By Derek Taylor
"From barrel to table to bed." That's how Blue Sky Ranch owner Mike Phillips said he views the new enterprise. At a groundbreaking ceremony and press conference on October 11, 2012, the Blue Sky Ranch and High West Distillery formerly announced a partnership that will create one of the most unique resorts in the country—think dude ranch meets adventure oasis meets whiskey pub and distillery.
On a gorgeous fall day, a 20-minute drive east of their current facility in downtown Park City, High West broke ground on a new distillery and restaurant on the 3,500-acre, working cattle ranch that will compliment a 20-room lodge, both set to open in December 2013.
While the restaurant and bar will bring a unique amenity to the ranch—which will eventually feature 60 rooms, a world-class wellness center and four different meeting and conference areas—for High West the facility is also about ramping up production to meet increasing demand. High West is Utah's first legal distillery since 1870, and the quality of their micro-distilled spirits has created a cult following.
"[The] Park City [facility] is about being a restaurant," says High West proprietor David Perkins. "This one is about being a distillery." While the Park City location features a 250-gallon still, says Perkins, the Blue Sky branch will house a 1500-gallon still and will replace the company's current storage and aging facilities in Salt Lake City.
Founded in 2004, Blue Sky got approval to open as a guest ranch in 2006. They currently are operating year-round, with a backcountry yurt that’s rented on a nightly basis and a number of activities which include horseback riding, mountain biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fly-fishing, and the ranch's signature "be a cowboy for a day.” Once the lodging is complete, Phillips predicts the ranch will feature five different shuttle vans that will service all of the regions ski resorts, from Little Cottonwood Canyon to the Ogden Valley and everything in between.
While utilitarian, the new distillery promises to be an attraction as well. Perkins says the complex is modeled after wineries in Napa Valley and similar distilleries in Scotland, but with the unique lodging component. High West will offer whiskey tastings and tours of the production process, in addition to the full service restaurant. And after it’s all over, guests will be able to safely retire to their bunks in the Wasatch Back backcountry.
When complete, the two ventures will feature several icons of the American West: adventure, cowboys and whiskey.