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Mile High Spirits Fireside Peated Single Malt Whiskey Review

Mile High Spirits Fireside Peated Single Malt Whiskey Review

I have wrote a lot about Mile High Spirits and their line up of bourbon and rye whiskey over the years. If you don’t want to read through them all again, just know that I have genuinely enjoyed their unique take on distilling and maturation. I also appreciate their desire to mature their barrels as long as they can (2024 should see 7-year-old releases coming out!).

It turns out they have a hidden ace up their sleeve in regards to a new type of whiskey. Late in 2023, we were surprised by the release of a single malt whiskey that has been quietly aging for the past five years. I guess I shouldn’t really be “surprised” because Colorado distillers seem to love making the stuff. I lived there from 2011 to 2013 and it never ceased to amaze me how many people talked about Stranahan’s.

Fast forward ten years later and there are many more distilleries in the Centennial State producing malt whiskey. While Stranahan’s remains, other players have emerged like Deerhammer, Boulder Spirits, Golden Moon Spirits and Idlewild Spirits. Very few of them, however, are making a peated style of malt whiskey.

A word about “Peated” Barley

Ask any bourbon drinker who doesn’t drink Scotch why they don’t and you’ll usually find the answer to be they don’t like the taste of smoke. Most are unaware that the large majority of Scotch is not smokey (i.e. “peated”) and hasn’t been for a long time.

Peated barley malt exists because peat was an abundant source of fuel in the mostly rocky and grassy landscape of Scotland.  It was harvested by digging out large clumps of decomposing vegetation in the peat bogs and letting them dry.  This fuel was vital to warming homes, generating power and heating up the underside of their malting floors (by burning it).  The latter was designed to halt the malting (sprouting) process of the grain so it could then be milled. 

Around the turn of the century, natural gas lines began to crisscross Scotland which offered a more efficient, easier way of heating the malting floor. But many distilleries and their customers insisted the smokey taste was something they liked in their whiskey. This is why there is a split among the ways Scotch producers make their whiskey to this day.

As with most sources of fuel, the use of peat (decomposing vegetation) has recently come under scrutiny. This has seen the whiskey industry begin the conversation of imposing limits to peat extraction in the near future. And while I don’t believe that Scottish distillers will ever truly stop using peat, if such a ban ever does take place, I think they will shift to sourcing peat from different countries.  I’ve read that India is already identified as one of those countries.

Mile High Spirit obtains peated malt from Scotland

The thing that I wish I could tell you is where exactly Mile High Spirits purchased their peated malt from over in Scotland. I say this because many Scottish distilleries pride themselves on the region and farm that their barley comes from. To them, the terroir of where the grain was grown comes through the distillation process and can be tasted in the whiskey.

Additionally, the style of peat influence can be drastically different from distillery to distillery as well. And to be honest, I believe I can taste some of the differences in my limited experience with Scotch. Laphroig smoke is somewhat “tar” like, Caol Ila has a campfire aspect. Ardbeg is ashy and Ledaig’s smoke smells very dirty. If I ever find out where Mile High sourced theirs from, I’ll revise this section of my review.

Mile High’s Single Malt Whiskey comes to life

I’m curious as to what kind of peated profile the crew at Mile High decided to go with. But maybe they weren’t concerned as much with that as they were with the process of distilling it into whiskey. American Single Malt Whiskey (SMW) is a category of spirits that’s not yet legally defined yet, so it’s pretty much the wild west when it comes to making it. Mile High starts by using a mash of 80% Peated Malted Barley and the other 20% is an unspecified mix of Caramel Malt, Crystal 120 Malt, Black Malt, and Melodian Malt.

After fermentation is complete, the mash goes into their German-made copper pot still nicknamed “Steamy Wonder” and is collected at about 150 proof. From there, it’s cut to 120 proof before it enters the barrel. The barrels are likely new charred oak – which is strange in the world of malt whiskies, but somewhat common in US-produced ones. The barrels were rested in Mile High’s custom rickhouse located inside the Denver city limits for 5 years. The final product ended up at 117 proof when it exited the barrel.

So how is it? Will it be too weird to enjoy? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The peat notes are instantly recognizable. Since I’ve dabbled in Scotch, I’m able to identify the telltale scent of iodine. It’s not weird or distracting, just interesting to find in the glass. The sharp smoke stings the nostrils for a bit, but I honestly love smoke in all forms, so this is great. Then the real underbelly of this malt begins to show itself with the aroma of soft, baked orchard fruits, vanilla custard, orange peel and a leather couch.

Palate: From first sip to the last, I’m tasting the rich, peaty smoke. Some of the iodine notes from the nose also creep into the palate, giving me Laphroig vibes. Sweetness is there to keep the smoke from overwhelming with flavors of soft caramel chews. But I am finding some earthy, wet oak notes that aren’t the most appealing. Am I tasting fennel too? That’s a flavor I wasn’t expecting. Compared to most double-digit aged Scotch, this does have some noticeable young flavors hanging around. It also lacks a rich, malty body but the mouthfeel is still moderately thick.

Finish: The finish is a bit shorter than I had hoped it would be. I also can’t seem to shake the earthy notes I found in the palate. The ash notes are appropriate on the finish and there is even a little bit of vanilla and molasses to boot. Overall it’s a fine finish, but it does lack some of the complexity that more mature malt whiskey would have. 

Score: 6.9/10

The experience of sipping this malt whiskey drew immediate comparisons to sipping a peated Scotch. The smoke and ash combined with the other flavors to give a very robust drinking experience. There’s no way you’re going to drink this and miss those notes.

While there were some youthful, earthy notes found throughout, I felt there was enough sweetness from the malt that it kept any undesirable notes in check. If I had to put a finger on which peated Scotch this tasted most similar to, I’d say it’s a cross between Laphroig and Kilchoman.

Final Thoughts

I have warmed up to the idea of American Single Malts throughout the years. I think one of the things that American consumers are hesitant on is the value they have against their competition from across the ocean. It’s a struggle i often find myself in when I have $80-$120 burning in my pocket and in the mood for malt. Do I try out an American expression or get a cask strength, moderately-aged Scotch from an Independent Bottler?

The answer is easy to make in a store, but harder when I do eventually try American Single Malts at home. There really are a lot of similarities to the two. Mile High’s version took me back to my happy place that I go to when I drink peated Scotch. Warm campfires outdoors surrounded by all that nature gives us. It’s an incredible sensory experience that, frankly, bourbon and rye whiskey can’t replicate. So while I can’t tell you that I would always have the willpower to buy an American-made peated malt whiskey, I don’t think anyone reading this should automatically reject a bottle of Fireside Peated Malt if they see it on the shelf.

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