Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

Cheers to a year

Pine Bluffs Distilling celebrates one year of business, first bourbon

 

October 25, 2018

Zach Spadt

Pine Bluffs Distilling co-owner Chad Brown prepares a cocktail for a customer at the distilling company's one-year celebration and bourbon release party Saturday, October 20.

In the early 20th century, somewhere in Laramie County, thirsty men from all walks of life gathered in cow pastures under the moonlight to produce whiskey with the sole hope of not getting caught.

They were the area's first liquor producers.

When the law caught up to the moonshiners, sheriff's deputies destroyed their whiskey barrels, leaving only the metal rings.

Those rings spent the better part of a century in the elements. They were trampled by cattle. They rusted.

And Pine Bluffs Distilling co-owner Chad Brown likes to pay homage to that fact.

Today those rusted rings have a new home in front of Laramie County's first legal distillery in Pine Bluffs.

"We know we're not the first distillers in Laramie County," he says from behind the facility's bar. "We're just the first to be licensed."

*****

It started during an impromptu family reunion in 2014.

When Brown lived in Las Vegas, he was an avid home brewer. Brown's uncle, Pine Bluffs area farmer Gene Purdy, visited to catch a NASCAR race that year.

It didn't take long for home brewing to come up and more specifically, where to get malt for the beer.

Purdy suggested converting some of his crop into malt.

From there the discussion evolved into opening a malting facility. Adding a brewery or distillery to the facility only made sense.

By that fall, Brown and his uncle began the process of applying for funding through various government programs.

The Wyoming State Lands and Investment Board provided funding. As did the United States Department of Agriculture along with Cheyenne LEADS and the Wyoming Business Council.

In order to secure funding through the USDA, the company had to apply through a rural non-profit electrical program.

Luckily, High West Energy is right here in Pine Bluffs.

Construction of the building began in September, 2015. In March, 2017, the Pine Bluffs Distilling crew took occupancy of the building.

Malting operations began in July of that year. Distilling started in October.

When the tasting room opened the next month, Laramie County residents had their first local, legally produced liquor.

*****

Walking into Pine Bluffs Distilling, it's hard not to be taken aback by the local feel of the business.

Former Pine Bluffs Junior-Senior High School art instructor Patrick Cosner painted a large mural in the tasting room.

The bar stools were produced by Pine Bluffs' Allwayz Manufacturing.

Grain is grown within roughly a 30-mile radius.

"You're drinking a product that's grown in Wyoming," Brown said. "Being in a state with such a small population, it's pretty amazing to say we're grown in and made in Wyoming."

Malt consists of grains that have been allowed to germinate before immediately being dried out. Malted grains have an enzyme that raw grains don't. That enzyme converts the starches in the grain to sugar.

Cool it down, add some water and sugar, and you have beer.

Anyone who has had a locally produced beer in Wyoming - from Accomplice Brewing in Cheyenne to Black Tooth in Sheridan - has probably enjoyed a beer produced with product from Wyoming Malting, Pine Bluffs Distilling's sister company.

Enter Michael Davidson.

Davidson attended an intensive two-week training program at the Canadian Malt Barley Technical Center in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The training paid off, said Brown.

They send their product off to be independently tested from time to time. The malt speaks for itself.

"We get great test results back when we send them off," Brown said.

For the crew at Pine Bluffs Distilling and Wyoming Malting (They're one entity doing business under two trade names.), having a local product is something to be proud of. But they also know it's not enough to sell a product.

"If we're producing a subpar malt, it's foolish for us to believe they should buy our malt just because we're from Wyoming," Brown said. "We still need to produce a quality product that (breweries) can take to the consumer and say it's made in Wyoming - and it's pretty damn good."

*****

There's no way Laramie County moonshiners working a century ago could have predicted the party that would happen nearby.

There's no way they could have fathomed the whiskey barrel rings they lost after ending up on the wrong side of the law would decorate a distilling facility years later.

They certainly would not have foreseen a product being named after their illicit labor.

But that was the reality last Saturday as a couple hundred people steadily streamed in and out of Pine Bluffs Distilling to celebrate its one-year anniversary and first bourbon, Lodgepole Creek.

For head distiller Erica Unruh, it was full circle.

"It's really surreal for me to be a part of something like this," Unruh said. "Taking grain and seeing it become a product like bourbon - it's really surreal to me.

"It's really humbling to see how many people came out Saturday to be there for it."

Before the bourbon, though, Pine Bluffs Distilling had already released a vodka and two white whiskeys.

The company's first liquor to be released was a vodka called Rock Ranch, named for Pine Bluffs' original title.

In the summer of this year, the distillery released the two white whiskeys: Cheyenne Summer and Rusted Ring.

Rusted Ring is the Pine Bluffs Distilling's way of paying homage to the cowboys who manufactured illegal booze in area pastures under the moonlight.

There's no way to explain the rusted rings that still sit in cow pastures other than moonshiners, says Brown.

That's what its all about, he says.

It's about walking into a watering hole and seeing someone drinking a beer or cocktail made with his company's product.

It's about truly being local - the product is grown here, made here and enjoyed here. Small barrels of that local product is often auctioned off at various fundraisers like benefits for the Laramie County Library or local Pheasants Forever Chapter.

In the future, employees at Pine Bluffs distilling hope to produce rye whiskeys, maybe even a spirit similar to rum or tequila someday.

It's looking bright, but they remember where they came from.

"We care about it deeply. We put so much into it," said Unruh. "Getting this first year under our belt sets us up for something really exciting moving forward."

 

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