Last night Salt Lake City experienced a small but powerful bit of wonder that I couldn’t have envisioned ten– maybe even five– years ago: 60+ guests gleefully paid for the opportunity to sample Utah-made whiskeys paired with a delightful small-plates tasting menu.
At a neighborhood restaurant.
On a Wednesday night.
With just a couple of weeks of social-media savvy forward lead time.
After bookings for the originally-conceived 18 seat tasting filled within hours of the High West Distillery pairing dinner announcement, Finca owner Scott Evans realized he could easily fill his joint for an exclusive event. The draw? Oh, let’s just look at the line-up, shall we? The talented palate and vision of Pago-founder Scott Evans. Finca’s locally-sourced Spanish-inspired tapas created by executive chef Phelix Gardner. Four varieties of High West Distillery booze, presented by the distillery’s passionate proprietor, David Perkins. And mixing it all together, the man behind Finca’s bar, Scott Gardner. Who also just happens to be named Salt Lake Magazine’s “Best Mixologist” for 2013. Done, and done, my friends. [Don’t worry – if you didn’t get in to this dinner, more food/beverage pairing menus are planned through the next few months, including a Spanish wine tasting menu for March].
The folks from High West brought four whiskeys to the dinner: their American Prairie Reserve Bourbon, Son of Bourye (a bourbon-rye blend), Campfire Whiskey (a rye-bourbon-scotch – yes, I know, SCOTCH) blend, and the award-winning Rendezvous Rye. Scott Gardener introduced guests to the Prairie Reserve in the form of an old-fashioned whiskey punch (recipe, below), which the chef paired with a cheese and charcuterie plate. The remaining whiskeys were all served neat in scant 1 oz. pours, with plates intended to complement the layered flavors of whiskey –sweet, savory, mellow, smoky – in the form of roasted carrots, mushroom-topped flatbreads, and local beef sliders with house made pickles. All exquisite.
I’m not going to lie, I expected to be underwhelmed by the Frankensteinian hybrid Campfire Whiskey, one of the few High West products I’d not yet tried. “Dubious” understates my apprehensions about adding scotch to a rye-bourbon blend. Married to a long-time scotch purist, I was prepared for both of us to be disappointed by the pour. I couldn’t have been more wrong: in the midst of all of this food and whiskey fabulousness, we both moaned over an unassuming-looking plate of fried paprika-dusted potatoes with a tangy garlic aioli paired perfectly with the complexity of the smoky blended Campfire whiskey. This combo stole the show. It also introduced us to our new favorite hunting-camp compromise whiskey. We no longer need to bring a bottle each of bourbon and scotch: now, we’ll be bringing a bottle of High West Campfire.
High West Prairie Punch:
Finca’s bar man Scott Gardner resurrects the concept of an artisanal punch in this recipe, harkening back to the time when every bar or local watering hole worth its salt had a proprietary and exclusive house punch. The traditional oleo saccharum (“oil sugar”) preparation takes some lead-time to assemble, but is worth the effort to create a well-blended traditional punch. Here’s his recipe, which makes A LOT (good for a party of 20 or more guests):
1) At least two hours, or up to one day ahead, prepare oleo saccarum by gently muddling 8 oz. granulated sugar and the peels of 6 lemons.
2) After the sugar has turned to a syrup/paste consistency, add 6 oz. lemon juice, stir to combine, and let sit for an additional 30 minutes.
3) Strain out the lemon peels from the mixture and discard
4) In a large punch bowl (or two pitchers), combine:
– lemon sugar
– 1 bottle (apprx 25 oz.) High West American Prairie Reserve bourbon
– 40 oz. cold water
– ½ oz. angostura bitters
5) Just before serving, add ice to chill your punch
6) Float 8 oz. brut cava on top of the punch
7) Garnish with lemon wheels and a generous grating of fresh nutmeg
8) Note from A Bourbon Gal: Lovely served in shallow ‘coupe’ stemmed glasses