PINEDALE — Master Distiller Tim Trites learned how to make whiskey in Scotland, vodka in Ukraine and fruit liqueurs in Austria.
An 85-year-old Frenchman and master distiller taught Trites how to make spiced rum during a six-month stint in the Dominican Republic.
After more than 50 years of traveling around the world and learning the craft of distilling spirits, Trites found a water source a few miles south of Pinedale that he believes is unequalled anywhere in the world.
It was there in 2013 where Trites founded Cowboy Country Distilling. Since then, he has gained international acclaim for producing some of the finest spirits available anywhere in the world.
Anyone (of age) passing by on Highway 191, is welcome to stop in and taste Trites' top-shelf offerings for free.
Regarding the French distiller in the Dominican Republic, Trites said, "He kicked my butt every night for six months at dominoes and then he gave me his recipe. I'm very honored and lucky to have spent time with some of the old master distillers who were in their 70s and 80s when I was in my 20s and 30s. They passed along secrets that I hold dear to my heart."
Trites' distillation plant is a nondescript steel building with high ceilings. Inside are stainless steel tanks, fabric totes full of ground corn, bottling equipment and dozens of 53-gallon barrels. The curved sides of the barrels, or staves and round ends, called headers are made from American white oak and are held together with steel hoops.
Inside the barrels, the whiskey created by three basic ingredients, corn, yeast and water, is mellowing with time, developing color and a wide range of subtle flavors.
Next to the distillery is a winsome log building that serves as a tasting room. The structure would look as peaceful on a sodded bluff in Scotland overlooking the North Atlantic as it does here, in the lee of the Wind River Mountains.
The tasting room is made of two-sided logs with dove-tail corners and has a big shady porch. There is 20-feet of open air between the wood floor and the tip of the A-frame ceiling giving the room a grand feel.
Along the back bar beneath a mirror are numerous Cowboy Country Distilling bottles of whiskey, gin, rum and vodka adorned with medals won in international competitions.
On the bar are 14 bottles of the distillery's finest offerings waiting to be tasted. Behind the bar waits Noel Mason, Cowboy Country Distilling's tasting ambassador.
'I Love To Share It'
Mason's youth and vivacious personality add another level of charm to the setting. She describes the subtle flavors of each spirit, which is helpful to those who are curious but lack a refined palate.
"We have a wide variety here and anybody can find something they like," Mason said. "It's not my stash, so I love to share it."
Most of the ingredients that go into Cowboy Country Distilling's spirits come from Wyoming. The Columbian coffee in one of the liqueurs, and the Bolivian sugar cane used in the rums are exceptions. There’s also the vanilla, which comes from Madagascar, and the huckleberry, which comes from Whitefish, Montana.
But the company sources its corn, millet and oats in Wyoming and its products are all gluten-free. It is a zero-waste facility. The spent grains are sold to local cattle producers as feed and the waste water is used for fertilizer.
Prices range from around $30 to $275 for the distillery's top-shelf single-barrel bourbon. Bottles are available at the tasting room.
30 Years To Perfect
Mason said Trites has worked to perfect his vodka for over 30 years. It has won several awards including a gold medal in the 2021 SIP International Spirits Competition. It's smooth, soft and is comparable to the finest vodkas available, Mason said.
Jalapeño bacon vodka is their most popular spirit at present and is great in a bloody mary, she said.
"It has good heat but it's not too spicy. The richness of the bacon comes in at the end," she said. "It's also good in margaritas."
Cowboy friends of Mason's like to shoot it and follow with a shot of pickle juice - calling it a pickle-back. A pickle-back is traditionally made with a shot of Jameson, she said.
Cowboy Country Distilling's gin is infused with nine different ingredients including rose hips, sarsaparilla and juniper. Winning SIP awards in 2019, 2020 and 2021, it's aged in oak brandy barrels which gives it a light brown color and a hint of vanilla.
Its rums are made with sugar cane from Bolivia. The spiced rum is a sipping variety that costs $130 per bottle.
Trites said in Europe it takes 20 years of experience to become a master distiller. He plans to start an apprenticeship program for would-be distillers.
Cowboy Country Distilling is different than most because it uses only a fraction of the alcohol that comes through the distilling process. That process creates three distinct segments. The "heads" are low temperature alcohol compounds, "hearts" are ethanol and "tails" are high temperature oils and alcohols.
"We use only the heart cut in our spirits, with each batch personally checked by our master distiller to verify its taste and quality," according to the company’s marketing materials.
A new marketing video created by Wyoming Travel and Tourism can be viewed here:
John Thompson can be reached at: John@CowboyStateDaily.com