Liquor: Park City's newest draw has spirit

Published August 22, 2009 9:15 pm
Chef renovating house as a restaurant and a historic livery to be a distillery.
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It's been a long pull, but David Perkins' dream of a destination whiskey distillery is almost a reality.

He has titrated his recipes down to the drop. And his partner, James Dumas -- along with a small army -- is lashing the finishing refurbishments to the historic National Garage and the Watts property at 703 Park Ave. near Park City's Town Lift.

The High West Distillery and Saloon is just weeks away from its first belch -- or whatever sound it is that stills make -- as they transform corn or rye into that magical American libation called whiskey.

"It will be the world's first ski-in gastro-distillery," Perkins said with a smile.

It's been a long time coming. Perkins quit his lucrative job in pharmaceuticals in 2004 and set out to become a student of whiskey. He learned the trade at the foot -- or the spout -- of the Kentucky masters.

In 2005, Perkins bought the house and garage on Park Avenue from the municipality for $1.4 million. By the time the 18-foot-tall German-made brass still is erected inside, he will have sunk another $3 million into the place.

He'll have to sell a lot of whiskey to break even. And he just might.

Perkins' High West Rendezvous Rye came home with Top Ten honors at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits competition.

High West actually has been distilling whiskey in a Salt Lake City warehouse for four years, anticipating the completion of the Watts place and National Garage.

"For a little company in Utah, we're pretty proud of that" award, Perkins said.

You can buy High West rye and vodka at Utah State Liquor Stores. It is also sold in Nevada, California, Illinois, Georgia, New York and Washington, D.C.

And soon you'll be able to buy it with a meal on Park Avenue, where Dumas, a veteran Park City chef, is also building a menu.

The High West Distillery and Saloon will be open to the public for tours, dining and sipping. It also will cater to private parties.

"We don't want to be a bar," Dumas said. "The whole concept with the food and the facility is that we want to educate and entice."

Patrons, if they choose, can get a tour and quick education about how whiskey is made.

"We want them to see it, smell it and taste it," Dumas said.

And, of course, customers will be able to buy a bottle or two on site.

Locals too, no doubt, will be impressed with the liquid products. But they'll also take note of the property's historic renovation.

Perkins and Dumas have spared no expense in bringing the Park City treasure into the new century, while retaining 80 percent of its original materials -- enough to keep it on the National Historic Registry.

The house now features several dining rooms and a bar. The historic garage or livery is large enough to host business and social groups. The place has two kitchens, both below ground.

The renovation included, among other things, moving the structures, excavating basements and pouring new footings and foundations.

The plumbing and heating and cooling systems required for distilling are no simple matter. But patrons only will see a historic house transformed into a comfortable restaurant.

From the street, it looks like the same old National Garage -- except for that big still in the window.

csmart@sltrib.com" Target="_BLANK">csmart@sltrib.com



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