The sun crouches behind the snow-capped peaks as I prop my snowboard against a wall and step into the world’s only ski-in/ski-out gastro distillery. After an epic powder day, a bevy of snow shredders trickle in for après ski cocktails in what has to be the most unlikely destination for a whiskey brew shop on earth. Utah. Despite it’s rigid alcohol laws, bartenders were muddling mint leaves for mojitos laced with a Utah-distilled, award-winning whiskey. As Julian Rubinstein notes in Travel + Leisure’s January issue, Park City is a town in transition.
The High West distillery isn’t more than a couple dozen steps from the chair lift at the bottom of Quittin’ Time ski run at Park City Mountain Resort. Two bars, an intimate restaurant, a chemistry lab, and hulking stainless steal mash cookers and fermenting barrels are housed in an old livery stable and accompanying townhouse built in 1907. The charcoal scars from a 1981 fire still mar the façade out front. How on earth did the owners manage to turn a glorified saloon into a member of the National Register of Historic Places in one of the most stringent alcohol enforcement states in the nation?
“Three years of lawsuits,” Terry Ginsberg, a bartender and unofficial High West historian gloats. These people are clearly proud of the fact that they took on the establishment and came out victorious, a modern day Whiskey Rebellion.
High West is trying their hand at more than just whiskey these days. The Vodka 7000 (distilled at 7,000 feet above sea level) is one of two vodkas they conceive and plans for a Gin are in the works. Other offerings include tasting dinners, whiskey Wednesdays and an ice bar in the courtyard during the Sundance Film Festival.
After a visit down to the chemistry lab (owner David Perkins is a biochemist) in the basement, complete with mind-twisting equations scrawled across a whiteboard, and a crash course on whiskey making, I belly up to taste this caramel-colored mule kick. I delve into the most popular blend, the Rendezvous Rye ($40 a bottle, highwest.com). It’s tasty. Leaves a sweet fizzle on the tongue but still bites like an American classic should. I quickly come to a basic truth. This place is rad. A ski-in/ski-out whiskey distillery.
“Ski-in/stumble-out,” the gregarious chef, James Dumas, chuckles from behind me.
Dude has a point. I’m a cocktail and a shot down and I’m already seeing stars in this thin-aired mountain town. I recall the prophetic words one of my editors left me with before I embarked on this ski weekend.
“Try not to break your neck after sampling the goods.”
Nate Storey is a research assistant at Travel + Leisure.