KIRBY – Hipsters, working cowboys, urban cowboys, bohemians and bikers descended by the hundreds upon this small ranching town in Hot Springs County on Saturday, because if there’s anything that can bring people together, it’s a glass of fine bourbon.
They gathered for the debut of Wyoming Whiskey, the first and only product distilled by Wyoming Whiskey, which is the state’s first legal whiskey distillery, according to company officials.
The stuff poured and sold at the debut party – and at liquor stores throughout the state – was made in 2009 and aged for three years in charred oak barrels. Only recently was it bottled.
Over and over, people commented on how smooth it tasted.
“Every grain we get is 100 miles from here – barley, corn and wheat,” said Brad Mead, a Jackson attorney and a partner in the venture.
Mead and his partners had to convince the Wyoming Legislature to create a law to allow for businesses such as theirs to sell their product-- without becoming a packaged liquor store -- to people who are touring the distillery.
His younger brother, Gov. Matt Mead, spoke at the debut about how often the bourbon is discussed among Wyomingites.
“More often than not, one of the questions I get is not on health care, but, ‘Hey, when is the whiskey going to be done?’” he said before dashing off to Arizona for the Western Governors Association winter meeting.
Mark Gillespie, a contributing editor to Whisky Magazine, showed the Star-Tribune his notes on the bourbon. He evaluates whiskeys based on the experience to the nose, the taste and the finish.
Among some of his descriptions were the smell of fresh-baked wheat bread, a taste of mild cinnamon and a finish of oak sawdust.
“It scored 95 on a 100 scale,” he said. “The best I’ve ever given is 98. It’s one of the best bourbons I’ve ever tasted. I don’t give [that score] lightly.”
Two factors go into producing such a high-quality product, Gillespie explained: the water and Steve Nally.
The water comes from a limestone aquifer near Manderson. At the beginning, Wyoming Whiskey had it trucked in. Now it arrives by pipeline.
Nally is a master distiller who was retired from Maker’s Mark in Kentucky. He jumped at the opportunity to build a bourbon operation from the ground up, and moved to Wyoming with his wife, Donna, who manages public relations and tourism at the distillery.
Wyoming Whiskey has made and sold 2,400 cases of bourbon from 191 barrels. The next batch will be mature enough to ship in the spring and possibly late summer, Donna Nally said.
“It’s in very high demand,” she said.
At Poplar Wine and Spirits in Casper, owner Mike Reid pre-sold several bottles. He’s kept some in his shop, which he expects to sell fast as holiday gifts and by the glass at his Vintage Fine Wine and Martini.
“It’s got a lot of vanilla, oak on the nose,” he said. “It’s got a lot of vanilla on your palate. It’s just butter-smooth.”
The raves weren’t only reserved to the connoisseurs.
As Tabbi Madrigal sipped, she noted the whiskey's smoothness and oak flavor. She prefers hers with ice and water.
It was worth the nearly three-hour drive from Casper, she said.
“How often do you experience a launch party with whiskey?” asked her husband, Greg Salberg.