I really wasn’t sure what to expect as the van I was driving crested the hill that gave me my first view of Kirby, Wyoming. I had read it was a small town. But even for a guy who spent a good portion of his childhood in a town with no population listed on the sign, Kirby was small. Off in the distance we saw one tall building. “A grain elevator?” I asked my wife.
Kirby, Wyoming is a village with a population just south of 100 people. It’s four block by five block area split in half by the railroad line that runs through the center of town. The roads are gravel. The houses are few. The nearest population center with over 50,000 people is Casper, WY, two and a half hours to the southeast. This is not the type of place that you would expect would be the home of a product that sits on store shelves in roughly half the country.
When I pulled into the parking lot in front of that one tall building (a distillery it turns out, not a grain elevator), I asked Samuel Mead, distiller at Wyoming Whiskey, why Kirby? The answer was simple: his family had a ranch there. It seems that that ranch was what allowed Wyoming Whiskey to go about setting up the distillery, distill product and allow it to age until it was ready to be sold.
Ask any small distiller what the one thing they wish they had more of and the answer is probably going to be operating capital. A distillery is a huge investment, even after you’ve bought the equipment and gotten it up and running. Aged product takes time. Time where you are not making any money. Having another source of income allowed them to hire Steve Nally, formerly of Maker’s Mark, to come help them get running and as Mead says, “teach us how to make whiskey.”
Launched in late 2012, Wyoming whiskey met with mixed reviews. Some folks gave it very high marks while others were not so happy with their bottle. When asked about the apparent discrepancy between batches, Mead was honest and told me that their quality control "may not have been the best early on." In an effort to combat this, they have recently hired a well regarded blender to help them out. With recent batches (batch 28 and on) having come under her supervision.
As I was going to be through on a Sunday when the distillery was closed, I set up a tour with Distiller Samuel Mead. Photos follow.
Purchase Info: $34.99, 750 mL. The Liquor Shed, Casper, WY.
Details: 44% ABV. Batch 29. Bottled on July 31, 2015.
Nose: Caramel, custard and cola with just the barest hints of spice and oak underneath.
Mouth: A nice, but not overpowering, tingle. Sweet cola, vanilla and caramel. Herbal rosemary and mint. A nice biscuity flavor overall.
Finish: Gently warming and of ok length. Lingering herbal and cola flavors.
Thoughts: This is certainly not your typical bourbon. And maybe that is why I am liking it so much. In a category that normally differs by degrees of sameness, this is a truly unique product. Wyoming Whisky may have had a rocky start, but if this is any indication of the direction they are headed under their new blender, they are now on the right track.
Because it is quite unique, I'd recommend trying one at a bar should you see it on the shelf. I like it a lot, but your milage may vary.
Want to know if Wyoming Whiskey is available in your state? Lucky for us they had this handy map in the stillhouse.
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