope, actually. And tall jack rabbits leaping down the old country roads around my house. And deer in the backyard. Their frequent sightings made their union seem conceivable.

So as a metaphor for something magical coming of a careful blending of bourbons and ryes, High West’s Bourye is something I find very appealing. In two editions, however, thus far it doesn’t yet achieve a level of magic equal to the jackalope itself. I’ve still got a 2019 bunkered. Perhaps the third time will be the charm.

Now that High West has made Bourye a distillery-only release, sightings will be even more limited. If the 2017 and 2018 are an indication, that’s okay. I really want to like them more than I do. This 2017 is good. Not great. I consider it a worthy purchase for a whiskey aficionado, if not a necessary one. I was curious about the impact of the older whiskeys involved, and I suspect they are responsible for the emphasis on oak spice. I like oak spice. And I like the particularly pulpy orange and tangerine citrus notes this 2017 offers. They contrast the creamier caramel aspects well. Then sadly that saccharine edge takes the edge off my enjoyment of it all…

Ah well. I expect to enjoy the remainder of this bottle fine. I also think it will mix well in the kombucha based cocktails my partner is fond of, given the similar emphasis on spiciness in kombucha. And when I reach this bottle’s end, maybe I’ll uncork the 2019 and compare them. Until then…


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