When you think about Utah, craft whiskey probably isn’t the first thing that comes to your mind.
High West Distillery is aiming to change that. Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870, the craft whiskey distillery operates partially out of an old livery stable adjacent to the historic Ellsworth J Beggs house in Park City, Utah, a two-story box house built in 1907, itself on the National Register of Historic Places.
Seven thousand feet up in Park City’s Old Town, located in the Wasatch Mountains, High West is reachable by the Quitting Time ski lift, and is the world’s first ski-in, ski-out gastropub distillery. (The food is locally sourced and the whiskey is made in a traditional 250-gallon copper pot still.)
High West founder David Perkins came to distillery from a related field: Chemistry. A former biochemist at Genentech, he and his wife would tour wineries and, during a trip to Kentucky, the Maker’s Mark distillery.
“When we went through the fermentation area I thought to myself: ‘I know how to do that,’” he explains. “We saw a lab that looked just like what I dealt with in biochemistry.”
Perkins stuck to his day job and started researching whiskey distillery in his free time. His whiskey Obi-Wan, if you will, was Kentucky master distiller Jim Rutledge, of Four Roses Distillery, who instructed him in the ancient art of Kentucky whiskey.
Like so many men before him, Perkins took his talents to the West. In 2004, he quit his job at Genentech, and moved with his wife to Park City. In 2008, High West, the first legal distillery in the state since 1870, was born. High West was honored by Whisky Advocate as its 2011 Whiskey Pioneer of the Year, and the distillery’s restaurant has been a James Beard semifinalist.
“At High West, we are some of the luckiest people on the planet because making whiskey is so much fun,” Perkins says. “I love spreading the whiskey gospel.”