Originally posted in the Montrose Daily Press on March 1st, 2022 by Katharhynn Heidelberg
When Montrose County launched the Rimrocker Trail for off-highway vehicles and non-motorized travel, the goal was to boost the West End economy. Officials reasoned the 160 miles through redrock canyons from the Nucla area to Moab, Utah, would attract the same folks who pour into that outdoor mecca every year — as well as delight locals.
They likely didn’t expect two unique travelers: 32-gallon-barrels of bourbon, hailing from Swamp Fox Distillery in Buena Vista, Georgia. The barrels made the trip with Swamp Fox owner Britt Moon and his son, Nathan as an experiment. This year, the contents of those well-traveled barrels will be bottled into a limited batch and — under a licensing agreement with Montrose County — branded with the Rimrocker Trail logo.
All of it started, Moon said, with his son’s post-college “bucket list.” In between Nathan’s graduation and the start of his new job, he wanted a trip out West. The father-son duo made plans for one that would include off-roading, one of Britt’s favorite pastimes.
“I got to thinking about it and was curious what those changes in temperature and elevation could do with some bourbon,” he said.
Moon selected three barrels and filled them with a bourbon that had been blended the same. One remained in the distillery back in Georgia as the “control” barrel; the other two “journey barrels” came cross-country with the Moons.
“We had this special bourbon. It started as an experiment,” said Moon. “This particular bourbon went on about 5,400 miles total, 400 of which were off road. The Rimrocker was a large share of that, at 160 miles.”
It wasn’t only distance, but temperature — a range of 30 degrees all the way up to 110 degrees — and elevation that, between the 11 states the Moons passed through, went from 6 feet below sea level in Louisiana to more than 2 miles above sea level in Colorado.
“A lot of different things happened with that bourbon,” Moon said. “… We threw everything we could think of at these two, 32-gallon barrels of bourbon.”
In the end, he said, “there were a lot of flavor differences” between the three barrels.
Although each barrel was coopered out of the same type of tree, there were natural variations in the actual wood forming each barrel and so, the liquid inside took on different flavor notes. The proof of the bourbon in the journey barrels was slightly higher than that in the control barrel — by about 0.2%. The journey barrels lost more volume.
The journey barrels resulted in bourbon with sweeter undertones and “a lot more caramel and toffee,” plus a hint of oaken smoke, as if from a campfire, Moon reported. The control barrel’s offerings were spicier.
Although Moon is first to say he is not a scientist, he discovered something interesting: “Going on that journey and the way we did it, from what I have personal experience to compare it to, that was the equivalent of right around two years of traditional aging in my distillery. It really made a big difference. I expected a slight difference. I didn’t really expect the difference we got.”
The journey barrels should fill about 388 bottles.
“We’re doing a special release. This will be the first release for this brand. This expression is going to be called Compass Rose,” Moon said. “What we’re going to release is whatever we get out of those two journey barrels. That will be the Rimrocker edition.”
The edition will carry Montrose County’s “Rimrocker Trail: Montrose to Moab” trademark and associated marketing for the limited batch. Moon said he does not anticipate getting more than about 388 bottles from the journey barrels.
These will be sold in the Swamp Fox Distillery and there is a possibility the Rimrocker edition could be released in limited quantities in Colorado. Each bottle will come in a presentation box and release-specific glasses bearing the Rimrocker logo.
On Feb. 22, the Montrose County commissioners approved an agreement under their consent agenda, which allows Swamp Fox to use the logo, royalty-free, with a payment of $1 per bottle, for up to 400 bottles through the end of the year. The distillery has already paid $300, which the county will keep, even if fewer than 300 bottles ultimately are produced.
The county views it as just one more way the trail has created connections, Media Relations Manager Katie Yergensen said earlier this month.
“They’ve loved everything we’ve done and been an absolute joy to work with,” Moon said, of Montrose County.
He said he plans other trips with bourbon barrels on board to produce more for the Compass Rose line.
“We’re going to do about two of these small releases every year. Each will be unique, with a unique story behind it. It will be carefully planned,” Moon said.
Montrose County played a big role in the pilot batch. Plus, taking bourbon cross-country is a fun way to age it, Moon said: “It’s better than sitting in a chair and watching it.”
For more information about Swamp Fox Distillery, visit swampfoxdistillingco.com.
For more information about the Rimrocker, visit rimrockertrail.org.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is the Montrose Daily Press assistant editor and senior writer. Follow her on Twitter, @kathMDP.
Nathan Moon and Britt Moon, owners of the Swamp Fox Distillery in Georgia.