For those of us who live in places that actually experience the season called Winter, the warming sensation of a delicious drink on a cold night is indespensable. Since the inception of A Midwinter Night's Dram in 2013, whiskey and wine enthusiasts alike have been able to enjoy this port finished rye whiskey in limited bottlings. A blend of older sourced stocks and some of High West's own rye, this release is based on their standard Rendezvous Rye which is then finished in French oak and port barrels. It's fairly well known that Rendezvous Rye has changed over time. In it's earliest days there were likely teenage whiskeys going in, but as the barrel brokerage market has begun to teem with competition, the average age has crept lower and lower with every new year. Mix in the fact that you have a proud distillery that has been making spirits since 2007 wanting to get their own name on the map, and you have an inconsistent recipe for a bottling that is only released once per year.
I've been enjoying these personally since Act 6 which released in 2018, and have had the pleasure of sipping on every act since then. They do vary pretty drastically year to year. I've covered why the specific scene you have doesn't really matter for each act, I've ranked flights of acts over time, and I've of course dove deep on the whiskey before. If you glossed over that - I'll reiterate: the "Scene" number that follows the Act does not matter. It just documents the day in which it was bottled on the line. I've seen scenes as high as 11 on this release, but you can rest assured that this act is all from one (quite gargantuan) batch. They just make so much of it now it takes a while to bottle it all.
So join us good ladies and gents. Gather 'mongst thy family and friends, and raise thy glass to winters that are "Swift as a shadow, short as any dream; Brief as the lightning in the collied night." - Lysander, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 1, Scene 1, Wm. Shakespeare
High West isn't the only company doing port finished rye these days though. I've picked a Starlight barrel that easily gives these a run for their money, there are fancy Angel's Envy releases that use this strategy, and the whiskey world is going crazy for some of Rare Character's single barrel releases like this too. So where does Act 11 fit into the current market? Does it sing or fall in line? Let's dive in and see what the 2023 release of A Midwinter Night's Dram is all about.
Company on Label: High West
Whiskey Type: Blended Straight Rye Whiskeys
Mash Bill Percentages: Undisclosed proportions of 95% rye, 5% malted barley from MGP and 80% rye, 20% malted rye from High West distillery
Further identification: A Midwinter Night's Dram & its 'Acts' are a limited yearly release of High West Rendezvous Rye finished in French oak and port barrels; this release in particular is the 2023 edition bottled under Act 11, Scene 3 available now at an MSRP of $150
Nose: Hmm - I immediately find a sweet plum note that is consistent with the port finishing on this release. Here it presents juicy and thick, as if it has been stewed for some time alongside brown sugar, cinnamon and orange juice. Dry vanilla bean and raisin are fleeting as the glass seems to have suddenly turned off the aroma spigot. After a long rest in the glass, fig, buttercream frosting and blackberry can be dug up. Overall the nose is quite light which is admittedly a bit boring for me, a rye lover. Hints of angostura bitters and macerated Bing cherry shows up on deep inhales. Given the low energy, I'd say it's time for a sip.
Returning my nose to the glass I find some subtle mint, tarragon and little else. This is one of the flattest, least dynamic whiskeys I've tried in a long while. The empty glass smells like craft whiskey funk, salt water and concrete.
Palate: At first sip soft dark cherry, plum and raspberry tones are impressed upon the center of the tongue. The mouthfeel is syrupy, but not too thick, and it dissipates rather quickly. Another sip is similarly composed in its simplicity with a fruit triangle elongating towards certain corners at times. Hints of dark chocolate and mint flash up during after-sip ruminations. Overall it's harsh on the tongue, quite drying, and gives off a synthetic feeling. Sipping near the bottom of the glass adds in some subtleties of pear liqueur served with a cinnamon stick. My last taste fails to register much outside of simple syrup, raisinets and plum pudding.
TL;DR: The thinnest sipping MWND release I can recall with zero remnants of rye whiskey to be found
Yeah... I'm pretty disappointed I spent my own money on this. In my 5 tastings of this bottle - well above and beyond the 3 tastings I promise in my editorial policy - this bottle has only managed to waffle between boring and bad. Occasionally there will be a puff of port influence that sparks a little interest, but further digging reveals no backbone behind it. Releasing a whiskey just to continue a label & ride the coattails of past market success is disingenuous and ultimately harmful to end consumers. Those who see reviews the likes of my Act 9 review and think that is what they are going to get when they spring for this bottle will be sorely disappointed. Unfortunately this years quality looks nothing like the previous batches I have tried.