*Sincere thanks to Wyoming Whiskey and Colangelo PR for the sample.
Someone very near and dear to me grew up on the plains of South Dakota and Wyoming. Many years/lifetimes ago, on a monumental cross-country drive west, I remember him, upon emerging from I-80’s trip through the almost unbearable flatness of Nebraska, practically breathing a sigh of relief as we sped into those increasingly more rugged spaces. He certainly knew the landscapes of my youth, as he was there for many of them, but this was the first time I was able to see, with more understanding adult eyes, the landscapes of his youth. That made it pretty special. On that stretch of highway, it’s sometimes hard to find a lot of beauty, but on that trip, it was a treat to take in his beloved countryside as it transitioned from stultifying cropland, slowly gaining elevation, to something more dynamic and emotionally stirring.
On that same journey, there was also a moment that we decided on a road trip rule that if the rental truck we were driving ran completely out of gas, the one driving would have to make the hard, long walk to find a gas station. Early on, we learned that our truck’s gas gauge only provided a very loose estimate as to what was in the tank, pretty much amounting to “full,” “sort of full,” and “sputter, sputter, stop.” I was not the author of this rule, but I went along with it, even though I knew it was partly aimed at my youthful impatience and sense of invulnerability. About two hours after we decided this, we sputtered, sputtered, and stopped, empty, on a forlorn exit a few thousand feet from a gas station. I quickly pointed out that I was not the one driving. In hindsight, as a younger, fitter person, perhaps I shouldn’t have let a mid-50’s man walk a half a mile in blistering August heat only to walk a half mile back carrying the rented red can of fuel consumption shame…but rules are rules.
Anyhoo…speaking of Wyoming, Wyoming Whiskey’s Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey is made in Kirby, Wyoming, a town of roughly 92 people located in the Big Horn Basin in the northern half of the state. The distillery was founded by the wife and husband team Kate and Brad Mead, and their partner David DeFazio in 2006, and began production in 2009. In 2007, they enlisted former Maker’s Mark distiller Steve Nally to create their whiskey. Nally stayed on until 2014, giving the the distillery a firm, traditional bourbon-making base upon which to build. After Nally, Sam Mead joined the family business and took over as head distiller. Wyoming Whiskey also employs the services of distilling and blending consultant extraordinaire Nancy Fraley. Fraley’s help has ranged from improving the distilling process, to blending the small batches, to creating a new expression for their lineup. The most recent news from this Wyoming Whiskey is their partnership with Edrington, the parent company of the Macallan and Highland Park among others. Reportedly, though their production process had been refined, wider distribution and placement was proving difficult for the small business. Edrington’s minority stake in the distillery will ease that burden while still allowing the Meads and De Fazio to own and run their business. The exchange of casks between the distilleries will also be mutually beneficial.
For a “craft” distillery, Wyoming has been very focused and traditionally minded. They’ve not ventured into quick-to-sell white spirits, and use only full-sized, 53 gallon barrels for maturation. Much of this focus and staunch traditionalism can be traced back to Nally’s influence. In the early part of their run, it seems the brand had some consistency problems, but with Nancy Fraley’s help, processes have been refined and improved, and the quality has reportedly become more consistent. Another interesting development has been the lowering of the Small Batch’s price. Yeah, you read that right…the price has actually gone done. As production and distribution caught up to demand, Wyoming decided at some point in the last couple of years to lower the price by around $10. Think about that a moment, when most whiskeys are getting younger and more expensive, Wyoming’s whiskey has actually gotten older and less expensive.
At the moment, the brand’s core range includes four expressions: the Small Batch Bourbon being reviewed here, the Single Barrel Bourbon, the Barrel Strength Bourbon, and the Outryder. The Outryder is the most unusual of the four, being a Bottled-in-Bond blend of rye-d bourbon and an “almost rye” whiskey which carries a mashbill of 48% rye, 40% corn, and 12% malted barley. Like Maker’s Mark, Wyoming’s Small Batch Bourbon is a wheated one, though Wyoming uses a relatively higher percentage of wheat and malted barley in their mashbill (68% corn, 20% wheat, 12% malted barley). Each small batch (this review is of Batch 48) is made up from whiskeys that are at least 5 years old. Interestingly, the distillery uses two different yeast strains, one a rather standard sounding “high-yield” yeast, the other a lower-yield yeast that producers more fruity esters. The grain used is all Wyoming-grown, and the water drawn from a deep Wyoming limestone aquifer.
The Nose: A crisp, fresh, almost lighthearted bourbon nose. Hot caramel sauce and caramelized sugar, marzipan, a touch of pink lady apples, and a little orange zest and lemon oil. Behind that, there’s Mexican vanilla bean, stoneground wheat crackers, and a hint of flat RC Cola.* The oak is fairly upfront and bright – sawn boards, tannic in a medium-ish way. Faintly herbal spice notes of cinnamon and nutmeg, with a subtle bit of anise and mint.
The Palate: The palate picks up some of the more unique notes from the nose and runs with them. The caramel and burnt sugar notes are still there, as is some of the citrus zing and that bit of cola. The wheat is still toasty, but now there’s also a nice grassy, fresh wheat berry element. Earthy vanilla and faint candied almonds lead to woodier notes. The oak is sturdier and more tannic, and the spice more pronounced. Cinnamon and clove are joined by more anise and mint with a bit of slightly over-popped popcorn towards the end.
The Finish: Lingering burnt sugar and vanilla bean, with lighter oak notes, cinnamon, clove and nutmeg fading to a hint of chocolate mint at the last.
Thoughts: Well done, Wyoming. This whiskey manages to sidle up close enough to the expected wheated bourbon profile to be recognizable, while at the same time, introducing some nicely integrated, yet unexpected elements to keep things interesting. There’s an alluring fruity brightness here that could seem youthful at first, but this doesn’t drink like a young whiskey, it’s relatively smooth and has a nice depth to it. Might that be due to that 2nd yeast strain? Across it all, the wheat of the mashbill comes through nicely as does a subtle mint & anise herbal quality. Wyoming Whiskey has managed to do something that many “craft” distilleries haven’t, they’ve persevered up and over that learning curve and are now producing a bourbon that rivals their initial inspiration. Perhaps a little pricey value-wise at around $40 but bear in mind this is a much smaller volume producer. Also bear in mind that, these days, all the big bourbon makers seem to be pushing the price upwards, so perhaps this is perfectly in line as it is. I’m looking forward to trying more from Wyoming. Recommended.
*Well, ok, not RC Cola specifically. I picked up an appealing flat cola note and added the RC bit out of some weird nostalgic allegiance. I loved RC cola as a kid…their cans had pictures of all the Major League All-Stars on them.
- Beiter, Nick. “Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon.” Breaking Bourbon, May 2018, breakingbourbon.com/wyoming-whiskey-small-batch.html.
- Beiter, Nick. “Wyoming (Whiskey) Pride.” Breaking Bourbon, Sept. 2018, breakingbourbon.com/wyoming-whiskey-pride.html.
- Bentley, Tom. “Nancy Fraley’s Professional ‘Nose’ Knows When the Mash Is Actually Sour.” The Whiskey Wash, 7 Sept. 2016, thewhiskeywash.com/whiskey-styles/american-whiskey/nancy-fraley-professional-nose-knows/.
- Curtis, Wayne. “The Woman With a Nose for Liquor.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 8 Dec. 2017, http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/04/the-sniffer/386240/.
- Dorsey, Jennifer. “Wyoming Whiskey Partners with International Company.” Jackson Hole News and Guide, 6 Sept. 2018, http://www.jhnewsandguide.com/jackson_hole_daily/local/article_05c4bf29-e379-55df-a186-1462f8a1e021.html.
- Emen, Jake. “A Visit Out West to Wyoming Whiskey | Distiller.” The Distiller Blog, 27 May 2018, blog.distiller.com/wyoming-whiskey/.
- Gillespie, Mark. “Wyoming Whiskey Joins Forces With Edrington.” WhiskyCast, 7 Sept. 2018, whiskycast.com/wyoming-whiskey-joins-forces-with-edrington/.
- “Our Whiskies.” Wyoming Whiskey, http://www.wyomingwhiskey.com/our-whiskies.
- “Wyoming Whiskey.” Wyoming Whiskey, http://www.wyomingwhiskey.com/.