It all started after a friend’s wedding in Cincinnati. Chemist David Perkins and his wife Jane had a love of bourbon and decided while they were that close to Kentucky, they might as well drive across the state line to take in the scenery and hopefully tour a distillery while they were there. The one they happened to pick was Maker’s Mark, and the day ended up being a turning point for Perkins. While as a cooking enthusiast he was intrigued by the distillery hardware and how much the place looked like a giant kitchen lab, it was another part of the facility that sealed his future fate. According to Perkins, “The barrel warehouse was my ‘aha moment’ where I realized this was really what I wanted to do.” Boy, did he ever.
In 2008, High West became the first legal distillery in the state of Utah since the 1870s. Just one year later, the High West Distillery and Saloon opened in historic Park City, becoming the world’s only ski-in gastro distillery. Two years later, his hard work paid off again when Whiskey Advocate magazine named Perkins the 2011 Whiskey Pioneer of the Year. When you visit the venue, it only takes one look at the menu to realize just how serious High West is about its whiskey. Every item on the menu includes the in-house spirit on its ingredient list. From the bourbon-caramel popcorn and spirit-glazed salmon to the signature salads with the whiskey vinaigrette, it’s all about celebrating the flavor of High West. After visiting the restaurant for dinner recently with colleagues, I tracked David down for an interview. Here are a few highlights from the conversation.
MT: How large a role has the venue’s location played in your success, do you think?
DP: It’s played a significant role. We’re lucky enough to get visitors to Park City from all over the world. I definitely wanted to take advantage of that. The restaurant makes people feel comfortable and gives them a chance to be introduced to a harder spirit in the company of good food.
MT: Your restaurant and its food selection definitely take your branding efforts to the next level. How much input have you insisted upon when developing your menu?
DP: Having a restaurant – a good one – was very important to us. For the most part, I trust our chef and general manager James Dumas to do what he does best. He executed most of the menu development, but I did have to insist upon the Grillsworth, which is a popular part of our dessert menu. It features a grilled Krispy Kreme donut with whiskey-laced vanilla ice cream. That and a great hamburger. We had to have a great burger.
MT: Any advice for others considering the launch of their own brand of spirits?
DP: Two things. It had better be good. And it had better be distinctive. From my own perspective, I wanted a Western brand. A Rocky Mountain brand. That was important.
Did Perkins make the right decision when switching careers? His words speak for themselves. Says Perkins, “I’m a whiskey guy.” He certainly is.
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