High West Campfire Whiskey

I started Scotch & Ice Cream last year, roughly around the time I started showing up at LAWS meetings. It really was not designed to be anything other than a regular writing exercise and a way to share some of my tasting notes with my friends. The fact that it’s found any audience at all has been a pleasant surprise. If that audience vanished, though, I’d still be writing this for myself and a handful of people I know in person.

One of the weird things about being part of the teeming horde of whisky bloggers is that people have an almost irresistible urge to put you into the appropriate boxes. “Primarily American”; “Scotch”; “That guy who does the Canadian whiskeys” and so on. There’s also this back-and-forth about your supposed integrity, largely based on if you’ve received any free samples from distillers or people on their behalf. It seems it’s a Norquist-like purity test designed to sort whisky bloggers in general.

Well, count me as a horrible sell-out officially with this review, but not in the way you might think. I’m not about to start writing conciliatory, florid puff pieces or regurgitating press releases, highlighting the whisky du jour as probably the greatest thing ever. Nope, S&I will stay firmly in the realm of marginally introspective self-indulgent writings that frame a discussion of a whisky, with strained setups to questionable jokes and general jackassery.

Last year, I met David Perkins of High West at a LAWS tasting. Before continuing, I must say that you should take the opportunity to attend any tasting he ever conducts. It was fascinating and loaded with tons of information, which unfortunately didn’t stick because the tasting was also loaded with TONS of samples. Sixteen to eighteen samples, if memory serves (and I’m not sure it does).

In my brazen and certainly inebriated state I started talking with David at that meeting and picking his brain about various whiskeys. I shot him a few samples (including some Woodfords I was only too glad to part with which apparently agreed more with his palate) and have stayed in semi-regular correspondence with him.

Earlier this year he hinted that he was working on Campfire Whiskey, which was going to be American whiskey with a peated Scotch component – either other whiskey or whiskey barrels. Little details would come up every so often as he hunted for the right ingredients (and even the final choices are not known to me). It was a new-to-me opportunity to see things develop over the course of several months and was very interesting.

In April I received a trio of small bottles, labeled “Campfire A”, “Campfire B”, and “Campfire C” – the contenders to wear the Campfire Whiskey label. These samples put the component rye, bourbon and Scotch whiskeys in different proportions, all at 100 proof. All that was sought was my opinion and answers to a few questions. A few of my friends also were included in the roundup.

It was an interesting to see the experiment coming closer. I have to admit though, even the best of the samples seemed like it might be too strange for those but the more adventurous drinkers. The peated component was considerable on some, manifesting as a big smoky blast on some, and an earthy, organic kick elsewhere, and even a medicinal tang in one case (thus knocking down my attempts to guess the source). Even the more heavily peated sample had a distinct kick of rye. It seemed that it might appeal only to the most open-minded of whiskey drinkers who jumped between sweet bourbons, spicy ryes and Scotch of all varieties. I had my preference and noted it to David (sample “A” for what it’s worth, though I preferred it with a little water which seemed to get things in check).

A short while later, David emailed us to tell us about what he ended up doing – Sample A, more or less, and at 92 proof. Apparently he also mentioned a bottle was coming our way, but I missed that entirely. So, when a bottle of Campfire Whiskey showed up, direct from Park City, I was completely surprised.

I even had reservations about blogging this one, not wanting to give the appearance that I was of questionable fairness. However, I feel like I’ve been forthcoming: I consider David to be a friend, and yes, this whisky was provided to me after trying some prerelease samples.

Enough hemming and hawing. Let’s get down to it – Campfire is supposed to be one for the cowboys, and I haven’t seen any good westerns where Eastwood has a soliloquy worrying about how his intentions might be perceived.

The nose on Campfire threw me initially – it’s sweet with corn, toffee and maple upfront. Rye first shows up with a lightly floral presence initially. Then there’s a nice but not overwhelming dose of smoke. There’s a slightly organic character to it that is also woody – honestly, yes, with the name, it does evoke a campfire. Traces of black cherry, a note I get off a lot of High West whiskey, is there as well.

The palate brings some heat and has some nice weight in the mouth, but doesn’t feel overly viscous or oily. It’s slightly earthy at first, which gives way to corn and maple syrup, with cinnamon and black pepper for heat. Light earthiness and faint wood continues, and there’s a little black cherry and vanilla at the edges of the palate, with some smoke on the roof of the mouth.

The whiskey finishes nicely – a sweet start with caramel and a lingering black cherry and vanilla creaminess. There’s a nice dose of smoke as you exhale, which is also slightly organic and earthy.

The name might suggest a smoke bomb, but it’s not. It’s got enough smoke to add an unexpected dimension, but it doesn’t really scream “Peated scotch” to me. You could have told me something was smoked in a finishing process and I’d probably believe you. It’s a great mix of sweet and smoky, but enough rye in the mix to add more dimension and keep it interesting.

Black cherry is a note I get on a lot of High West stuff as I mentioned earlier, and it’s one that I catch here. It’s a note that I’m a sucker for as you might have determined from prior entries. The peating I’m sure is a red flag for some guys, but it really doesn’t come across as that band-aidy or bicycle inner tube note that may scare them off. Honestly, I kind of think of Campfire as Bourye’s well-traveled cousin. It’s got a lot in common with it, and to my palate at least, this is dominated by the bourbon notes with rye and peat adding dimension.

David’s serving suggestion is with a s’more. I don’t feel like that’s right for me right now as the LA summer rolls around, but no worry: I will have more bottles on hand to test that suggestion in the future, though.

At a glance:

High West Campfire Whiskey (Batch 1) 46% ABV
Nice sweetness on the nose, very smooth corn notes, mellow toffee, a touch of maple syrup. Light rye floral notes and a nice but not overwhelming dose of smoke. Slightly organic with a wooden tone to it. Traces of black cherry. 
Warming initially, with some weight to the mouthfeel but not oily. Slightly earthy early, then showing a nice corn and maple syrup presence, a bit of cinnamon and black pepper to heat things up. Lightly earthy notes continue, a faint trace of wood at moments, and a bit of black cherry and vanilla. There’s a bit of smoke on the roof of the mouth.
Sweet with caramel and some lingering black cherry and vanilla creaminess. A nice dose of smoke on the exhale, slightly organic and earthy. 
The name might suggest a smoke bomb, but it’s not. It’s got enough to add a very unexpected dimension, but it’s not immediately identifiable as peated scotch, and I think it works to the favor of this. It’s a nice mix of sweet and smoky, but with enough rye in the mix to keep it interesting. 

7 thoughts on “High West Campfire Whiskey”

    1. Yeah, I think this would be right up your alley, Steffen. It’s really nice and there’s not anything like it right now. It should be a little more easy to get this summer, so hopefully you’re able to get a taste while you’re over this summer.

  1. I am really looking forward to trying this one. Any idea when it will hit retail? I love almost all of High West’s stuff. I even very much enjoyed their oat white dog, and I usually hate white dog. A buddy of mine hit up the distillery not too long ago and tried Valley Tan, which he said was awesome. I believe it was only sold at the distillery, which is a bummer. AFAIK it was the oat white dog aged for a year or two, which I can imagine is delicious.

    1. Hey Ryan,

      Can’t believe I missed this comment. Campfire seems to be available at better stores in limited supply now, so hopefully you’ve had an opportunity to pick up a bottle.

      When David did the marathon tasting for us, I think we tried some of his aged samples. They were all pointed in the right direction… though I definitely agree with you, that oat white dog is freakishly good for a white dog.

      1. I am not sure “good for a white dog” says a lot.. and I am still not sure that “freakishly good for a white dog” adds.
        But I will agree, their silver oat white dog, is freakishly good for a white dog… I think you hit the nail on the head

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