Cowboy Country Distilling: Pinedale distillery preserves the spirit of the cowboy
Pinedale – Tim Trites has spent over 40 years in the distilling industry. Getting his start with his Scottish grandfather at just eight years old, Tim is a wealth of knowledge. After obtaining his masters in chemical engineering, in addition to 22 years of experience as a lead developer for a major company, Tim is committed to preserving the spirit of the cowboy through spirits.
“I chose the name because Wyoming is cowboy country and it’s out of respect of the individuals that founded the state – cowboys,” shares Tim.
Tim, the founder of Cowboy Country Distilling, broke ground for construction of their building in 2013.
“We started distilling in 2015, and were open to the public on Valentine’s Day in 2018,” he shares.
Sublette County has been a great location for the distillery.
“I really like the Pinedale area,” shares Tim, “The reason why the distillery is in Pinedale is because of the water. It’s the cleanest water I’ve found in the world.”
“We start distilling here early in the morning: My day starts at 4:30 a.m.,” says Tim, noting his day begins with checking the pH levels and the temperature of the fermenters. By 6 a.m., Tim is distilling spirits until about 2 p.m.
Tim takes tremendous pride in sharing all grains used at Cowboy Country Distilling are from Wyoming.
“We use oats, corn and millet instead of rye,” he shares, explaining after almost losing his son from celiac disease in the 70s, it’s important for all products to be gluten free. “I want to make sure everybody is able to drink it.”
“The oats come from Powell, millet from east of Cheyenne and the corn comes from Pine Bluffs,” he continues. Country Cowboy Distilling works with many local companies, usually co-ops, to source grains.
“We go through 100 to 150 tons of grain a month,” says Tim. “We’re not a little distillery that one would think, we’re small compared to the big boys, but we’re not as small as one would think.”
“The distillery runs four pot stills which are all custom made in the United States,” shares Tim.
The stills include a 650-gallon stripping still, secondary 500-gallon still, 500-gallon vodka still, secondary 250-gallon whisky still and a test still of 125 gallons.
“Depending on the product, we take grain and put it into a kettle called a mashed turn, bring it up to boiling and let it boil for two hours,” shares Tim. During this process, starches are turned into liquids.
Eventually, the pond located on the side of their building is used to lower the temperature of the mashed turn to 180 degrees. This process, called saccharification, converts starches into sugars.
Tim shares, “The macular change is still way too large for the yeast to digest and just like feeding children, pieces have to be cut up a little bit so yeast can eat it.”
The final digestion happens when a second enzyme is added. After 45 minutes, the mixture is pumped over to a fermentation tank where it is cooled to 75 to 100 degrees, and depending on the product, fermented yeast is the final product.
Tim shares, “Some proprietary yeast I’ve been growing for nearly 40 years.” Depending on the product, yeast can ferment for 72 hours to 10 days.
The next process is to pump the mixture to a primary 650-gallon pot still, called a stripping still.
“The whole idea behind this is to be able to strip the alcohol away from the mash as quickly as possible, “Tim shares. “We do that in an hour and 15 minutes.”
Tim takes pride in have zero waste when it comes to the fermenting process.
“All our spent grain or spent mash is pressed out of liquid and it turns into cattle feed, with roughly 34 to 36 percent protein,” says Tim.
In addition, any excess liquid is turned into fertilizer and the grain sacks are reused.
“The distilling process is broken down into three sections: heads, hearts and tails,” Tim explains. “The heads are all of the low-temperature alcohols and there can be up to 18 different compounds. The first thing is usually acetone, and we really don’t want to drink this.”
In addition, methanol is also stripped. Tim shares the heads are sold to a company in Utah to make industrial cleaners.
“The hearts are what we want to drink,” shares Tim, noting the ingredient left after separating the heads is ethanol, which is the main type of alcohol found in beverages.
“The tails are the high-temperature alcohols and oils, which are also sold to the industrial cleaner company in Utah.”
Tim continues, “The old timers call it heads because this what gives people the terrible headache in the morning. The hearts are what people want to drink, and the tails are what make people sit on the commode the next morning and wish they hadn’t drank the night before.”
Cowboy Country Distilling offers a variety of products. In addition to products themselves, the recipes behind each product includes many stories, shares Tim.
“I learned how to make vodka in Ukraine and I got a spiced rum recipe from an 85-year-old retired, French distiller in the Dominican Republic who won multiple domino games,” he shares.
“We have some of the cleanest, smoothest vodka one can find,” says Tim. He shares all whiskeys and rums are aged in 53-gallon charred, white-oak barrels which sit for about two years.
The altitude of Pinedale plays a large part in the aging process.
“We are at a higher altitude, so one year here is equal to about four years in Kentucky,” Tim says, noting there is less air movement in the barrels. After aging, the products are bottled.
“It takes five people to run our bottling room,” says Tim, sharing bottling is typically a fun time to work together, especially in winter months when the temperature drops. “The bottling crew comes in, cranks up the music, drinks coffee and cranks out 500 to 800 bottles per hour.”
Some of their signature beverages include a raspberry cordial, made with real raspberries, which comes in at 70 percent proof – the highest proof in American liquor.
A 2020 Cowboy Country Distilling’s Coffee Liqueur, which is made with Bolivian coffee, raw chocolate and Madagascar vanilla beans was a SIP Awards Gold Medal Winner.
In addition, premium vodka is also distilled from corn and filtered through a proprietary system using carbon, resulting in one of the smoothest, cleanest vodka in the world, shares Tim.
Several award-winning rums are also offered with several complex flavors. Tim explains there are two classifications of rums at Cowboy Country Distilling: rum or wine distilled from molasses and a “French style” agricultural rum is distilled from fresh-cut sugar cane which comes from sugar distiller in South America. In addition, western juniper berries and Wyoming rosehips are also utilized.
Tim shares, “I know how to distill over 2,000 spirits, and I hand pick the ones I know everyone would be proud to have in their bar.”
The combinations are truly endless with Cowboy Country Distilling, and many recipes and products can be found on their webpage. Their products can be found in Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Illinois and the addition of Iowa as of mid-September.
“We’re always looking for distributors and trying to get it out to as many people as possible,” Tim says.
Distilling during a global pandemic
“We were one of the first distillers to jump in to make hand sanitizer during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” shares Tim, noting he destroyed over 1,000 gallons of vodka in order to redistill it into hand sanitizer. “It got so bad, our state patrol was running it to many places throughout the state and we were selling it to the public.”
In addition, 10 barrels of aged whiskey was distilled to 95 percent proof to make hand sanitizer.
“Everyone started jumping in the industry – and we were glad to jump into production and jump back out. We did it for about six weeks and we were able to help Wyoming,” Tim says, joking he did not set out to be a hand sanitizer facility. “We were glad to help our fellow Wyomingites, and we’d do it again, but we don’t have to.”
“We never out source, and we don’t buy spirits or alcohol from anybody else, as everything is distilled here,” Tim says. “Products at Cowboy Country Distilling are distilled in Wyoming, for Wyoming and other states, to keep the spirit of the cowboy alive in iconic, award-winning alcoholic beverages.”
For more information, visit cowboycountrydistilling.com.
Brittany Gunn is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.