Updated July 28, 2017
By Richard Thomas
When it comes to America’s booming craft whiskey scene, I often refer to a three-way tussle between Colorado, New York and Texas over which one will become the country’s third whiskey state, after Kentucky and Tennessee. Yet the mushrooming micro-distillery sector is hardly confined to just these three. It’s almost everywhere in the United States, and there are even places with just one micro outfit making whiskey, such as Wyoming.
Wyoming Whiskey is the state’s first legal distillery, reportedly started by Brad and Kate Mead and David DeFazio, who then invited Steve Nally to come help them make bourbon. Nally is the name most bourbon enthusiasts might recognize, as he is a Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee who spent 33 years at Maker’s Mark, almost half of them as Master Distiller.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of Nally’s experience shows in the Wyoming Whiskey production process. I often thought Maker’s Mark’s stories read like they would work just as well in a bakery as in a distillery, and Wyoming Whiskey has the same kind of ring to it, what with the grains being ground fresh every day. Most distilleries have a good water story too, and to keep the iron out Wyoming Whiskey draws on a limestone aquifer some 40 odd miles distant.
Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch came out in 2012 and was the first release from the company, followed in November 2014 by their single barrel bourbon.
Despite not claiming the straight bourbon designation, the whiskey is a four year old and aged in standard, 53-gallon new oak barrels. The mashbill is 68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% malted barley, drawing on non-GMO crops grown within 100 miles of the distillery, making the bourbon firmly rooted in not just Wyoming, but its own particular corner of Wyoming. It’s a small batch (an unsurprising point for a small distillery), made from dumps of about 15 barrels.
Early releases were aged for four years, and the current bourbon is aged five years, and the whiskey is bottled at 88 proof (44% abv, in homage to Wyoming’s being the 44th state). My own is from batch 25, made in November 2014.
Some croakers have noted that age claim and observed that the label doesn’t say “straight bourbon,” and being croakers they said something fishy must be going on. “We didn’t want to clutter the label with more information,” said founder David DeFazio. “[Small batch] was a better descriptor for what we are doing.”
The nose is floral, leaning in the direction of wildflowers and herbs, telling you right away that it is a wheated bourbon. The scent also packs a hefty current of caramel. Yet at the same time I thought it was also just a little a bit on the rough and hot side.
The liquid has a light character on the tongue, with a flavor that is quite sweet, like a caramel candy topped with a sprinkling of powdered sugar. A note of green, wet wood is present, but not heavy. The flavor is altogether a different creature from the nose, as is the finish, which leaves a warm, but quite light afterglow.
I got to spend some time with Wyoming Whiskey, and I discovered I liked it best on the rocks. Even in the deep chill of the ice it holds its character well, at least until the ice melts so much as to dilute it. Thus, I’ve put the bottle aside and plan to bring it back out for summertime drinking, to which I think it is very well suited.
If I don’t know better, I would guess this bourbon is younger than it actually is, so I’m looking forward to asking Steve Nally about what the Wyoming climate is doing with his maturation process.
Addendum by April Manning
My bottle came from a 2016 batch, a year later than Richard’s, and the word is that the Wyoming Whiskey batches have improved over time. The appearance is a beautiful clear blonde that shimmers with faint golden highlights. As it is inhaled the aroma instantly wafts a flowery sweetness followed by a ting of citrus.
When the whiskey hits your mouth the first thing you realize is it is so light that it has almost no viscosity. The second thing is the whiskey is so imperceptible that it leaves no flavor on the tip of the tongue. Don’t worry, it comes through with a sweet vanilla suggestion mid-palate and finishes smoothly with a numbing sensation reminding one of cloves. There is just a slight burn that comes at the very end.
All in all, a pleasant sipping whiskey.
The retailers I saw priced Wyoming Whiskey at between $45 and $50.