Wyoming Whiskey was founded in 2006 but didn’t start producing whiskey until 2009. Founders Brad and Kate Mead and David DeFazio had worked together for about ten years before the Meads approached DeFazio with the idea of building a distillery. As Defazio, known to his friends as “Faz,” recounts the story, the Meads called him into a meeting about a business proposal and told him that he would be tasked with learning how to build and run a distillery, to which he laughed, but they didn’t.
The Whiskey Business in Wyoming
In the early days, DeFazio was learning everything he could on the fly. There was a serious oil boom in Wyoming at the time, so finding a contractor who could build something unrelated to the oil and natural gas industry was tricky. They hired an out-of-state firm, which quickly went sideways. Eventually they were able to find a builder in Cody, who still takes care of the brand’s construction needs.
The town of Kirby was chosen as the site for Wyoming Whiskey because the co-Founders, the Meads, have a ranch there, and the Mead family has been ranching in Wyoming since the late 1800s. While their main ranch is in Jackson, Wyoming, the Kirby, Wyoming ranch is where the family grazes their cattle in the winter. According to the brand’s website, “They are pretty much like other business executives, but they do most of it on horseback and with a much better office view.”
On July 4th, 2009, the stills were fired up for the first time, and to celebrate, DeFazio ate a bowl of cooked mash right out of the fermenter. There were many hiccups in the early days of Wyoming Whiskey — while their first whiskey release in 2012 set state records by selling out 2400 cases in just 26 seconds, DeFazio admits they’d released their product too soon and had done some major damage to their reputation. While locals in Wyoming still remember the blunder, the brand has made major strides in both quality and in reputation.
When they were first getting started, the folks at Wyoming Whiskey had the benefit of consulting first with Lincoln Henderson, the former Master Distiller of Woodford Reserve as well as the Founder of Angel’s Envy, and Steve Nalley, the former Master Distiller of Maker’s Mark and current Master Distiller of Bardstown Bourbon Company. The team was later joined by Master Blender Nancy Fraley, who has been tasked with barrel management and creating amazing blends. Local Curtis Chopping, formerly a geochemist in the oil and natural gas industry, serves as the brand’s distillery manager and head distiller.
The blending philosophy
Fraley’s blending philosophy was developed during her time working with Hubert Germain Robin and eventually Cognac producers in France and other spirits producers around the world. She takes a “pyramid approach” to creating complex and layered whiskeys. The bottom tier consists of the base flavor notes of vanilla and caramel. The middle tier consists of “fill in the blank” flavor notes of spice, fruit, et cetera. The top tier of the blending pyramid consists of aromatics like smoke and spices that would be too overwhelming on their own. She also batches using the “slow water reduction method,” in which water is added gradually so avoid saponification of the fatty acids.
The brand released a 10th anniversary edition whiskey last year, not on the 10th anniversary of founding, building, or distillation, but on the 10th anniversary of their first release. It was to commemorate everything they have learned along the way and to showcase how far the brand has come since that fateful first release.
Local to the Rocky Mountains
The majority of the grains used in the production of Wyoming Whiskey are Wyoming-grown in the Big Horn Basin. The biggest exception is barley malt. The malthouse from which the brand’s barley malt is sourced malts barley from throughout the Rocky Mountain region, so it’s still locally-sourced. The original barrel entry proof was 110, but Fraley changed it to 114 to account for the climate. The biggest challenge in maturation is that barrels go dormant at 45F, and in Wyoming that is a significant portion of the year.
The water source is a limestone aquifer in Manderson, 50 miles North, that was originally trucked in to the tune of 20,000 gallons a week, but which now has a pipeline serving the distillery. That water is used directly in the cooking and fermentation process and is RO filtered for proofing. The distillate comes off the still at 132 proof.
Visiting Wyoming Whiskey in Two Locations
Much like the Jack Daniel’s Distillery you don’t stumble upon Wyoming Whiskey unless you’ve taken several major wrong turns. The biggest difference, however, is that Jack Daniel’s is accessible from nearby major cities, while Wyoming is so sparsely populated that there are only 19 cities in the entire state — according to the US Census, Wyoming has “203 places; 99 incorporated places and 104 census designated places (CDPs). The incorporated places consist of 19 cities and 80 towns. The minimum population for incorporation in Wyoming is 500.” Read about our visit to Jack Daniel’s.
How to Get to Wyoming Whiskey
To get to Wyoming Whiskey, the closest commercial airport is Cody Wyoming. The closest commercial hotel is in Thermopolis, an hour and a half from the Cody airport. The distillery is another half an hour outsite of Thermopolis in Kirby. By all indications, Wyoming Whiskey is the only business in Kirby, Wyoming aside from the Meads’ ranch.
For visitors who are spending time in Yellowstone National Park, Cody is generally the airport of choice. Yellowstone is a little more than two hours from Cody in the opposite direction of the distillery. Kirby is about an hour and a half from Cody in the other direction, but for diehard whiskey fans it’s not that much of a stretch.
Unfortunately, distillery tours are currently suspended. They were suspended during Covid and there hasn’t been any movement toward reinstating them. However, Wyoming Whiskey does do events at the distillery, which is probably the best way to sneak a peek.
Visit the Tasting Room and Gift Shop
There’s a tasting room and gift shop on Main Street in Kirby, Wyoming, a few hundred yards away from the distillery building at 120 E Main St, Kirby, WY 82430. In the middle of an average June Wednesday a surprising number of people showed up for tastings and to purchase merchandise. The town had a population of less than 50 people before the distillery came and now it’s over 90, which means there’s not a lot of foot traffic. People are coming in from other towns to visit and try whiskey.
Thermopolis, the closest big town, is home to the world’s largest natural mineral hot springs. There’s a fair amount of tourism going to that location, which is a little closer to Cody than Yellowstone.
In Jackson, Wyoming, there is another satellite tasting room and bottle shop for Wyoming Whiskey. The Founders live and work mainly in Jackson, so this is a natural addition to the brand. That tasting room is located at 45 West Broadway, Jackson WY 83001.
Wyoming Whiskey Tasting Notes
Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask
Finished in a PX Sherry Cask
Nose: salted caramel, pie apples, and baking spice
Palate: dried cherry, oatmeal cookies
OutRyder 2022 Batch
A blend of rye whiskey and Bourbon
Nose: leather, cardamom, buttered brown sugar
Palate: floral, buttery caramel, sweet cinnamon, cardamom, great mouthfeel
Wyoming Whiskey Stargazer
Available only at the brand’s tasting rooms
Nose: raisins, cinnamon, oatmeal cookies
Palate: clove, dark chocolate, espresso, patchouli flowers
This article originally appeared on AlcoholProfessor and was syndicated by MediaFeed.
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