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Wanship — On an unseasonably cold and wet Wednesday morning last week, about 30 people gathered to watch as a huge copper whiskey still was hoisted into the air. It took place at High West Distillery’s new production facility, which is under construction at the Blue Sky Ranch in Wanship, and it marked a big step forward in High West’s continuing rise in the world of whiskey.
The still, which looks a bit like a giant copper tea kettle, stands about 25 feet high and weighs roughly 10,000 pounds. Workers used two cranes to lift it and put it in place atop an eight-foot platform. It was the culmination of a journey that began more than 4,500 miles away in Rothes, Scotland, where the still was designed and manufactured over the course of 17 months. That followed a waiting period of about two years. High West owner David Perkins said the company’s current plan is to add three more 1,585-gallon stills over the next few years.
The new still is expected to help High West meet demand for its whiskeys, which has grown steadily since it opened in 2007 as Utah’s first legal distillery since 1870. High West has won multiple awards and has become well-known among whiskey makers and aficionados. Its products are now sold in 41 states and 11 countries.
Perkins attributes the distillery’s success to “a combination of good luck and lots of planning.” High West’s Park City location has also played to its advantage, with thousands of wealthy and influential visitors arriving yearly to ski and attend the Sundance Film Festival. But most importantly, High West’s growth is the result of good-tasting whiskey. “We make a good product, and we’re all pretty passionate about it,” Perkins said.
At 1,585 gallons, the new still dwarfs the company’s 264-gallon still at its Park City restaurant. Most production will move to the new facility, but the Park City location will continue to produce some products and will be used to experiment with new whiskeys, as well as spirits High West hasn’t created before, such as gin or brandy.
The new 19,000-square-foot building was designed to evoke the image of 19th Century mining buildings that were common in the Park City area. The facility’s roof and exterior walls are made of a metal that is designed to rust over time. The structure was also designed with clerestory windows, which jut above the main roof and can be opened to allow cross breezes into the building to cool it. That design was common in the days before air conditioning and can still be useful today.
The old West aesthetic is central to the High West brand. The whiskeys have names like Campfire, Rocky Mountain Rye and American Prairie Reserve. The Park City restaurant and saloon are housed in a historic building on Main Street, which attracts many of the tens of thousands of tourists who come to Park City every year. Those visitors will also be able to eventually tour the new production facility, which will be fitted with a mezzanine allowing visitors to walk above the stills. A visitors’ center and cafe are also now under construction nearby. The owner of Blue Sky Ranch also plans to build a hotel nearby in the next few years.
In addition to distilling, the new facility will be the site of bottling, fermenting and barreling of products.