Where's the Whiskey? - Wyoming Magazine

Education

Where’s the Whiskey?

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by Tyler Julian

 

There’s an old saying that the West was won on whiskey and women, and there’s some truth to that. I think women—especially those in Wyoming—represent a much more positive influence in the history of the Western United States. Still, whiskey has a romanticized place in the settling of the West. From the image of a lonely mountain man taking a pull from a brown bottle by a fire to the legendary Ernest Hemingway heading out to fish the Bighorns with a bottle in his pack, or, even, to the inherently problematic scene in Mclintock (1963) where a stereotypical Native American wanders around in the mud shouting, “Where’s the whiskey?”, whiskey seems as necessary to the Western experience or memory as the mountains or rivers.

With this in mind, I spent the last few weeks exploring several local western whiskeys, which, with Wyoming as its central focus, were actually few and far between. This was educative in many ways, as it seemed like an interesting dive into a mature take on alcohol, a far cry from your standard, college-aged Jack and Coke…or when money was tighter, Ancient Age and root beer. I learned a lot about whiskey over these couple weeks, such as how to judge a flavor profile or the many ways to drink the liquor. Take these profiles of four whiskeys from in and around Wyoming with a grain of salt, but just might find a new drink next time you find yourself at the Mint Bar in Sheridan or the Stock Exchange Club in Kemmerer.

 

High Plains Whiskey: American Prairie Bourbon

Park City, Utah; $33.99/750mL

First, this is bourbon. Bourbon is a class of American whiskey that must meet certain criteria to maintain its status. High Plains meets the criteria and is a highly drinkable choice after work or after a nice dinner. I encountered this bourbon from the High West Distillery in Utah at The Paramount Ballroom, a new cocktail bar in downtown Cheyenne. Right after its grand opening, a friend and I stopped by after work, planning to start my whiskey quest at the classy new joint downtown. We sat at the bar and ordered High Plains on the rocks.

To the smell, it seems slightly spicy with a hint of ginger. Don’t let that turn you off. The beverage is a far cry from Fireball, and the hint of spice draws out the smooth whiskey tones, which come from a blend of different whiskey included in the bourbon making process. Though a quick glance at the distillery reveals that the barrels that High Plains uses to mature the bourbon are charred oak, the charred taste is not as pronounced as in many other types of bourbon, which I personally appreciate. A light charring leaves a lingering woody taste that is refreshing. Overall, High Plains carries a strong but drinkable flavor that deserves to be sipped and enjoyed.

On top of the superb taste, High West Distillery pledges 10 percent of their after tax profits to the American Prairie Reserve, a huge tract of land in Montana that has been returned to a state similar to what Lewis and Clark would have seen on their great trek west. With all this in mind, I would rate the bourbon from Utah 5 out of 5.

 

Wyoming Whiskey: Small Batch Bourbon

Kirby, Wyoming; $39.99/750mL

Here again, we have bourbon. I imagine most of you have tried, or at least heard of, Wyoming Whiskey. For me, it’s hard to write anything negative about our state’s native son. Still, if you’ve tried or heard of Wyoming Whiskey, you know about the initial release fiasco, where something wasn’t quite right with the drink. There were rumors it was rushed, and maybe so. But the drive of the distillers honors a western memory of men like Jim Bridger, who helped establish our great state. Order Wyoming Whiskey on the rocks and sip it slowly for Jim.

Truth be told, I enjoyed my experience with Wyoming Whiskey, and older, more experienced whiskey connoisseurs have told me the product has gotten much better from the pilot batch on. It has a strong whiskey smell and a straightforward taste, with little to distract from the locally grown ingredients. If I were to choose a whiskey from this list for passing around a campfire while talking about the past with good friends, this would be it. Wyoming Whiskey’s no-nonsense approach to bourbon brings a simple expertise and authentic experience. On a regular day, I would give Wyoming’s native son a 3 out of 5 rating, but if I were feeling sentimental or needed a little something in my saddle bag for a night out with the sheep, my rating would bump to a 5 out of 5.

 

WYO Rodeo: Ultra Premium Canadian Whisky, Batch no. 1

Product of Canada; around $25/250mL

Even with its proud history in the West, whiskey distilled locally can be hard to find, especially if you want to stay close to home. So, I turned to Canada. This whisky (notice the absent e) represents a partnership between tradition and people who respect and honor it. As the bottle itself proclaims, “Since 1931, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo has stood for strength in community, state & tradition.” As advertised, this whisky truly is one of a kind, made especially for the most recent WYO Rodeo. And, for me, it lived up to the hype.

I chose to drink WYO neat as I sat amongst boxes in my new apartment in New Mexico, 1,000 miles from home. I’m about to begin a graduate program at New Mexico State University, and this whisky, proving true to community, state, and tradition was a nice, warming reminder of home. It is a complex but smooth whisky. As you take a whiff, it seems slightly astringent, strong and full, but that complexity (potentially abrasive initially) makes way for a smooth, thick drink, initially smoky, that lingers on the tongue with hints of vanilla, even fruity flavors. This whisky is “Approved by the Sheridan WYO Rodeo,” and approved by me. I give it a 4 out of 5 rating.

 

Tin Cup American Whiskey

Denver, CO; about $35/250mL

I first tried Tin Cup sometime last year in Laramie, and at the time I didn’t really appreciate it. But, as I wracked my brain for brands of western whiskey, it was the first that came to mind, so I decided to give it another shot (pun intended). This whiskey is rooted in the western tradition, cut with Rocky Mountain water, and bottled “in honor of Colorado’s first whiskey drinkers and the tin cups they drank from.” The packaging, a vintage looking bottle with a tin shot glass on top, adds to the experience. Reading this on the bottle, I poured a little over ice and began to work on my writing.

This whiskey is a blend of high-rye bourbon out of Indiana and Colorado single malt whiskey. It has no overwhelming scent and a lighter color. As the ice melts a little, the whiskey’s light flavor gives way to hints of fruit and spice that lasts long after the drink is gone.

Tin Cup’s homage to the past, sweet packaging, and easy drinkability made this whiskey an instant favorite for me the second time around, and I highly recommend asking for it the next time you stop down at your favorite bar. I give this whiskey a 4 out of 5 rating.

 

If you find yourself wondering “Where’s the whiskey?” any time soon, I highly recommend any of these four options. The West was won on whiskey and women, and Wyomingites should drink to that. The four liquors above represent the traditions of the West, and it doesn’t take a whiskey expert to notice—trust me! As always, please drink responsibly, and pour a little whiskey for the past.

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