I swear I don’t pick which bottles get long write-ups, they pick me. I say this because in order to review this bottle of Wyoming Whiskey 10 Year Bourbon, I need to give you the background why this particular bottling is so unique.
The Mead Family first started Wyoming Whiskey after they moved their cattle ranch away from Jackson (Hole) Wyoming to an area where there was more space (and less risk of disease for their cattle). With plenty of land and access to locally sourced grain, they started to do their homework on what it would take to start a distillery.
They had a lawyer friend who could help secure the rights to open the first legal distillery in the state, but they also needed to lure the talent to make it all work. That talent came by way of Steve Nally, former Master Distiller of Maker’s Mark for the last 30 years.
It is unknown if the Mead Family had a natural attraction to wheated bourbon or if Steve sold them on its superiority, but wheated bourbon would become Wyoming Whiskey’s specialty. It still is today.
The first barrel of bourbon was laid down sometime around 2009 (probably in the fall) and was of the wheated variety. It entered the barrel at 110 proof, just like Maker’s Mark. Sometime between then and Barrel #700 rolling off the line, Nancy Fraley was brought on for her expertise in blending, maturation and know-how.
She would become the sole master blender for WW in 2014. During that time, she offered some suggestions to improve the final product. The first thing was that they should change the barrel entry proof to 114 and also switch to a yeast previously used for white wine fermentation.
All proofing down would now utilize the “slow water” technique that Old Elk also uses (incorrectly though).
Sometime in 2011, Steve Nally was asked to distill some ryed bourbon and a rye whiskey. Steve’s whole legacy was built off of wheated bourbon so he was not exactly thrilled to hear this.
He famously disregarded the request to make a rye whiskey by purposely ensuring that the ratio of rye in the mash bill did not meet the 51% necessary by law (It was 48% rye, 40% corn and 12% malt). This story culminated in the now-famous creation of “Outryder” 5 years later.
Outryder continued to be bottled using a blend of the original 300 barrels he produced (200 ryed bourbon and 100 of that “almost”-rye whiskey) and allowed to age about a year or more after each iteration. Unfortunately, in 2021, Outryder lost its Bottled-in-Bond designation. This is because the older barrels were running out and younger ones had to be blended in.
Luckily, Nancy (or maybe Sam Mead) made the decision in 2017 to resume production of ryed bourbon and rye whiskey. This happened because they realized they would need to replace the initial batch of barrels if the Outryder program was to continue. Unfortunately, a lot of time was lost in between the years 2011 to 2017 where only wheated bourbon was made at the distillery.
Wyoming Whiskey 10 Year Old Bourbon
I had to explain that whole story to paint a picture as to how these barrels were even distilled in the first place. Nancy told me that this particular set of ryed whiskey barrels were distilled sometime between November and December of 2011. The mash bill was 68% corn, 20% rye and 12% malted barley.
The corn and rye were sourced from local Wyoming farms within 100 miles of the distillery. Nancy identified this particular set of barrels early on for their maturation potential and took precautions not to have them blended in with any other products.
She told me that she personally “groomed” them all these years. And while I’d love to explain what she meant by “groomed,” I fear the length of this review would get out of control if I gave an explanation. Let’s just say that she likely did more than just taste them occasionally and comment “Yep.” It’s an interesting process that I’ve heard her explain the details with regarding a set of very old MGP barrels for a certain customer.
The proof of this release comes in at 103.4 proof which I’ve been told is not barrel proof, but it’s also not far from it either. It was proofed down using Nancy’s slow-water process (also known as slow-proofing) whereby water is added incrementally over a long period of time to preserve the valuable esters of the whiskey.
Adding water too quickly and in too much quantity may destroy certain flavors that made these cherry barrels stand out in the first place. Nancy has also gone into detail that if that water was added into the barrel before it was dumped, it will have the opportunity to extract wood sugars that previously weren’t dissolved into the higher-proofed liquid. I do not know if that was the case here, but it feels like something she would do.
One quick note about how these barrels age and mature in the unusual climate of Wyoming. First of all, you likely know that the elevation of that state in general is much higher than Kentucky. It’s more arid, has shorter summers and very cold winters.
Wyoming Whiskey does not regulate the humidity of their warehouses like, say, Frey Ranch does. They also don’t regulate the temperature (which would add ridiculous costs anyway). Instead, they have to accept the fact that the cold winters mean that the whiskey enters a “dormant” stage from October to May when the liquid inside gets below 45 degrees.
Nancy does not like to pull barrels and blend while the liquid is in this period of dormancy, so if it’s not blended and bottled by mid-October, it needs to wait 7+ months until the liquid warms back up enough. Knowing this information and then doing the math, you’ll realize that the contents in this bottle are closer to 11 years old than they are 10.
But Nancy freely admits that due to the decreased aging time (Kentucky bourbons may come out of dormancy around April and may not go into it until late November for instance) that Wyoming Whiskey will have the profile of a slightly younger whiskey than the age says it is. That’s just part of the uniqueness of the brand.
Pick up virtually any other bottle of Wyoming Whiskey on the shelf and you’ll be tasting a wheated bourbon. Outryder is a blend of rye whiskey, ryed bourbon and a whiskey that can’t be called either.
So the moment is not lost on me just how rare it is to be able and taste Wyoming Whiskey’s ryed-bourbon by itself with nothing else blended in.
What new perspectives will it give me? What will it taste like? There’s only one way to find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: If I was smelling this blind, I’d say that this is a Kentucky bourbon all day long. The oak spice is the first thing that jumps out at me, but not in an aggressive way. It brings a maturity that is typically lacking in most smaller distilleries.
There’s also a bit of fragrant cedarwood. But it’s the vanilla and warmed butterscotch notes that are really impactful. Finding these completely erases the way I used to think of bourbons made out West. There are some fruit notes too. Think of tart raspberry jam and cherry bubblegum.
Palate: Sip after sip confirms that what I’m tasting here is unlike any other bourbon I’ve recently had before in terms of overall profile. The rye spice is definitely impactful with each sip, bringing out layers of herbal and floral notes.
To unpack those a bit more, there are fennel, cinnamon and anise seed coupled with rose petal tea. Also, I swear I am picking up on bubblegum which is a note I typically get with rye whiskies. Moving along, the fruit notes begin to pick up steam with orchard fruit along with figs.
There is also lemon meringue and candied prunes. The flavor of caramel sauce has a savory quality about it that’s not quite “salt” but more of a savory herb that accompanies it. Finally, the oak is noteworthy for bringing an older, almost varnish-like quality to the liquid in a way that I have not yet experienced outside of a heritage distillery.
This points to a bright future for it in the coming years. The bourbon is also quite oily which is a great treat. I think the best thing that each sip has going for it is its ability to have the delicate flavors share the stage equally with its more impactful ones.
Finish: Warm baking spices and oak linger on for a while. The oak becomes somewhat dry towards the end which I expected it might be.
The ending isn’t necessarily sweet, but it is balanced. No particular note dominates the residual taste. Several sips in and I’m convinced that soft-baked tart apples coupled with nutmeg are two of the more noticeable flavors you’ll find left on the finish.
I will be the first to tell you that I’ve yet to have a Wyoming Whiskey product that has tasted as good as this 10 Year bottle. I practically held my nose in anticipation of getting those weird “magic marker” off-notes that I would normally find in their wheated bourbon.
Happily, I found none here. This was one of the most competent and enjoyable products that have come from the Wyoming distillery since, well, ever. Everything just works and it’s exciting to see that with time and careful monitoring that quality bourbon is achievable.
Maybe I was being too harsh on WW for past iterations of their bourbon. After all, I’ve increasingly enjoyed their Outryder products and I also have another bottle that’s a special release called “Powder River” that is in the hopper to get reviewed soon.
My initial thoughts on that one are also quite positive. Or maybe all of this is a sign that things are on the up-and-up for this distillery.
I shared with Nancy my early opinions with this bottle and how much I enjoyed it. I said if she ever got the chance to tell Meads on my behalf that they should consider concentrating their efforts on their ryed bourbon recipe instead of their wheated bourbon recipe, that they might just have a hit on their hands.
She courteously acknowledged how much of a fan of the ryed bourbon she was too and indicated that if I did not like the wheated version that I should wait just a little bit longer – as she has also been grooming some extra-aged barrels of those as well. Color me intrigued.
For $200, this bottle is not for the faint of heart or the light of wallet. But you have to understand that once these bottles are sold out, there will not likely be another 10 year, batched version of this ryed-whiskey mash bill available until 2027 (remember, they did not resume distilling this mash bill again until 2017).
So if you do end up coming across one, it’s worth your money to buy it. You’ll get to experience what is likely the best bourbon experience out of any craft distillery in the US. And that’s a sentence that I wouldn’t say unless I meant it.
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