When it opened ten years ago, Wyoming Whiskey became the state’s first legal distillery since Prohibition. The Kirby, Wyoming-based distillery first launched a small-batch bourbon in 2012, followed by a single-barrel and a barrel-strength.
Last month, Wyoming Whiskey launched Outryder, a Straight American Whiskey. The blend represents the distillery’s first use of rye. And it did not exactly evolve according to plan. So explained Wyoming Whiskey COO and Co-Founder David DeFazio (pictured atop), when we recently spoke with him about the new product:
Cheers: When we talked last year you mentioned making a straight rye. Why the blend?
David Defazio: Therein lies a funny story. I came up with the idea for a rye six years ago. I approached Steve Nally, who was our distiller at the time. I asked him if we could do a rye whiskey. He said ‘no’. I asked why, and his response was, ‘Because rye sucks.’ But I was really interested in rye, so I pushed and pushed and Steve finally capitulated — basically to shut me up.
Our grower up here in Wyoming planted some winter rye and we got a great yield. We put down 80 barrels of whiskey that I thought were completely rye, and 180 barrels that were corn with rye. Three years down the road, and Steve has left to return to his home state of Kentucky. We brought in (whiskey expert) Nancy Frailey and put the rye in front of her and she said it was a phenomenal young rye that we needed to keep an eye on. A year later she told us that the rye was ready.
But I did not want to release it too early, like we did with our bourbon. So we waited one more year. In the meantime, I asked our people to get the mash bill for the rye. It came back 48% rye, 40% corn and 12% malted barley. I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me’. Of course, whiskey has to be at least 51% rye to be called that in America. We’d have to call it a straight American whiskey. And we had a hell of a time trying to name it.
Ultimately we came back to Nancy and she suggested we marry it with some of the barrels containing corn and rye. So we did, at a ratio of 1 rye barrel to two of the other. The final mash bill is 68% corn, 20% rye and 12% malted barley. It came out phenomenally well. We were really pleased with it. And then I finally called Steve.
It’d been two and a half years since he left. I asked him why he didn’t go at least 51% rye with those barrels. His answer? He put it plainly, “I didn’t want to make rye.” We laughed, and that was it, and I told him ‘Great job’.
Since we cannot legally use ‘rye’ on the labels, we ended up calling it ‘Outryder’. That’s our hint about the rye content. We bottled it in bond, at 100 proof. Throw an ice cube on it and it’s perfect. Neat, it’s a little too stiff for my palate. And the cocktail-making side has been endless.
CH: Oh yeah? What kind of cocktails are people making?
DD: I’ve seen it a lot in a Brooklyn (rye, vermouth, Maraschino liqueur, Amer Picon bitters).
Outryder doesn’t have a super high rye content, so you don’t get a rye bomb up front. But you do get a little spice, and then the bourbon takes over and rounds out the back for a smooth finish.
CH: Were you worried to call this a ‘blend’ because that can be a pejorative?
DD: I try not to use the word ‘blend’ too much because it definitely has negative connotations. Especially with Canadian whisky, which is popular in Wyoming, and where ‘blend’ can mean artificial sweeteners and colorings have been added in. I also am a little cautious about the word “marrying,” since it’s a little too puritanical, too artificial. But that is what we did: marry different whiskeys together into this spirit. We want people to know that. There are no additives.
CH: Wyoming Whiskey as a distillery loves to experiment. Anything new you can tell us about?
DD: We’ve got a sherry cask-finished bourbon that just received TTB approval. That will be released in limited quantity in December. It’ll start in Wyoming as a trial, and then trickle out into other markets. We’re calling it ‘Double Cask’. It’ll also be bottled at 100 proof because we want it to be looked at as a cocktail whiskey.
And in February or March of next year, keep an eye out, since we might do another barrel-strength release. Our first barrel strength just got a 95 rating in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2016.
CH: I see Wyoming Whiskey on shelves throughout New England. How’s the national expansion going?
DD: We had a really big push around the country to gain distribution points. And now we’re in 38 states. But that’s a lot for just a small company like us. So we might focus more moving forward on just some key markets, especially New York, Colorado, Illinois, Southern California and Wyoming.
We want to become the whiskey of the west. We want to be the whiskey associated with outdoor enthusiasts who come west, and with the Rocky Mountains. We want to own the Rockies. We want to be the whiskey people bring home with them from the west to their homes in Manhattan.
Kyle Swartz is associate editor of Cheers Magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org