Classification: Blend of Straight Rye Whiskeys Finished in Port Barrels
Company: Constellation Brands
Distillery: High West Distillery and MGP Distillery
Release Date: October 2022
Mashbill: Blend of two ryes:
80% Rye, 20% Malted Barley (High West Distillery)
95% Rye, 5% Malted Barley (MGP Distillery)
Color: Cherry Mahogany
Price: $150 (2022)
According to the company’s press release, “A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 10 showcases [High West’s] flagship Rendezvous Rye finished in a combination of ruby and tawny port barrels sourced from Portugal. In celebration of a decade of releases that have cemented A Midwinter Night’s Dram as a “cult classic,” the distillery is also unveiling a tenth anniversary limited release blend, A Midwinter Night’s Dram: The Encore.” The press release goes on to say, “Both A Midwinter Night’s Dram: Act 10 and The Encore will be available beginning October 2. Act 10 will be available in very limited quantities nationwide for $150. The Encore is uniquely available only at the High West General Store in Park City, Utah, or the High West Distillery in Wanship, Utah for $150, where consumers can also purchase Act 10.”
This is the 10th edition of A Midwinter Night’s Dram, aptly named Act 10.
Light raspberries mingle with red wine upfront. Vanilla custard, caramel, and baking spices coalesce, adding a blanket of sweet, familiar aromas. All of this lies atop a mound of rye spice, reminding you of the whiskey’s base. Despite an assortment of pleasing scents, the delivery is muted, forcing you to really pull the wonderful scents out. Its lack of aromatic intensity ultimately holds the nose back from its true potential.
Where the nose lacks rich intensity, the palate makes up for it in waves. Fig jam, raspberry pie filling, and creme brulee manifest with welcomed intensity. They’re complemented by baking spices and a touch of leather. It is less obviously wine-forward than some previous versions, but at the same time heavily influenced. The integration of flavors is on point in the palate. Rye and port flavors fuse in near-perfect form here. The proof lets the intensity show through, but without any unnecessary heat. It’s an excellent marriage of flavors.
The combination of dark fruit and spice flavors on the palate provides the recipe for a really good finish. Raspberry jam, cherry, and rye spice transition to sugarplum and dry leather on the backend. It’s quite good, though the level of richness found in the palate is quickly taken down a few notches. As a result, it’s well-rounded and enjoyable overall, despite not matching the height achieved in the palate.
In my 2014 review of A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 2.1, it was clear that finishing rye whiskeys in port barrels was a relatively new concept, even if it was starting to become more prevalent. In 2022, wine finishing is quite common, and using ex-port barrels is as common as any wine finishing styles. 1792 Port Finished Bourbon, Woodinville Port Finished Bourbon, and Angel’s Envy Bourbon Port Finish are among some of the top-of-mind port finished whiskeys. Notably, these are bourbons, but less-known rye base port finished whiskeys do exist. Milam & Greene Rye Port Wine Cask Finish, Sagamore Spirit Rye Port Finish, and WhistlePig Old World Cask Finish (a blend that includes Madeira, Sauternes, and port) are among them.
While the list of options is growing, sometimes a store may have only one option, if any at all. Even then, a well-integrated flavor profile is more elusive, and varies by release. Because the nature of finishing is so sensitive, even a single brand may experience wide variation from batch to batch. Additionally, the base Rendezvous Rye has experienced changes over the years - the sourced Barton component was replaced with High West’s own distillate, and the overall age of the blend came down as compared to earlier releases. Despite these changes, A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 10 remains a really good representation of rye whiskey finished in port barrels to pleasing results, building off a unique rye blend, and then finishing with a style that is less common for rye than it is for bourbon. This still allows A Midwinter Night’s Dram to stand out in the American whiskey space, even if it’s less unique than it used to be.
A Midwinter Night’s Dram received quite warm reception when it was first released, and that helped fuel the demand for the brand going forward. Blending multiple ryes from different distilleries combined with port finishing, and finally bottling in an eye-catching bottle and label (as quoted from the label itself, “The front label was totally plagiarized from the first quarto edition of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ printed in 1600.”), allowed the whiskey to easily command its high price tag of about $100 per bottle since its launch a decade ago.
Today, it retails for $150. The $50 MSRP increase over eight years isn’t unreasonable per se, especially considering the rise in demand for premium whiskey. But this increase came at once, as High West maintained its price point consistently until this year, which saw a 50% jump from Act 9 in 2021 to Act 10 in 2022. The increase is reminiscent of Booker’s sharp $40 increase from $60 to $100 that was announced in 2016, and set to take effect immediately in 2017. At the time it was a shock to the bourbon community, and considering Booker’s was a readily available everyday pour for many long time fans of it, we discussed the shocking increase in an opinion piece. Beam Suntory, Booker’s parent company, must have taken note, and pulled back on their plans to inject such a sudden, sharp increase, instead phasing it in more slowly over several years until they got to its current $100 price point.
But A Midwinter Night’s Dram isn’t billed as an everyday pour, it’s billed as a limited release and has always been treated that way. It shows up once a year, and some are lucky to see it at MSRP, while others may never see it at all. As a result, it’s gained momentum over the years, maintaining high demand and a rabid fanbase. This is evident in the marketplace, as finding it at its asking price isn’t easy. It’s enjoyable whiskey with a nicely integrated port finish over a rye base, rich flavors, and a proof that strikes a nice balance between those that prefer higher proof whiskeys and those who prefer lower proof ones, reaching a large potential market. It’s not an everyday whiskey, but hits the spot for a special occasion.
The currentIts $150 price tag probably has caught up to where it should be as evidenced by market demand. However, it should have been increasing slowly instead of all at once. But it’s a splurge, even at MSRP, and top-line secondary prices are just nuts. If you already have an expansive collection and want to add depth, or you’re a diehard fan and have the budget, then go for it. But if you’re looking for a high-value whiskey, this isn’t it.
The 10th edition of the series, A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 10 Scene 6 offers just as much enjoyment as earlier releases, even if it has changed a bit.
When it was initially released, A Midwinter Night’s Dram received immediate praise and the hype that comes with it. Fast forward nearly 10 years and it has changed: High West traded the Barton sourced component for their own distillate in the base Rendezvous Rye whiskey blend, the age of the component whiskeys has come down, and the french oak finishing dropped off. The base rye blend provides a nice foundation here, and doesn’t do anything to try to steal the show, allowing the finishing flavors to nicely come into shape. High West has managed to maintain the whiskey’s overall level of quality. It’s less wine-forward than early releases, but allowing more rye through isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s well integrated and offers plenty of richness and drinkability. The fact that it’s limited and rarely available makes it tempting at its MSRP, but even that is high and it’s just not worth the inflated prices you may see online or in the secondary. In the end, A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 10 Scene 6 hits all the right notes and lives up to its consumer fan-favorite staying power year after year.