Looking for a special “cold one” or a unique local wine? Wyoming isn’t quite as known for its beer and wine production as Northern California’s vast vineyards but the state is not without locally brewed alcoholic beverages.
And when Wyoming ousts national brands in favor of local production, the flavor will always be unique. The state hosts about a dozen wineries, brewpubs and distilleries where local is the flavor of the day.
There are two commercial distilleries in Wyoming. The first, Kolts Fine Spirits in Sheridan, produces Koltisaka, a liqueur launched in 2005. The second Wyoming spirit is a premium small-batch bourbon produced by Wyoming Whiskey in Kirby. The first product rolled out last year amid great fanfare. Since then, several hundred cases of Wyoming Whiskey have been shipped to the state, since Wyoming law prohibits direct retail or wholesale sales by distilleries. Instead, all products go to the state warehouse where orders are filled. Beer and wine do not have to meet these requirements.
Many wineries and micro-breweries have names unique to their location or just something thought up by the owners. Buffalo Jump Wines is a good example of a producer that used local legend as its label. Becky Tilden and Scott Wagner are in their fourth year operating Buffalo Jump Wines in Cody. They are working with the University of Wyoming’s extension office in Sheridan to grow hardy grapes in Wyoming, but their wine ingredients can’t all be locally sourced.
Scott Tilden said, “We buy grapes from anyplace we can find them. We just bought a load of cherries from Flathead, Montana, and we’ll make cherry wine out of them.” They have recently purchased grapes grown in California, Oregon and Washington.
They crush the grapes in various locations and rent fermenting space at other production facilities. Fermenting takes about a month and some blending occurs to make Buffalo Jump’s products unique.
“We can make wine out of anything that has sugar in it,” Tilden said. “You might not like the taste of some of the things, though.” He said their most popular wine is a robust red cabernet sauvignon.
Buffalo Jump Wines sold about a thousand cases of various wines last year and owners expect to double their output this year. Like many wineries and breweries they offer tours to the public. Children are welcome but are not allowed in the dispensing rooms. They offer a “sip and paint” class where people can taste wines and paint or draw pictures at the same time. Their products are shipped throughout Wyoming and to other where they are licensed.
According to Mike Moser, executive director of the Wyoming State Liquor Association, Wyoming ranks 39th in U.S. consumption of wine, at 5.2 liters a year in 2013. By comparison, the top wine consumer is the District of Columbia at more than 25 liters per year. And Wyoming ranked 15th in per capita beer consumption at 33 liters per year in 2012.
To compare beer and wine consumption with distilled spirits, Wyoming ranks 7th at just over 1 gallon of pure alcohol. Moser said “pure alcohol” is defined as 200 proof or 100 percent alcohol. “A gallon of pure alcohol is equal to 2.5 gallons of 80 proof whiskey,” Moser said.
Moser also cautioned that the above consumption figures are based on sales of beer, wine and spirits.
“The numbers are based on sales of these beverages – which includes cross-border sales,” he said.
There are a couple of micro-breweries in Cheyenne: the Freedom Edge Brewing Co. and Shadow’s Pub and Grill. Laramie, on the other hand, is home to four micro-breweries.
In addition to Buffalo Jump Wines, Cody hosts a pair of breweries, Millstone Pizza and Brewery and Pat O’Hara Brewing Co. Gillette is home to four breweries while Jackson features two breweries and a winery.
On the east side of Wyoming, a dozen miles from Torrington in the small town of Huntley the Table Mountain Vineyard offers a tour or tasting along with retail purchases. According to Patrick Zimmerer one of their most popular brands is SOB wine, which he quickly defines as Son of a Berry wine.
“It’s a raspberry wine that is very popular,” Zimmerer said. He operates a farm that has been in the same family for four generations. They specialize in fruit wines — raspberry, apple and non-traditional varieties.
“We purchase a lot of the fruit from farms in the Riverton and Shoshoni areas,” Zimmerer said. “One of our most popular varieties is Cowboy Reserve, made from red grape wine that is quite dry.”
Zimmerer said they hope to produce close to 5,000 gallons of wine this year.
The Wyoming State Brewing Company in the historic Wonder Bar in the center of downtown Casper is targeting production of 300 barrels of various beers and ales this year. This will be up from 200 barrels last year, according to Jason Beck. Beck and Pat Sweeney are partners in the Wonder Bar, Parkway Plaza Hotel and Convention Centre and Poor Boys Steakhouse. Beck said the company resumed beer-making about 10 years ago. A fair share of beers produced at Wyoming State Brewing Company are sold in the Wonder Bar, the Parkway and Poor Boys.
Brewer Ty Martinez has been with the Wyoming State Brewing Company for the past five years, where he brews beer once a week. “Brewing beer is right between a science and art,” he said.
Many of the beers are made to meet seasonal demand; when pumpkins ripen Martinez makes pumpkin ale. Their October Harvest has been aging in Wyoming Whiskey barrels in the basement since January. “The barrels give the beer a unique oak and whiskey flavor,” Martinez said.
The bar will sell 15-gallon kegs for special parties; their products are also sold retail through the Prime Time restaurant at Sunrise Shopping Center and the Liquor Shed on Casper’s east side. The beers range from 4.5 percent alcohol to more than 9 percent, Martinez said.
Locally sourced ingredients for them are also hard to find.
“We’re trying to find good Wyoming sources of hops and barley,” Martinez said. “For our apricot beer the grandparents of one of our employees sold us 90 pounds of great apricots. It was quite a job to peel and pit the fruit.”
The Wonder Bar has 17 beer taps with five of them reserved for their own beer. Other varieties of beer include the Collaboration Blend; Brook Trout Blonde Ale; Rendezvous Red ale, which is their flagship variety; Oil City India Pale Ale; and Middle Platte Braggot, a mead blend with honey, barley and hops.
For a complete list of Wyoming’s many microbreweries, wineries and distilleries look for the map on the center spread.