Classification: Blend of Straight Bourbons
Company: High West Distillery
Distillery: Sourced (from MGP and other undisclosed distillery[ies])
Release Date: Ongoing
Age: 2 Years (blend of straight bourbons ranging in age from 2 to 13 years per company website)
Mashbill: Blend of bourbon mashbills: 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malted barley from MGP - 84% corn, 8% rye, 8% malted barley from undisclosed source - other whiskey components undisclosed for contractual reasons
Price: $30 (2021)
According to High West’s website, “American Prairie Bourbon is named after the American Prairie Reserve, a group working to create the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states. Capable of running at speeds up to 55 miles per hour, the pronghorn antelope [featured on the bottle label, a painting by Diane Whitehead] is North America’s fastest land mammal and performs the continent’s second longest land migration of more than 500 miles. Because of their love of travel, pronghorn require large areas of open and intact grasslands. Moreover, pronghorn populations have decreased 98% since the 1800’s due to habitat destruction. American Prairie Reserve helps pronghorn through its ongoing fence removal efforts and by conserving wildlife corridors.”
10% of High West’s after tax profits from the sale of American Prairie Bourbon bottles are donated to the American Prairie Reserve.
The bottle in review is from Batch No. 20I25.
Light and airy, delicate scents of orange peel, light caramel, and a touch of dill gently emanate from the glass. It takes a deep inhale to pull these scents out, as the nose is almost too light, resulting in a feeble introduction to the sip. While there is nothing off putting about the aromas, the lack of potency is notable and offers little to enhance the sip.
A welcomed bit of life is breathed into the bourbon on the palate, as spice begins developing in intensity from the start. Sweeter flavors of caramel and vanilla are complemented by more unique flavors of anise and orange zest, though they feel almost fragile in nature. Lightweight yet pleasant, the palate offers little to dislike, but little to really love either.
Spice crescendos in the finish, which finally gives a sense of energy you might expect from drinking a bourbon neat. Sweet notes mingle in, with apricot, vanilla, and honey accompanying the underlying spice. Straightforward and slightly more appealing than the palate, the finish is medium to long and enjoyable, ending the bourbon on a high note.
High West deserves credit for being one of the first innovators to capture fans’ hearts with modern bourbon blending. Dave Perkins, the company’s founder, was a chemist by training and applied his skills to bourbon blending. In the early 2010s, High West was a company many admired, taking pause in the fact that pulling together a wide range of whiskeys from distilleries from around the country could yield such interesting results. Back then you might have called it whiskey magic. Today you’d call it commonplace thanks to all of the great blenders that have popped up since that time.
Constructing a larger production distillery and selling the company to Constellation Brands in 2016, the days of High West magic seem like a thing of the past. The company must meet consumer demand, incorporate its own distillate into the mix, and contend with a larger demand in the wholesale sourced whiskey market.
While American Prairie Bourbon remains a sourced product, its label and backstory are far more exciting than the whiskey itself. While there is nothing specifically off putting about the bourbon, there is nothing exciting about it either. For a bourbon with so many mashbills, such a wide range of ages, and presumably from multiple distilleries in multiple states, the end result is a bit disappointing. Few will dislike it, but few will get excited about it either.
While American Prairie Bourbon offers little to get excited about, thankfully it comes in at a good price that makes it accessible for anyone. In fact, you can often find it for less, which suggests High West might have a bit of an edge in sourcing due to what is probably a pretty significant volume and production contract(s) necessary to create this bourbon. Additionally, the fact that it raises awareness, and High West donates a portion of the profits to support the American Prairie Reserve, may be enough to sway someone to make a purchase.
A blend of straight bourbons with quite a range in mashbill variation and age, High West American Prairie Reserve is a bourbon for a cause, but ultimately offers less excitement than its backstory might suggest.
Many years ago, High West whiskeys were not only some of the first whiskeys I reviewed, but also came across as pretty impressive to me. They generally offered a deviation from the norm, and with that a flavor profile that was less familiar and a bit exciting. Fast forward eight years to today, and somehow that magic is gone. Maybe it’s because there have been so many new releases from producers and distillers - many of late being quite enjoyable. Maybe it’s the fact that the company’s founder, David Perkins, is no longer the person behind the wheel. Or maybe it just signals the fact that it’s time for a reinvention. The point is, American Prairie Bourbon’s backstory is interesting, but the bourbon unfortunately is not. It’s perfectly serviceable, available at a fair price, and actually takes a finish really really well (as we learned for a single barrel pick of American Prairie Bourbon finished in Midwinter Night’s Dram barrels). But it’s just a bit disappointing overall and disheartening for the fact that it’s a whiskey I just can’t get excited about. For a whiskey originating from an established company and such a unique blend, I would love to see a little more from High West on future versions of this.