As the brand recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a new release, here’s a look at the history and conditions that make their spirits stand out.
One-oh-three-point-four… it’s proof that 10 years of purveying whiskey was well worth it. Proof that the best way to diversify your cattle ranch is to go buy a still. Proof that getting punched in the face by your boss can lead to more than a black eye. Yes, 103.4 is the proof of Wyoming Whiskey’s new 10-Year Anniversary Edition Rye Bourbon — and just another example of how great whiskey can be made off the beaten bourbon trail.
Bourbon that Emulates The Cowboy State
“Wyoming Whiskey is defiantly not from Kentucky,” says David DeFazio, co-owner along with Brad and Kate Mead. It’s that type of defiance that defines what has come to be known as the “Whiskey of the West.”
Wyoming Whiskey has taken what it means to be from The Cowboy State and put it in a bottle. From the remote location of the distillery in Kirby to the extended process by which their whiskey is distilled, their spirits embody the toughness that comes with being from the great state of Wyoming. Now after its humble beginnings in 2006, Wyoming Whiskey is celebrating its 10-year anniversary.
Don’t worry, your math is not that bad. Part of Wyoming Whiskey’s allure is that they wanted to distill their whiskey themselves rather than source it from another outlet and blend it into something they liked. To do so takes time, which ultimately brings us to 2012 and the release of their first small batch bourbon.
Like the people, Wyoming Whiskey is gritty. Not on the palate but rather through the challenges it faces in the distilling process. This may seem like a byproduct of choosing to house your distillery in one of the least populated towns in the least populated county in the least populated state in America. To a degree, it is. Almost to the point where you think the founders chose to set up shop in Kirby on purpose because of its anonymity. That’s not the case, but doing so worked out just fine.
The Meads actually bought the ranch in Kirby to transport their cattle to, from their historic ranch in Jackson Hole so they could graze during the winter months. Then, in an effort to diversify the property the Meads came up with the brilliant idea of making bourbon.
It All Started With a Punch in the Face
Which brings us back to the story of getting punched in the face by your (soon-to-be) boss. One Sunday in 1996, DeFazio was arm wrestling at The Stagecoach in Jackson Hole. What started amicably turned rough when DeFazio, who had lost two straight matches, got wind that his opponent had been cheating by grabbing the leg underneath the table and using it as leverage. The very next match, right at the start, DeFazio slapped his opponent’s hand out from under the table and pinned his arm down. Not taking kindly to losing in this manner, DeFazio’s opponent wound up and cracked him in the eye.
The next morning when DeFazio showed up at his new job, practicing law at a firm run by, yeah, the guy who had given him a shiner the night before. That’s the same day he met Kate Mead, another lawyer. Discovering that they had both gone to college together in upstate New York, Kate eventually introduced him to her husband, Brad, and the three of them became fast friends.
How the hell do you make bourbon?
Fast forward 10 years to 2006. The Meads called up David and told him they had a business proposal for him. When he walked into their home, they said, “We want to make bourbon.”
Chuckling, Defazio asked, “Well how the hell do you make bourbon?”
To which the Meads responded, “That’s for you to figure out.”
Thus began the now illustrious story of the Wyoming Whiskey brand.
The three new partners knew nothing about distilling bourbon. What they did know though was that they wanted to put Wyoming not only on the bottle but in it. So they hired bourbon hall-of-famer Steve Nally, formerly of Maker’s Mark, and bought a still.
Choosing Kirby Over Jackson
Housing the distillery in Kirby has allowed the Meads and Defazio to do so in a way that other locations could not have. Distilling their whiskey there has given the liquid an air about it, a toughness (if you will). It’s a toughness that may not have existed if Wyoming Whiskey were distilled in the popular skiing and tourist destination of Jackson.
“From day 1, we set out to become Wyoming’s whiskey,” says DeFazio. “Building our distillery in the middle of the state was important to reaching that goal from a brand perspective. From a whiskey perspective, our whiskies mature in an arid, high plains environment that is unique to us.”
From their location in Kirby, they work with their partners in nearby Byron, Wyoming to harvest a special non-GMO corn, winter wheat and winter rye. The water is sourced from a limestone aquifer located a mile below Manderson, Wyoming in the Madison Formation. Together these ingredients create a mash bill that is uniquely Wyoming.
Another key component of Wyoming Whiskey that sets it apart from others is the maturation process. You would be hard pressed to find another as distinctive as theirs. This too can be attributed to their remote location.
The Big Horn Basin, where Kirby is located, knows only extremes. Extreme cold in the winter and extreme heat in the summer. Turns out, this is great for the whiskey. Essentially, the major temperature swings shorten the maturation window. In the winter the cold temperatures put the maturation on pause thereby leaving only the incessantly warm temperatures of the short summer months for the whiskey to mature. Ultimately, the shortened yearly maturation time lengthens the entire process while producing spirits that are deliciously Wyoming.
Wyoming in a Bottle
If you have ever tried Wyoming Whiskey, you can taste the passion and defiance of the people who make it. That is to say, you can taste the state it represents. Maybe you are into the candied yams, toasted marshmallows, honey butter, cinnamon toast with blackberry-maple syrup or even marzipan you get on the palate of the newly released 10 Year Anniversary Edition Rye Bourbon. Or, maybe you just like to taste damn good whiskey. Either way, 103.4 is the proof… that the people of Wyoming Whiskey have done what they set out to do.
Rich Stoner is the founder of the après-ski lifestyle clothing and media brand, All About Après, and the co-host of the Beyond the Après podcast. No stranger to the ski and après-ski scene, Rich has been a long time contributor for many publications on topics like skiing, gear, beer and food. However, his passion is on the slopes and enjoying good times with good people. You can find him perfecting his craft carving turns and drinking beers in the Green Mountains of Vermont. @allaboutapres