The Emmer Wheat Whiskey Project

April 05, 2023

Close Up of Emmer Wheat

Dry Land Distillers is committed to using grains that are appropriate for the arid west. Many heirloom and ancient grains seem to do well in arid, tough growing conditions. We’re learning that many of these ancient grains are also more nutritious and flavorful than modern, commoditized grains. We’re proud that our Heirloom Wheat Whiskey is one of the first 100% wheat whiskies made with Sonora White wheat, a roughly 2,500-year-old grain that was rediscovered growing in the dry southwestern US. Since we first malted this wheat in 2018, we’ve seen a resurgence of interest in this grain which is now used by bakers, brewers and distillers throughout the western United States.

Our development of the Heirloom Wheat Whiskey established Dry Land Distillers as one of the leading distilleries in the country working with heritage, heirloom and ancient grains. We’re excited to announce another project dedicated to re-establishing an ancient grain – the Emmer Wheat Whiskey project. Dry Land Distillers has partnered with Neolithic Brand and the University of Wyoming to create a single-grain whiskey made from Emmer wheat grown in the Bighorn Basin of northern Wyoming. We have strong ties to this part of the west. Teresa and I grew up in Wyoming and have family and friends throughout the state. (In fact, my mom still resides in Powell, Wyoming where the grain is processed and stored after harvest. She sees this as an opportunity to get me to visit more often. (Hi mom!))

Bags of Malted Emmer Wheat

The Neolithic Grains project at UW focuses on Emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum), one of humanity’s very first domesticated plants (along with einkorn and barley). Recent archeological evidence places its domestication around 12,000 years ago in the Middle East during the Neolithic period. There is evidence of humans baking and brewing with wild wheat for at least two thousand years before that. The domestication of grain and the subsequent shifting lifestyle of humans from hunter-gatherers to farmers has been termed the ‘Neolithic Revolution.” Emmer wheat and similar varieties of early grains helped to establish modern human civilization, ultimately becoming the dominant staple grain of the Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman civilizations.

Since Dry Land has figured out how to work with other ancient grains to successfully mash, ferment and distill them into whiskey, we were a perfect fit to work with the Emmer wheat. The pilot program’s goal is to understand and document how the ancient Emmer wheat can be successfully re-introduced and cultivated as a commercially viable grain for distillation, brewing, and food production. Emmer seems to be an ideal wheat for Colorado as well. We plan to work with local Colorado growers to plant pilot crops in multiple watersheds across the state to see how well it performs. Our hope is that the grain will use less water, be easier on topsoil, and be highly adaptable to the microclimates we experience throughout Colorado. Emmer is a high-value crop for local growers as well, because it brings a more realistic market price and is therefore more economically viable for small producers.

We received the first batch of malted Emmer wheat in March, and just completed our first mash and distillation. The results are spectacular! The clear whiskey is incredibly rich, layered with different spice notes and a ton of maple-like sweetness, and is deliciously creamy and mellow, even at 160 proof straight off the still.  

The pilot program will produce a single barrel of 100% malted Emmer wheat whiskey. It’s currently aging in a charred American oak barrel (char #2) from Kelvin Cooperage. We will be working with UW to obtain more Emmer to expand our production this summer. 

Anyone interested in purchasing a bottle of the first barrel upon maturity (18 months +/-) should click here to register your interest. It’s likely to be priced between $80 and $100 – well worth it for this extraordinarily rare whiskey. We haven’t found any other 100% single grain malted Emmer wheat whiskey on the market today. 

For more information on Neolithic Brand or the program to develop ancient grains in Wyoming, visit https://www.uwagec.org/neolithicbrand/. If you are interested in learning more about the Colorado grain economy, ancient and heirloom grains, and baking and brewing with local grain, become a member of the Colorado Grain Chain – and support businesses that use locally grown grains!

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