By Ernie Over, managing editor, county10.com
(Riverton, Wyo.) – The master distiller of Wyoming Whiskey in Kirby said Wyoming’s weather, an artesian well in the Big Horn Basin and top quality grains grown in the state have combined to produce a premium local bourbon. Steve Nally said the release of Wyoming Whiskey’s first 3,000 cases of product was snatched up in about four minutes late last year.
“People in Wyoming have been very enthusiastic about us, visiting us and asking questions. The support has been intense and great for us,” he told a jam packed Fremont County Farm and Ranch Days luncheon Wednesday noon in Riverton. Nally said it was that peaked interest that led to the quick sale of the distillery’s first release.
Prior to arriving in Wyoming, Nally said he had worked at Makers Mark in Kentucky for 32 years, the last 15 years as the master distiller. “When I was first contacted about starting an operation in Wyoming, the owners said they wanted a premium product made in Wyoming. Those were the guidelines I was hired under. They left it up to me to develop the recipe,” he said. “So I talked with farmers to see what varieties of grains were available, and I contracted with different producers for corn, wheat and malted barley.” He also said he wanted to make bourbon, “because I like it.”
When the distillery building was completed in July of 2009, production started, and Nally said “we’ve been producing steadily ever since.”
Nally went through the distilling process with the audience, explaining the nuances of cooking, aging and blending the whiskey. He said white oak barrels are imported from Kentucky and that they are charred. “It’s the interaction with the charred wood and a layer of caramelized sugar just under the char that gives the bourbon its flavor and color,” he said. Wyoming’s weather also plays a part in the aging process, with warming and cooling moving the bourbon through the char and giving it its flavor.
“Our quality comes in from keeping the same process, the same quality of grain and, of course, the water is important,” he said. Nally indicated Wyoming Whiskey’s water comes from an artesian well from an aquifer that sits over a bed of limestone between Manderson and Hyattville. “The limestone filters out the iron, which in our case is good.”
The distillery produces 30 barrels of whiskey each week and has since it started. “Right now we have just over 4,000 barrels in our warehouse.” He said each barrel produces between 43 and 48 cases, or about 240-plus bottles.
Nally said another 1,500 cases of Wyoming Whiskey would be released in mid February, then another release is scheduled for later this spring, and then again next winter. “By next year we’ll have enough to supply the demand.” He also said that the product released this year was three year old whiskey, and not fully matured. He said the release a year from now will be genuine four year old bourbon, “and it will be a little smoother.”
Wyoming Whiskey is located in Kirby, just north of Thermopolis, and is open for tours Monday through Friday from 10 a. m to 3 p.m. A gift shop and tasting area is located next to the distillery.