Interview: Brendan Coyle
Jan 01, 2019
Title: Master Distiller at High West Distillery
Hometown: Wayzata, Minnesota
Number of years working with whiskey: 15 years
What was your “aha” moment when it comes to whiskey? When did you first fall in love?
It kinda goes back to working in the brewing industry in Salt Lake City when I was with Red Rock Brewing Co. My “aha” moment was realizing that brewing and distilling is combining science and art to create a natural product that brings people together. I’ve always been very science focused, but brewing and distilling requires an art form blended with the science to make truly great products.
The sale of one of High West’s products, American Prairie Bourbon directly helps fund what will be the largest wildlife reserve in the lower 48 states. What is it like to work for a distillery dedicated to preserving the American West?
It really ties together the reasons why I’m in the West. I grew up in Minnesota and moved to Utah. My two main goals when I moved to Utah were to 1) get a college degree and 2) to continue to do the things that I love: mountain biking and skiing in the west.
The fact that one of our CORE products gives back to the western landscape is something really important to me. These days we need to put a tremendous amount of effort into preserving our public lands because they’re becoming increasingly scrutinized. So the fact that we directly tie one of our lead products to the environment that inspired it is a big deal to me.
What about distilling surprised you the most?
It’s incredible to me what a large impact the smallest change in the process can have months or years down the road on that product. With all the natural inputs in the process, and the wide variety of sciences employed, and then with whiskey, adding in the element of time.
One might think that small changes would be lost across all the complexities of the process. But it really isn’t. I can make a small change in the mash bill, or simply alter the nutrition profile of what I feed the yeast in fermentation, and six years down the road you can actually see it. That, to me, is a wonderful surprise.
What is your favorite part about working in this industry?
I know I’ve said this before, but it’s really the blend of art and science. Using multiple academic disciplines from Microbiology to Chemistry to Mathematics, then blending it with some art to create this wonderful product that brings people together and can be a center point of social interactions. Seeing it light up people’s faces and knowing what it took to get there, that’s the fun part.
What is your go-to and how do you drink it?
Lately Campfire is my go-to. I love the transcontinental profile with the smoke from the Scotch that I really learned to love while living in Scotland and the American Bourbon that tastes like home.
I usually drink it on its own. Neat. No ice. If I’m going to do a cocktail, maybe on a Friday evening, it’s a Campfire Penicillin. Sweet and smoky with a tart and sour backbone from the lemon. Truly refreshing.
What’s next in the world of whiskey?
We believe and have believed for some time now that American Single Malts are going to be a big category. For the last six years we have been working on producing ours at High West and we are looking forward to a highly anticipated release next year.
Scotland started with the Single Malts, then the Japanese followed and showed the world that great malts can come from anywhere. It’s only natural that the US continues to drive this innovation and create diversity in the category.
What’s next in general for the alcohol industry?
That’s a big topic! We’ve already been seeing it and I believe we will continue to see cross pollination within categories. We are seeing wine and brewing yeast strains being used in the distilling industry. We are seeing different cask finished spirits in a big way.
What I see happening is innovation continuing to expand, but in very singular or specific ways. Probably the big one over the next decade will be using unique raw materials while still adhering to classic category definitions, such as specific grain varietals and fruit varietals for spirits.
And we’ve only scratched the surface. We will see some very eclectic innovation coming out soon and for years to come. Consumers are ready for it.
HIGH WEST WHISKEY OFFERINGS
“A ripe, spicy blend of straight bourbons; deep, mellow and creamy with lush style, sweet oak and light toasty notes; long and balanced with a soft, fluid finish; ten percent of profits go to the American Prairie Reserve.” 92pts Tasting Panel
“Billed as ‘the spiciest rye whiskey anywhere’…a mild, honeyed scent, while the palate surprised with vanilla custard contrasted by traces of smoke, eucalyptus and cigar wrapper.” 92pts Wine Enthusiast
A big nose of cinnamon stick, vanilla, peppermint, caramelized sugar and dried fruit.Very spicy, with cinnamon, crisp mint and fennel, underlying sweet notes of caramel, vanilla, macaroon, cocoa, and candied fruit. Takes hold with huge rye spice, orange rind, and vanilla.
“Smoke and cooked meat up front, balanced by sizzling rye spice, red fruit, and dark chocolate. Seaweed, salt spray, and peat are happy to share the spotlight. Barbecue ribs dry-rubbed with paprika…with a smoldering finish.” 91pts Whisky Advocate
It’s clean, crisp and quite vibrant (especially on the nose). The rye note is evident throughout. It starts out more like a high rye content bourbon, with the molasses, caramel, coconut cream, sweet corn and honey-kissed fruit marrying nicely with the dried spice (vanilla, cinnamon, brisk mint).
“Attention wine lovers: this fab bottling with the cowboy label is made with a blend of straight rye whiskies finished in two wine casks, formerly holding vermouth and Syrah. The result is a deep ruddy amber hue and a strikingly concentrated flavor profile. Look for warming layers of caramel, toffee and espresso, drying to leather, zingy orange peel and spice.” 96pts Wine Enthusiast
“This limited-edition blend of straight rye whiskeys finished in French oak and former port barrels offers huge, rounded notes of rich toffee, dark fruit, orange peel and mulling spices. It’s almost like a wintry whiskey punch in a bottle. The language on the label winks at Shakespeare, making this a special gift for a theater lover as well as a whiskey lover.” 98pts Wine Enthusiast