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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Wyoming Whiskey(s)

Even the novices all know—by now hopefully—that bourbon doesn’t need to be made in Kentucky.  Instead, it can be made anywhere in the United States.  Indiana, New York, and Texas all have thriving distilleries that make bourbon, not to mention Tennessee if they would just learn to call it bourbon.  But Wyoming?

Yes, Wyoming.

I had a chance to chat with David DeFazio, one of the founders of Wyoming Whiskey, after his marketing firm sent some samples.  DeFazio is a lawyer too, so we shared an appreciation for many of the legal technicalities associated with bourbon.  Beyond those technicalities, I asked all kinds of the in-the-weeds questions like proof off of the 38’ Vendome copper column still (120), proof off of the doubler (130), and barrel-entry proof (114).  We also discussed the specifics of the three brands that I tried, Small Batch, Outryder, and Double Cask.

It’s impressive that Wyoming Whiskey is doing all of this from the ground up, all local, and all without sourcing.  They began production in 2009 and didn’t start selling whiskey until late 2012.  After beginning distillation with Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Famer Steve Nally, Wyoming native Sam Mead took the reigns as distiller.  The Wyoming climate and elevation is bound to add distinctive characteristics during aging, but Wyoming and Kentucky both have a natural source of limestone-filtered water and they share seasonal temperature swings (although Kentucky is usually about 10 degrees warmer, with much more humidity and rain).

Enough background; time to jump in with the three samples that I tried:

Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon

It’s missing the key word “straight,” but like some Kentucky bourbons that omit this word too, DeFazio says they just wanted to focus on “small batch.”  I would use “straight” if I could, and, arguably, the regulations (27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(iii)) require the use of the word when a whiskey qualifies as straight.  Regardless, Wyoming Whiskey plans to add the word “Straight” to its next small batch.

Bourbon:
Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey Batch 44

Distillery:
Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby, Wyoming

Mash bill:
68% corn; 20% wheat; 12% malted barley

Age:
5 years

ABV:
44% (88 proof)

Cost:
$39.99

Appearance:
Medium amber.

Nose:
The aromas are fresh floral, vanilla, and slight caramel, with a bit of green wood.  The aromas aren’t deep, but they’re pleasant.

Taste:
While still having a refreshingly light quality, the flavors move into warm caramel, brown sugar, and sweet grasses.  It has some characteristics of a young whiskey, and while mostly one-dimensional, it’s very easy drinking.

Finish:
The short finish has just a hint of spice (I’d like some more), and fades with nice warmth.
There are a few stragglers on the shelves in Kentucky, but
Wyoming Whiskey recently pulled out of this market. 

Outryder Bottled in Bond Straight American Whiskey

Outryder has created a bit of controversy because it blends together one whiskey that doesn’t qualify as either bourbon or rye whiskey (with a unique mash bill of 48% rye grain and 40% corn) plus another whiskey that qualifies as bourbon whiskey.  While having the audacity to do something unique might be controversial enough, the real controversy among enthusiasts came about because Outryder is labeled “Straight” and “Bottled in Bond.”

So, obviously, I was going to spend most of my time with DeFazio talking about Outryder.  For starters, the ratio between bourbon and the “almost rye” is 2-1; they used 44 barrels of bourbon and 22 barrels of “almost rye.”  More interestingly, there’s a story of defiance behind the “almost rye.”  Defiance plays a huge role in bourbon history, so I’m in favor of celebrating it here, even though if it had happened to me, I wouldn’t have been as gracious as DeFazio.

The story behind the “almost rye” is that Wyoming Whiskey predicted that rye whiskey would make a resurgence just like bourbon whiskey, so they wanted former distiller Steve Nally to make it along with the wheated bourbon already being distilled.  Nally refused.  He hated rye and thought the only whiskey worth making came from corn and wheat.  The owners demanded it though, so Nally reluctantly and begrudgingly agreed, and produced 92 barrels of what he said was rye whiskey.  Fast forward a couple of years—Nally had returned to Kentucky, the “rye whiskey” was progressing fantastically, and renowned consultant Nancy Fraley thought it was some of the best rye whiskey she had ever had.  That’s when they dug out the mash bill records and saw that the 92 barrels were distilled with only 48% rye grain.  Nally hadn’t wanted to make rye whiskey, and it turns out he really refused to do it.

Fraley helped Wyoming Whiskey decide what to do with the “almost rye,” ultimately recommending a 2-1 ratio with a bourbon containing rye as the secondary grain that Nally distilled at the same time.  There’s enough for four batches, with each new batch aging for an additional year.  The first batch was almost five years old, and the upcoming batch is nearly six years old.

The controversy over labeling Outryder as “Straight” and “Bottled in Bond” is a good sign that consumers—or at least enthusiasts—are paying attention.  A whiskey that is “Straight” can only include blends of straight whiskeys of the same type produced in the same state.  27 CFR § 5.22(b)(1)(iii).  Calling a bourbon and an American whiskey the same “type” of whiskey is debatable, in my unsolicited opinion.

Calling Outryder “Bottled in Bond” is much easier.  The Bottled-In-Bond Act of 1897 (29 Stat. 626, Comp. St. § 6070 et seq.) was drafted to protect the public and to give assurances about the actual spirits contained in a bottle.  The initial requirements have changed slightly over time but now the current restrictions require the contents to be the same kind of spirit, produced in the same distilling season by the same distiller at the same distillery with the same class of materials, aged at least four years in wooden containers, unaltered (except that filtration and proofing is permitted), and proofed with pure water to exactly 100 proof for bottling.  27 C.F.R. § 5.42(b)(3).  Outryder meets all of those requirements with the only disputed issue being the “same kind of spirit.”

What’s it take to be the “same kind of spirit?”  According to the TTB, spirits are divided into “classes,” one of which is “whisky.”  “Whisky,” in turn, is divided into “types,” such as “bourbon,” “rye,” corn whiskey,” etc.  The word “kind” isn’t used, and it’s indisputable that the two components of Outryder are American Whiskeys, and that’s exactly how Outryder is labeled, so while the controversy is a nice exercise, let’s move to how it tastes.

Bourbon:
Wyoming Whiskey Outryder Bottled in Bond Straight American Whiskey

Distillery:
Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby, Wyoming

Mash bill:
44 barrels of bourbon whiskey—68% corn; 20% winter rye; 12% malted barley
22 barrels of “almost rye”—48% winter rye; 40% corn; 12% malted barley

Age:
NAS (but about 5 or 6 years depending on which batch you find)

ABV:
50% (100 proof)

Cost:
$54.99

Appearance:
Deep but bright amber.

Nose:
The aromas are mostly sweet—dessert sweetness like melted caramel—but balanced with grain and that fresh country barn scent, along with and a punchy spike of cinnamon.  It has intriguing, layered aromas.

Taste:
Whereas the aromas were mostly comforting, the flavors of Outryder have more of a feisty quality.  It has a great interplay between rye and baking spice on the one hand, and bread pudding and vanilla custard on the other, and added complexity coming from flavors of black pepper, strong tea, cinnamon, and dried dark fruit.  A single ice cube made Outryder buttery, but probably diminished the rye and baking spice too much, so I’ll drink it neat.

Finish:
Medium finish with big spice balanced with just enough caramel and vanilla.  With that single cube and plenty of meltage, the finish reversed to predominantly sweet—like candy sweetness—with only slight rye spice.  So again, I preferred it neat.


Wyoming Whiskey Double Cask Bourbon

Finally, Wyoming Whiskey’s Double Cask Limited Edition Bourbon takes a route that I think we’ll be seeing more of in the future, as brands try to distinguish themselves.  Here, Wyoming Whiskey finished their bourbon in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks after five years of normal aging.

Bourbon:
Wyoming Whiskey Limited Edition Double Cask Straight Bourbon Whiskey finished in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks

Distillery:
Wyoming Whiskey, Kirby, Wyoming

Mash bill:
68% corn; 20% wheat; 12% malted barley

Age:
5 years (before finishing)

ABV:
50% (100 proof)

Cost:
$59.99

Appearance:
Deep copper.

Nose:
Dark dried fruit and clear sherry influence, with some oak and earthy aromas and a little nuttiness.  It’s an “inviting” nose, especially over these recent cold days.

Taste:
More dark dried fruit, but as opposed to the nose, sweetened dark dried fruit.  Caramel, cinnamon apples, fresh-baked cinnamon cake, and candied cherries round out the predominantly sweet flavors, with some balance of oak and the nuttiness carrying through from the aroma.  This is pure dessert, and probably a one-glass limit.

Finish:
The dried dark fruit and nuttiness carry through to the finish as well, but I felt like I wanted some spice to show through.  The finish is medium in length with great warmth.

Bottom Line

Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch can hold its own against many established brands in the $40 price range, and the less-pronounced oak and drinkability will be a selling point for many.  Personally, I prefer more oak, so I’ll be interested to follow the progression of Small Batch as older stocks become available. 

Outryder really impressed me, and I’m excited about the upcoming batches with more age.  It’s unlike any Kentucky bourbon that I’ve had, and hopefully that uniqueness encourages other brands to be as innovative with mash bills as Wyoming Whiskey.  Sometimes you need an outsider to shake up the status quo.  I’ll be looking (outside of Kentucky) for Batch No. 2.

Finally, when just comparing first sips of all three that I tried immediately, Double Cask was my favorite.  That initial impression was overtaken by Outryder and as I realized that Double Cask was really best as an after-dinner dessert, but the sherry cask finish still intrigues me and I’ll think that we’ll be seeing more finished bourbons and ryes.

Of these three, Outryder is a high buy recommendation.  Double Cask is great for dessert, and Small Batch is worth adding to your rotation for something different. 

Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me samples
for this review, without any strings attached. 
Thank you.
Photo Courtesy of Wyoming Whiskey


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