photos by the author
Thanks to new laws and a new embrace of the farm-to-table food movement, the cocktail scene in Park City is blossoming. High West Distillery is at the heart of this revolution.
With the London Olympics standing as one of the year's landmark events, it is almost difficult to believe that the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games is already a decade into history. While records were broken at those games as well, it was also a was watershed event for local bars and lounges, as many state decision makers realized lightening up Utah's famously strict liquor laws would lead to weightier revenues.
Popular response to the Olympic changes gave way to less restrictive laws by 2003. Later reforms in 2009 instituted by then-Governor Jon Huntsman were put into place to bolster the efforts of the state's tourism industry. These changes, in turn, gave rise to an innovative mixology movement. Though bartenders and bar owners today celebrate their hard-won creative freedom twice a year via the Park City Cocktail Competition, they no longer need to wait for an Olympic-sized event or even The Sundance Film Festival to make an artistic statement.
High West Distillery & Saloon in Park City, Utah.
Though some restrictions remain, including the state's monopoly over liquor sales, the increased availability of liquor licenses and the elimination of the "membership fee" planted the seeds for a cocktail renaissance that taps into Utah's agricultural bounty and a "farm-to-table" approach. One of the bars still leading the charge is High West Distillery, which is an outgrowth of a boutique spirits distillery originally operating out of nearby Salt Lake City.
"We are a small town distillery, obviously, and while most people come to Park City to ski, aficionados come to High West because it is a distillery," says lead mixologist Eric Finch. "It is the first legal distillery in Utah open since Prohibition; the distillery itself opened in 2008. Every bartender here is a member of the U.S. Bartender's Guild, so we are all committed to our craft. As it is the only small craft bar in Park City as well, we are always creating new cocktails, and change our cocktail menu about twice a year.
The distillery, which is now in the same Park City building complex as the bar and restaurant, has grown to produces boutique whiskies and vodkas currently available in 38 states. Though Finch explains out-of-state connoisseurs help drive traffic at the three year-old establishment, it has its own patented formula for year-round success.
"We are all committed to our craft as we are the only small craft bar in Park City, so we take the responsibility creating new cocktails seriously," says Finch. "While our High West Lemonade and the Dead Man's Boots are staples, we always change out the rest of our cocktails to go along with whatever fruits and herbs are in season. Our Peach Mule, for example, is made with our seasonal Peach vodka, made in limited quantities with Northern Utah-grown peaches at their ripest one month out of the year and we age the resulting vodka for several months. Every bottle has the equivalent of four peaches."
For more information on the complete line of High West spirits as well as more recipes, visit
Even without snow or independent films, High West Distillery makes any time of year a great time to be in Park City. Theme parties, not surprisingly, are built around their covetable blended whiskies (i.e. Prohibition, Kentucky Derby parties), and during the slow seasons, High West packs locals in with Whiskey Wednesdays, featuring live bands, a special $6 burger and whiskey tasting flights.
"Throughout the year, we throw all kinds of parties, such as Prohibition parties and Kentucky Derby parties," adds Finch. "Every Wednesday, during the slow seasons, we have Whiskey Wednesdays, where we will have a live band performing, and make a special $6 burger that will be paired with a specific whisky. A lot of locals really enjoy this, especially as Deer Valley hosts a series of free concerts, and a lot of people will come here to hear more live music and keep the party going."
1½ oz. Peach Vodka 7000'
½ oz. housemade ginger syrup
½ oz. fresh lime juice
10 mint sprigs
Fentimans Ginger Beer
Muddle mint with ginger syrup and lime juice. Add peach vodka, shake and strain over rocks. Garnish with Lime wedge.
Dead Man's Boots
1½ oz. Double Rye Whiskey
1 oz. tequila (anything 100% de agave; they prefer El Jimador)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
½ oz. simple syrup
Cock n Bull Ginger Beer
Shake and strain into tall rocks glass, top off with ginger beer, and garnish with lime wedge