Former Wyoming Gov. and U.S. Sen. Cliff Hansen was known to like his whiskey, and now the distilling company founded by his grandson has made something special for him.
Hansen died in 2009, age 97, and won’t get to sip the Statesman limited-release bourbon that went on sale Monday. But his great-grandson thinks it isn’t a stretch to say that Cliff would have been happy with the brew made by Wyoming Whiskey, which began just about the time he died.
“He died before we had any bourbon ready,” Sam Mead said. “I think he really would have liked the opportunity to have tried the bourbon we finally made.”
Hansen, whose family came to Jackson Hole in 1890, was known — famous, maybe — for appreciating a drink. He is often quoted saying, “I don’t like bourbon, but my system requires it.”
Mead confirmed that’s not just a tale: “I heard him say it,” he said.
There’s also the story of how, when Hansen was near passing, someone leaned close and asked him if he wanted a sip of water, Hansen said in a raspy voice, “Whiskey.”
Given Hansen’s taste for an occasional hard drink, “you can imagine how this is appropriate,” his great-grandson said of the Statesman label. “It just seemed right to do a bourbon in his honor.”
Wyoming Whiskey was spurred into existence by Brad Mead, Hansen’s grandson, a Jackson rancher, lawyer and former University of Wyoming trustee. Mead’s brother, Matt Mead, just ended his eight-year tenure as governor. Jackson lawyer David DeFazio is part owner of Wyoming Whiskey.
The Statesman bourbon is available only in Wyoming, and the entire batch is just 10 barrels, each of about 53 gallons, which comes out to 275 cases. A bottle will set connoisseurs back $49.99.
The limited supply means that “once they’re gone, they’re gone,” Sam Mead said.
The Statesman label isn’t specially made from scratch, but is the best of what’s distilled, judged during the process by the makers, Mead said. Think of it as something like wine, which during its aging depends on some factors that can’t be anticipated, he said. When the makers find a barrel that seems extraordinary they pull it aside.
“For the most part everything we do is pretty much the same recipe going into the same barrel; it has the same profile,” Mead said. “What makes things exceptional is the maturation environment. ... Sometimes it’s just a roll of the dice.”
The goal is “balance, depth and complexity.”
Wyoming Whiskey produces about 5,000 barrels a year, which means “we’re the biggest of the small,” Mead said. “We’re in the top 10% but still way smaller than the bigger producers in Kentucky.”
The distillery, in Kirby, over in the great empty north of Thermopolis, is switching to seven-day production this week to meet growth.