There’s something romantic about drinking small batch bourbon from the heart of the Wild West, is there not? Bourbon, despite its Kentucky origins and associations, is a drink intimately associated with the mythologizing of the American West, and no good cowboy story is complete without tin cups of amber whiskey shared around a campfire. Or something of that nature.
It is perhaps unexpected, then, to note that before 2009, there actually weren’t any legal distilleries in operation in Wyoming. American whiskey production had been centered eastward—condensed largely into Kentucky and Tennessee—to the point that it’s still a common misconception that bourbon “can only be produced in Kentucky,” despite this never having been the case.
Kirby, WY’s Wyoming Whiskey was the first legal distillery to open in the state, bringing spirit production back to the western market. Today, they’ve built a successful business going on 10 years of operation—long enough to produce an array of products that have the benefit of a bit more time and refinement than those of many modern microdistilleries. No smaller barrels here, or honeycombed oak, or various techniques to speed production along. Their flagship small batch bourbon is five years old, although they curiously haven’t added that detail to the bottles yet—not what you’d expect in terms of marketing, given that many independent distilleries can’t claim to produce a bourbon half that age. Expect to see the distillery start marketing those five years in the wood as a well-earned feature in the future—or the six years they currently age their rye whiskey, Outryder.
But for now, let’s talk about that small batch bourbon. Wyoming Whiskey is pricing this stuff in the $40 range for a 750 ml bottle—not bad, considering it’s an independent distillery with a respectable amount of age. The label doesn’t mention that this is a wheated bourbon, but that’s not really something you can hold against them—neither does Maker’s Mark, after all. But it is something you should know in terms of forming an impression of the bourbon’s profile.
On the nose, this stuff is predominantly on the sweeter and richer side, with prominent notes of caramel/brown sugar, slightly spicy oak and vanilla, but there’s also an aggressive element to the alcohol that somewhat mars the profile. One wouldn’t necessarily expect such heat from an 88 proof (44% ABV) bourbon, but it’s undeniably assertive, and punching above its weight class in terms of intensity. Some drinkers will find that pleasing, but to me it was an imbalance detracting from an otherwise nice profile on the nose.
On the palate, however, the heat—while certainly still present—isn’t quite as pressing. There’s some good complexity here, as grassy/floral impressions back up significant butterscotch sweetness, caramel and baking spices (clove, anise), along with wet oak. There’s also a bit of herbaceousness that is unique, an almost savory herbal quality that I would venture is something like “herbs de provence.”
In terms of value proposition, I think the $40 price tag is pretty fair. Wyoming Whiskey’s product certainly has a lot more complexity to it than an entry level wheated bourbon in the vein of Maker’s Mark, and you expect to pay a bit more for that complexity. It’s a sweet, almost desserty dram that is marred only by the fact that it’s a bit hotter on the nose than you might expect, especially from a Glencairn glass. You could drop a cube of ice in here if you wish, but it drinks fine as an after-dinner tipple on its own.
Distillery: Wyoming Whiskey
City: Kirby, WY
Style: Wheated bourbon
ABV: 44% (88 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $40 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.