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A Midwinter Night's Dram Act 11 Review
Cold weather means many things for whiskey drinkers. But over the past decade, Utah’s High West Distillery has started to corner the market on nostalgia in a glass with its “A Midwinter Night’s Dram” expression. The blend of straight rye whiskeys — the base being the Rendezvous Rye expression — is finished in ruby and tawny port barrels, then bottled in the high 90s on proof. For some, it’s the holidays in a glass: a mix of spice and sweetness that beckons on cold winter nights.
Some of the earlier releases (the “Act” corresponds with the annual release) were made with High West’s Rendezvous blend when it featured a hefty amount of 16 year-old, Barton-sourced rye; the rest of the blend was somewhat younger rye from Indiana’s MGP.
In recent years, High West has transitioned Rendezvous to a blend of MGP (95 percent rye, 5 percent malted barley) and in-house distillate (80 percent rye, 20 percent malted rye). Longtime Midwinter drinkers claim to notice a significant difference between those earlier releases and Acts 8 and beyond (me among them, to be transparent).
According to High West’s Instagram account, over 189,000 bottles of A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 11 were produced, up from approximately 115,000 for Act 10. That makes it (to our knowledge) the largest release in the line by a wide margin.
Let’s see how it stacks up.
A Midwinter Night's Dram Act 11: Stats and Availability
A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 11 has a suggested retail price of $149.99, though some early purchasers were able to get it for as low as $120 at High West’s Park City saloon.
High West has been very transparent about bottle count for this release in recent years. With a nearly 40 percent increase in production for 2023, hopes are a bit higher that fans can snag a bottle for close to retail pricing, though don’t be surprised to see markups in some locations.
A Midwinter Night's Dram Act 11 Review
As with all of VinePair’s whiskey reviews, this was tasted in a Glencairn glass and rested for at least five minutes.
Immediately, I sense a return to fond memories of Midwinter Night’s Dram releases from years past. There’s an intense progression of fruits: canned pear, blackcurrant, Concord grape, and plum. That’s followed by — or coupled with — ample holiday spice, including allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon, baked into a sticky sweet fruit cake. Upon a return to the glass, clove makes its presence known with some force alongside figgy pudding (which even an American can enjoy!) — additions in a line of memory-evoking holiday scents.
I struggled to sense the underlying rye components in last year’s Act 10, and fortunately, Act 11 doesn’t lose that influence in the wine notes. There’s noticeable rye spice here from the base of Rendezvous Rye, enough that it’s possible to differentiate the 95/5 mash bill MGP whiskey from the 80/20 in-house High West distillate.
On first sip, flavors undulate between rye spice, sweet port, and chocolate so quickly and frequently it’s tough to get a read — but it’s altogether very pleasant if you relax and let yourself enjoy the ride. There’s more herbal influence than I remember from Acts 9 and 10, which I venture is from the MGP rye; there’s a bit of fresh parsley, dill, and mint. Rich grape-forward sweetness hits on the midpalate, along with dried or cooked figs. That’s followed by cooked pear, dark cherry, plum, and nectarine.
One defining feature of A Midwinter Night’s Dram is the thick, syrupy mouthfeel. Some editions have gone slightly overboard on that front, which led to imbalanced finishes. Act 11 is still thick, but not so much that it keeps me from wanting a return to the glass. Additional sips bring out some berry and ginger; after that, each sip reminds me of preserve-filled thumbprint cookies from my family’s holiday gatherings. (Appropriate given the marketing bent on conjuring holiday memories!)
The back of the palate brings a return to rye and baking spice, which in this case is more cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. I do miss just a little of complexity from the rye at this point, and it’s impossible not to think back to some of the first Midwinter releases where the old Rendezvous Rye blend carried its weight with strength throughout the entire pour.
This feels like a classic Midwinter finish, through and through. Rye on the back of the palate transitions once again to wine-forward sweetness, more berry and cherry than at any other point in the experience. The long finish that gradually fades to grape as the ethanol dissipates and that sweetness lingers.
When it comes to overall complexity and depth of the finish, Act 11 doesn’t quite hit the superlative notes of some earlier releases, particularly Acts 1 through 4. But it certainly makes a valiant effort.
A Midwinter Night's Dram Act 11 Rating
Act 10 was polarizing, but Act 11 is sure to please at least some High West purists. A Midwinter Night’s Dram Act 11 is one of the best such releases in the past five years, and I can’t wait to do a blind tasting with acts 7 through 11.
It doesn’t quite touch the near-superlative mark of some much earlier releases — which contained 16 year old rye! — and comes close to fumbling the balance of sweet and spice at one or two barely noticeable junctures. But overall, Act 11 is a delicious finished rye that feels just about right for cold winter nights. As it should.