Home, home on the range
Where the deer and the antelope play
Where seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the skies are not cloudy all day…
What’s the stickiest myth in American spirits? Ask any distiller, tour guide, reviewer, or stick-in-the-mud aficionado*, and they’ll tell you: “Bourbon has to be made in Kentucky.”
As a native-born Kentuckian, I’d be thrilled if that were true. But alas, Congress’ pseudo-legislative designation from 1964 indicates bourbon as a “distinctive product of the United States.” No particular region, and certainly no specific state, has the right to a marketing or economic stranglehold on our beloved domestic spirit.
This is as much cause for celebration worldwide as it is for harrumphs in the Bluegrass state. Less geographic restriction should mean more entrants, more innovation, and more options for drinkers globally. It should push both small and gargantuan brands to compete for consumer taste, and ultimately, it should mean better whiskey.
But the national “Bourbon Boom” sure took its time. For the 50 or so years after its official designation, bourbon production was largely restricted to the traditional Kentucky-Indiana-Tennessee band, an ad hoc region linked by a peculiar blend of distillation and college sports rivalries.
This isn’t the forum to debate correlation versus causation; there are more theories about what happened around 2010 than there are bourbon drinkers. But it wasn’t until the price of Pappy started going haywire that distilleries from outside traditional bastions started gaining a foothold. Of course, they didn’t have the well-aged stocks common in Kentucky rackhouses. So, to stand out, the upstarts had to get creative, encouraging consumers with new mashbills, white whiskey cocktails, sourced products, and the occasional “buy local” marketing campaign.
We’re over a decade into the “Boom,” and dear reader, some of that craft hooch has finally come of age. Not just drinkable or full flavored or even Bottled-in-Bond age; there’s finally non-sourced stuff out that has been in a barrel for more than a decade.
Which brings us to the dram du jour: Wyoming Whiskey’s 10 Year Anniversary Edition, a 10.5 year old high-rye bourbon selected from casks laid down between November and December of 2011. Every drop of whiskey in the release was distilled and aged on-site in Wyoming. Before we dive into tasting the world’s first 10 year-old Wyoming bourbon, let’s add a few dashes of context.
Founded in 2006, Wyoming Whiskey is the rare craft operation that has always sold only their in-house distillate. That means zero sourcing along the way. According to company lore, founders Brad and Kate Mead and David DeFazio set out with the goal of “extending the bourbon frontier to the Rocky Mountains.” Eventually, they brought on Steve Nally — the Bourbon Hall of Famer now with Bardstown Bourbon Company — to be their founding Master Distiller.
Building a craft operation in America’s least-populous state was one challenge; establishing that brand’s presence beyond the prairie was another entirely. While word of mouth, novelty, and High Plains grit were likely driving factors, good old fashioned business development undoubtedly played a huge role. Sourced brands began turning to Wyoming Whiskey for their aged distillate. Notably, some of Barrell Craft Spirits’ recent numbered batches and New Year releases are blends featuring a Wyoming Whiskey component.
(To be clear, only the state of origin was disclosed for those components, but the process of elimination leaves Wyoming Whiskey as the point of origin in those cases.)
And in 2018, Scottish conglomerate Edrington Group — parent of brands including The Macallan and Glenrothes — acquired an undisclosed stake in Wyoming Whiskey, which included taking over the distillery’s sales and distribution.
With their national shelf presence secured and old barrels at the ready, it’s likely we’ll be seeing more age-stated releases from Wyoming Whiskey. That puts that all the more weight on their 10 Year Anniversary expression as a harbinger of things to come.
This bourbon itself is a 20 barrel blend batched by Nally and Master Blender Nancy Fraley. It comes from a 68% Corn, 20% Rye, 12% Malted Barley mash bill and was bottled at 103.4 proof (51.7% ABV).
Let’s see how this oldest-ever Wyoming expression can hold up to its special occasions price tag of $199.99.
The sample tasted was provided at no cost by Wyoming Whiskey.
Wyoming Whiskey 10 Year Anniversary Edition — Review
Color: Light peach, a bit like a well-steeped sun tea. There’s something appealingly metallic in how it catches the light. I’m turning the glass around my eye like a kaleidoscope.
On the nose: Immediately, I get honey and toasted almonds; this isn’t just generic sweetness, but an honest-to-goodness natural honey scent. That’s followed up with cloves, some allspice, and more nuttiness. So far, you could fool me into thinking this is a rye whiskey with a rye content hovering just north of 50%.
And then, almost out of nowhere, there’s a huge hit of citrus! It plays well with the honey notes, much better than if the sweetness smelled like it came from caramel. There’s a mulled cider quality here, like the base spirit was steeped with fruit and baking spices, just with more nuts.
This whiskey smells like you’re standing in a suburban mall during the holidays, halfway between a roasted nut cart and fresh citrus stand.
In the mouth: I’m expecting an explosion of flavor on the first sip, but it’s much more subdued than the nose. (What’s that they say about the best part of old whiskey being the smell?) That’s not to say there isn’t flavor, or even that it’s particularly faint. There’s just so much going on with the nose that the first few tastes are mellower, like the whiskey is inviting you to carefully try and re-identify everything you smelled.
The flavor builds with a few more sips. It’s sweet — watered down honey — and bready with light chocolate notes. And there’s certainly a noticeable oakiness here but it doesn’t veer young, and it isn’t overpoweringly dry. The wood notes hit a sweet spot on that spectrum, and it makes me wonder if much more age would actually do a disservice to this whiskey.
Toward the finish, there’s something a little savory, a little earthy, maybe a bit like root vegetables with a touch of sweetness, almost a carrot-like quality. It’s almost like an offramp from the chocolate notes. This is probably the closest to liquid chocolate babka I’ll get from a whiskey.
It’s not the longest finish you’ll encounter in a lineup of 10+ year bourbons, and while it’s a review trope at this point, I would have appreciated a few more proof points to help the flavors sit heavier. But it lingers just enough to keep me returning to the bottle, with enough complexity to keep me from reaching or anything else.
Wyoming Whiskey’s 10 Year Anniversary Edition has an almost endlessly fascinating nose and sticks a head above the crowd for intrigue. The taste isn’t on the same level of bombastic, but it still delivers a downright tasty pour proofed well, with enough complexity to keep me returning to the glass.
On a website that prides itself on transparency, I can be nothing but honest: Scoring this one was tricky. The vaunted Malt scoring band has more necessary checks and balances than most legislatures, and price absolutely must be a factor in any assessment here. It’s a delicious but not a perfect whiskey that leaves me both pleased and perplexed. In the words of Knives Out sleuth Benoit Blanc: “Compels me though.”
What helped push me over the fence was a basic consumerist reality: I WANT a full bottle of this, and I would (and will) go to some lengths to seek one out. I want to share this with friends and analyze it. And, as much as I pride myself on finding good deals, I’d pay the $200 retail to do so without much of a second thought. It defies conventional notions of whiskey terroir and likely punches right up against some premium and truly storied pours.
*This is, to be clear, a loving callout to the writers and readers of this esteemed website.