If there’s one thing High West is known for aside from their history of sourcing really great rye whiskey back in the day – it’s barrel finished whiskey. For over 10 years, High West has been giving us unique finished products like Midwinter Nights Dram and cask-finished versions of American Prairie Bourbon, Double Rye! and even limited releases of Rendezvous Rye and Campfire. The barrel’s they chose to finish these whiskies were some of the most creative in the industry. I am using the past tense because Barrell Craft Spirits now rivals them in terms of quantity with their various named releases and Private Release lines. Even Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Collaboration Series has seen five years of stellar barrel-finished releases (which also included their own version of bourbon finished in The Prisoner wine casks).
But for what it’s worth, High West’s finished single barrels are still a great value. Depending on the cask type and the store selling them, they can be found between $50 and $60. This makes them almost half the price of the previously mentioned Barrell or Bardstown Bourbon Company versions. I personally buy the Double Rye! versions when I see an interesting cask finish that I haven’t tried before.
High West collaborates with The Prisoner Wine Company
The one thing that was different between High West’s cask finished products compared to Bardstown Bourbon Company’s was that High West rarely tells us where the casks came from. Bardstown’s Collaboration releases always say where the barrels came from. This is why High West’s decision to collaborate with The Prisoner Wine Company and put their name on the label has made some headlines.
The Prisoner Wine Company is located in the Napa Valley region of California. Their claim to fame has always been their unique wine blends that create something different from typical single-vineyard wineries in the region. I don’t know much about wine pricing or what is considered a good or bad deal, but my house personally has a bottle of The Prisoner on the shelf at all times for guests and meals where you want a red wine that isn’t perceived as cheap, but also isn’t expensive like a special occasion wine. For my wife and me, it’s the perfect bottle for higher-end pizza or homemade pasta night.
This is why it’s slightly confusing to me why High West collaborated with a winery like The Prisoner to source barrels from. Yes, they have a lot of name recognition, but they don’t make products that are considered “High End.” So where is the $180 price tag coming from?
What goes into High West’s “The Prisoner’s Share”
For this release, High West didn’t stick with just one kind of whiskey to finish in The Prisoner Red Wine casks. They blended together both bourbon and rye whiskey. I have attempted two different communication avenues to find out the age and makeup of these whiskies, but have only came away with hearing it’s a blend of four to 15-year-old whiskies. That means my theory (or hope) that The Prisoner’s Share starts out as High West Bourye isn’t true.
What we can probably expect is that High West proofed down the blend of whiskies to 100 proof before adding it into the French Oak barrels that previously held red wine. This has been standard practice for their single barrel lines and is the reason behind all of those picks ending up around 98 to 104 proof when they’re done aging. The Prisoner’s Share is bottled at 102 proof, so it’s a good assumption that this same practice was done here.
The bottle I’ll be reviewing today is a 2022 release. There was another The Prisoner’s Share release in 2023 but it appears to have identical specs (oddly, High West’s website lists it as 49% ABV). Rumor has it that 2023 is the last time they’re releasing it too. I was under the impression these bottles were only available in Utah, but a quick Google search show me plenty of stores outside of Utah selling them.
This particular bottle was graciously shared to me by my good friend, Peter, who bought it in Utah during a ski trip. I was very excited to give it a try, so here we go! I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Aromas of semi-sweet red wine blossom out of the glass with a lot of fruit notes in tow. Cherries, strawberries and golden raisins all can be found. Herbal scents along with pine needles and honeycomb point to the strong rye whiskey influence. Melted chocolate clearly is the result of the wine cask finishing or the French Oak barrels. But the note of cedar wood also sticks out – maybe because it’s also a fragrant type of wood?
Palate: I had wondered earlier which whiskey type would be most dominant – the rye whiskey or the bourbon. After my first sip, I’m calling it in favor of the rye whiskey. Cinnamon, red pepper flakes and a touch of mint all make this taste more like a wine-finished rye whiskey rather than a bourbon. But if you don’t like rye whiskey, don’t worry just yet. There are plenty of flavors for you here, too. I can find brown sugar and chocolate along with some more honey. Of course the wine and red fruit notes are everywhere and wrap everything in an oily texture. The heat is well controlled and this is a joy to sip on.
Finish: Lingering notes of red wine, red fruits, raisins and brown sugar leave a decidedly sweet taste in your mouth after the sip is complete. Competing rye whiskey notes like cinnamon, anise, menthol and mint are refreshing. The finish misses nothing that I can think of. It’s pretty great all around.
As I was sipping this, I kept thinking to myself how this is the most I’ve enjoyed a modern High West product in years. I’ve had every Midwinter Night’s Dram since 2017 and this tasted better than almost all of them. You could argue that The Prisoner’s Share isn’t the same type of whiskey, but it’s damn close.
I used to think that nothing could compare to the sweet, fruity and spicy profile of Port wine and how it paired up to a spicy rye whiskey. But this whiskey blend and these red wine barrels have managed to demonstrate how much the contrasting profiles can work together.
$175 is a lot of money for a whiskey like this. High West has slowly been raising its prices over the years and it’s not exactly understood where the money goes. MWND is now $125 at retail and we’ve seen the rye whiskey component drop in age from 6 and 16-year-old barrels all the way down to 5 to 9-year-old barrels. High West remedies this a bit in The Prisoner’s Share by using a group of 15 year old whiskey in the blend (it’s not certain if it’s Dickel bourbon or MGP rye whiskey that is this old) to make the value a little bit better. But did a bunch of nearly worn-out red wine casks really need to add $50 more to the price? Or is High West being greedy?
My recommendation on buying this depends on how much you like the brand. I was a High West fanboy right at the height of their popularity when they used to send out gifts to their patrons and when the bottles felt more special. Now it seems like they are in the business of churning out whiskey for the sake of churning out whiskey.
As it stands, the American Whiskey scene is full of producers who now have products that offer similar enjoyment at more competitive prices (Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Carter is a great example). This makes High West’s limited edition offerings less attractive now than ever before. But at least The Prisoner’s Share shows that they’re still making an effort to put out a quality product to all of their remaining fans.
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