At High West Distillery’s new facility, the whiskey will flow and visitors will come
It was on a trip to Kentucky that David Perkins first became enamored with whiskey and how it’s made.
He and his wife were in the Bluegrass State for a wedding. They decided on a whim to tour a Maker’s Mark bourbon distillery. Perkins, who had a background in pharmaceutical biochemistry, was blown away. He discovered that making whiskey is, essentially, a science.
The life of Perkins, who would later create the High West Distillery in Park City, took an unexpected path.
"That’s where the light bulb went off for me. It was a very special experience," he said. "It looked like a big lab. To walk into the distillery, it was pretty much the same equipment as a pharmaceutical plant, but at the end of the day, you get to drink it. For me, that was a wonderful way to combine my love of science and chemistry with my love of cooking."
Now, Perkins is hoping to give others a similar experience of discovering the joys of whiskey. High West’s new distillery in Wanship was scheduled to open its doors for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday and is set to open to the public in early September.
The 30,000 square-foot distillery, which features four 1,500 gallon stills — High West’s location at 703 Park Ave. in Park City has a single 250-gallon still — will allow guests to learn about whiskey on guided tours and sample the spirit during tastings.
For Perkins, showing off his passion on such a large scale will be a "dream come true."
"It’s a pleasure," he said. "And it’s not just me sharing it. It’s all of our employees. The best thing is just people walking away, saying, ‘We learned more about whiskey than I ever thought we could know.’ It’s just fun to share some passion and teach people. We believe education leads to appreciation, and our goal is to help people understand and appreciate whiskey."
The goal of the new distillery is to offer guests an immersive experience. High West has partnered with neighboring Blue Sky Ranch, which is building a 60-room boutique hotel for overnight visitors and takes guests on horseback rides, fly-fishing tours and hikes, Perkins said. It will be like stepping back in time, into the Old West.
"The whole idea of why we’re out here is to be in some place special," he said. "We want people to just come out and enjoy their day. It’s going to be a feast for the senses, in terms of what you see and the quiet solitude and good food and good drink. It’s a true western experience."
Whiskey has been pumping in the distillery since December. At the facility, High West will produce a rye whiskey, which is aged four to six years; a malt whiskey, which is essentially scotch and is aged four years; and a whiskey modeled after the spirits Mormon pioneers made, which could be ready for release next year. But perfecting the process on such a large scale with the new equipment has not been easy.
"It’s kind of like the first waffle you make in the morning, how you don’t always eat it," Perkins said. "We’re going to drink the first whiskey, but you’re working out the kinks. We’re just about done with that and ready to push the button to go full-bore here."
The distillery will be available for private events and tours with local concierges through the beginning of September, Perkins said. A grand opening is scheduled for September 7, after Miner’s Day festivities in Park City, with the distillery opening full-time to the public September 9.
"Right now, we still have a little construction dust to get out of the way," he said.
Perkins insists he’s not nervous about the reception the distillery earns from visitors. He is confident people will love it. His primary concern is simply ensuring the whiskey it churns out meets the standard people have grown accustomed to from High West.
"My nerves are about whether it will taste as good as we hope it will when we open the barrels three and four years from now," he said. "We just hope it comes out good so we can pay the bills."
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