From Silicon Valley to the Silicon Slopes: a Spirited Conversation with High West Distillery Founder, David Perkins
I met David Perkins at the 2016 SF WhiskeyFest where he quickly inspired me about his entrepreneurial journey into the world of spirits. A soft-spoken gentleman, David proposed I pay him a visit to his Utah distillery whenever I was in town. Fortunately, I had the chance to reconnect recently with David and enjoy lunch at High West and hear about his plans for the future.
When David Perkins moved his family to Park City Utah in 2004 to launch High West Distillery, he wasn’t sure how much of impact his company would make on the whiskey trade. After a successful Silicon Valley career in the biotech, Perkins took his ‘grub steak’ of earnings in high tech to Utah ready to write a new chapter in his life and career.
After a visit to Kentucky and a chance tour at the Maker’s Mark distillery Perkins saw the parallel between his work in creating pharmaceuticals with the process of making whiskey. Perkins quickly amassed a stellar team (including Jim Rutledge or Four Roses fame) that gave him the guidance and means to kick off the High West distillery. The operation quickly grew from a 10K barrel operation in Salt Lake City to a now more than 70K barrel production that includes the gorgeous Park City distillery. Demand and growth in over a decade has been profound indeed.
David is constantly active. He is an avid learner and prefers to listen much more then he speaks. He considers multiple options at once and as seen in High West’s operations. He can balance data and logic with the right amount of gut feel mixed with guidance from experts to keep moving forward in the right direction. Most of all, David is concerned with proving his own theories not being distracted with naysayers. He had plenty of head scratching when he his decision to pursue rye whiskey production. But like all good entrepreneurs, he saw the potential (a sort of lemons into lemonade moment) so since he happened to have access to a large amount of high quality rye that nobody wanted, he did something with it. The result was a business, a brand, and a story that re-ignited attention on a market segment away from bourbon-only demand.
Hear an excerpt on how David came to choose rye for building his whiskey empire:
David understands sacrifice, much of it at the expense of family. “My family was High West for ten years,” David said grudgingly. And for most entrepreneurs that is what is at stake, along with financial commitments be it personal savings or loans from friends. Fortunately, the right business partners and hiring decisions rapidly took David in several right directions for the product line all with a marketing twist that payed homage to the west and rich whiskey history in Utah.
Since the purchase of High West by Constellation Brands, David has had time to reflect on what he has accomplished with High West as he continues in the capacity of Brand Ambassador and advisor inspiring new lines and maintaining the quality, pride, and passion that put High West on the map. David is ready to relax, take a vacation, be a dad and explore some new ideas in food that mix science and craft. Whatever David dreams up, one thing can be sure - it will come with the same drive, pride, and vision that made High West the global brand that it is.
Huge thanks and shout out to the High West team that made this meeting possible. Justin Lew, VP of Marketing, for setting up the visit, the incredible lunch, and arranging a tour with Kent Cheeseman, GM Operations, who blew our mind with his history, knowledge, and tour of the distillery. And Austin for laying out a generous and fact-filled flight of all High West products.
For more pictures from the visit, check out the Spirited Conversation Facebook page.