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Founded in 2012 by Shane Baker and Pat Heist Wilderness Trail is a family owned Distillery on a 44-acre facility in Danville Kentucky. Shane, a mechanical engineer and Pat, a PhD microbiologist and biochemist met in 1990’s whist playing in a grunge and hard rock cover band, their combined love of whiskey lead them to found Ferm Solutions in 2006 as troubleshooters for distilleries around the world; helping clients start distilleries, consulting on bacterial contamination, developing mashbills, analysing grain quality, yeast strains and consulting on fermentation process. The confidence gained from over 20 years of combined distilling experience and a vast collection of yeast strains have empowered Shane and Pat to approach things quite differently at Wilderness Trail:
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Infusion Mashing Process
Infusion Mashing means that when the grains are cooked to produce the mash, the correct specific gelatinisation temperature for each grain is reached; corn - 175 to 190F, wheat and rye circa 150 and malt between 145 and 150. The industry norm is to boil the grains together and too hot, 212 degrees, which over cooks the grains and increases the potential for liberation of breakdown chemicals like amino acids that can serve as precursors for unwanted end products that can affect flavour, mouth feel and in some cases health. By using Infusion Mashing Shane and Pat convert the starch from the grains into sugars with minimal energy consumption and degradation to the grains. This process yields a much softer and flavourful distillate and by using less fuel there is less environmental impact.
Another significant distinction with Wilderness Trail’s whiskey is that it is made using Sweet Mash instead of the Sour Mash technique. A mash bill is the recipe (grains, water, and yeast) used to make a bourbon, rye or any type of grain spirit. The grains are mixed with water and cooked to liberate sugar and then cooled down to create a ‘mash’. Sour mash is where already distilled mash from a previous batch (called stillage or backset) is used in the mashing of a new batch to control the pH balance during fermentation and for heat recovery. Sweet Mash is where only fresh water, grains and yeast are used in the mashing/cooking process each time (no backset), requiring more discipling and experience because there is more potential for microbial contamination. Sweet Mash has a higher pH, meaning the mash ferments differently, extracting more flavour from the grains and produces tastes which distinguish it from sour mashes. Wilderness Trail was the first of Kentucky’s distillers to embrace the sweet mash process as their sole mashing technique.
Wilderness Trail is a chemical-free distillery. The distillery’s pharmaceutical-grade boilers use a clean steam method during the mashing process, to prevent chemical and mineral buildup inside the boiler. The industry norm is to use anti scaling chemicals such as sodium phosphate or sodium hydroxide to sanitise the boiler. The absence of chemicals means none end up inside the mash yielding a better-tasting distillate and a chemical free whiskey.
Low Barrel Entry Proof
Whereas the maximum permitted barrel entry proof is 125, Wilderness Trails Bourbon’s enter the barrel at 110 Proof and their Rye at 100 proof, the lowest entry proof of any meaningful distiller in Kentucky. Lowering the entry proof allows for the phenolic compounds to dissolve more effectively with the distillate. As the barrel breathes in oxygen it oxidises the dissolved compounds, creating a much smoother whiskey. It also improves colour intensity and ‘congener’ concentration which reflect the tasty caramels, vanillas, and baking spices. Considering certain chemicals are more soluble in water versus alcohol, having the right balance is imperative for optimum extraction of flavour from the barrel.
Before distillate enters the barrels, distillers are legally required to reduce the proof of their whiskey by adding water (1962, the U.S. Treasury raised the legal maximum barrel entry proof from 110 to its current 125). Reducing the proof to a 'low entry proof' increases the total volume of liquid, requiring more barrels, adding substantially to production cost. Unless labeled ‘barrel proof or cash strength’ whiskey is further cut with water before bottling so; a 100 proof BiB bottle of whiskey with entry proof of 110 requires almost 15% more barrels for its batch than a bottle for a 125 entry proof batch. Well worth the added cost considering the improved flavours.
All Wilderness Trail ingredients are 100 percent KY Proud®-sourced ingredients, all grains come from seed grain. While many distilleries source grain from a common elevator, which might contain dozens of different varietals, Wilderness Trail sources corn, wheat, and rye from a single local seed farmer, Caverndale Farms, which helps the distillery maintain consistent flavours. Locally sourced means less environmental impact.
Shane and Pats goal is to age their whiskey for 6 to 8 years, however these early releases are available today and have received much acclaim.
Wilderness Trail’s Single Barrel Bourbon: BiB Wheated Bourbon, debuted on March 25th, 2018.
Wilderness Trail Settlers Select Rye: Single Barrel, Cask Strength debuted on November 3rd 2018.
Wilderness Trail Small Batch Bourbon: BiB, launched on April 2019.