Wyoming Whiskey: Going from Reviewing Hardware to Wetware
Before giving my thoughts on Wyoming Whiskey, I threw a few questions towards David DeFazio, one of the founders of Wyoming Whiskey. My questions are in bold, his replies are in italics.
David DeFazio. Outstanding in his field.
How many barrels does the current rick house hold?
We have three rick houses, but we call them warehouses. Warehouse A holds 1,850 barrels, Warehouses B and C hold 2,250 barrels. A barrel holds 53 gallons.
What are your yearly production expectations in terms of bottles?
We can make up to 1,300 barrels a year. At our current yield, that translates into 312,000 bottles a year. But, we will not be bottling everything that reaches 4 years of age. We will be setting many barrels aside for further aging and will use them in future single barrel, select, and other special releases.
What other states are you looking at in terms of distribution? How complex is that process and how did the Federal shutdown affect your plans?
We are looking at a number of states. Texas, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Montana are all very high on the list. Others, such as Illinois, Oregon, Nevada, Kentucky, and New York are also being considered, but will likely not be in the immediate game plan. The process has many layers and each state has different laws and regulations. Some states are "control" states which act as the distributor and mandate that all liquor pass through their government in order to be taxed and controlled. So, it takes a meaningful amount of research, interviews, Q&A, and negotiation before the decision is made to launch in a new state. The Federal shutdown has caused some problems in that the COLA (label approval) process has been frozen. If a company needs to alter its label for any reason before entering a new market, that can't happen. Luckily for us, our plans were not impacted.
The current limited edition batch looks to be aged around 4 years (up obviously from the 3 year batches that were initially introduced). What is your target aging for the unlimited edition releases? What do you think the optimal aging for this product is if you had your druthers?
I think our four year-old is in the wheelhouse. While everyone's palate is different, you can generally assume that bourbon hits its sweet spot somewhere between 4 and 8 years of age. Our consumer is telling us that our four year bourbon is what they've been hoping for, so that's a good indicator. But, it doesn't mean that it might not be better at 5, 6, or 7 years. We'll just have to see. Will we someday have 10, 12, or 15 year-old bourbons? Yes. But that product has a lot of time to spend in the warehouse before it gets there.
Seeing the overwhelming positive response of this bourbon, are there plans for expansion?
We have considered it, but are waiting a bit longer before we put any plans in motion.
What other products are in the pipeline? Rye? Longer aged? More limited editions?
We are aging a couple hundred barrels of rye whiskey, and we made some bourbon with rye instead of wheat as the flavoring grain. But it will be a couple years before it is ready. And, as I said before, we will release older batches along with select single barrels when those barrels develop a unique character that sets them apart.
What makes the water and the aquifer it comes from unique? How does this compare/contrast to that found in Bourbon County, Kentucky?
Limestone water is what whiskey needs to become great. We found a water source 40 miles north of the distillery that comes from a limestone layer a mile deep in the ground. It's part of the Madison formation which is approximately 350 million years old. Much of the water used in Kentucky comes from streams that flow from limestone on the surface. While this is still great water, it needs to be filtered before being used due to its exposure to the environment and the animals that live in it. Ours hasn't had that exposure and is as pure as it can be. No filtering necessary.
What are some of the advantages/disadvantages to focusing on a local supply of raw ingredients?
We know where our grains come from and are in touch with our growers to make sure we're getting exactly what we want. Plus, our growers have selected exact strains of grain to suit our needs. Brent Rageth drove hundreds of miles just to meet with us and explain why one corn might be better for our operation than another. And, in this day and age, localism is important to the consumer. If you want to see where we grow our grain in Wyoming, we can drive you there. I don't see any downside to dealing strictly with Wyoming farmers.
Picturesque only begins to describe the area. This distillery might be unique in regards to the temperature changes that it sees. Picture courtesy of Wyoming Whiskey
How do you get around the distribution challenges of shipping from Kirby, WY?
It's not that great of a challenge. It costs a little bit more, which is noticeable, but a semi can pull up to our loading dock just like any other and haul our product to the market.
What are the advantages/disadvantages of the climate in Kirby, WY?
That's a great question. Our first advisors guessed that it would have a positive effect on the product, but no studies had been conducted on aging bourbon in such an extreme environment. Now that we have observed its effects, we believe that the very hot summers and very cold winters squeeze the very best out of the barrels. The result is a bourbon that is smoother than its age would normally suggest. And while we were concerned that the arid environment would take a greater angel's share from each barrel, we've been able to control humidity in the warehouses to some extent and are actually realizing greater yields than we had expected.
Thanks to David for taking the time to answer my questions about his product!