No one knows exactly how the sport of bull riding originated. Outside of this specific event, all the rodeo events have some sort of link to ranch life, and possibly even a practical purpose. Whether breaking green livestock, rounding up strays, or doctoring hurt or injured animals, everything has a tie, with the exception of this eight-second burst of insanity that seems to be all alone in its lack of utilitarian purpose. All this leads to a lot of speculation about how it originated, but two things seem to come to the forefront of every potential answer. There had to be women present, and there had to be a bottle of whisky.
The sport of rodeo and whisky seem to be inextricably linked, just as this spirit is to the spirit of the old west in general. There is a heritage and tradition in whisky, and occasionally a bit of historic foolishness that just might have contributed to the bravery of the first cowboy volunteering to hop aboard a penned bull while his buddies stood and watched. Assuming there were women present, it wouldn’t take too much time or too many sips for anyone else around to make sure they displayed their own talents atop the beast, and thus may have begun bull riding as we know it.
Veracity of this origination story aside, two classic rodeos of the old west, each with at least a century’s worth of heritage, have teamed up with distilleries to celebrate their histories. The Pendleton Round-Up of Pendleton, Oregon and the Snake River Stampede of Nampa, Idaho both offer whiskies branded with their own logos and styles, each with its own unique flavor, but both celebrating the same strength, tenacity, and hard working spirit of the American west. Both variations are Canadian blended whiskies, bottled in Oregon, and offered to the U.S market of rodeo fans and aficionados of fine alcoholic beverages. They each offer their own distinct flavors and styles, but stay true to form for the classic whisky you would expect the old cowboys to sip around the fire in the days of our great-grandfathers.
Snake River Stampede Whisky starts its life north of the border, maturing in bourbon barrels for eight years before coming to Oregon, finishing in sherry casks, and finally being bottled there for distribution. The Stampede takes great pride in the smoothness of this spirit, and their dedication to its history has led to this year’s introduction of the “Whiskey Wagon”, a replica of an 1882 Studebaker. This “new” wagon is decked out in the official colors of the Stampede, and will allow the original Stampede wagon to retain its original state as it ages, all the while boasting the Stampede Whisky for all to see. A limited-edition 100th anniversary whisky was also produced for the centennial celebration, to the sheer delight of fans of both the Nampa classic and its title drink!
Pendleton® Whisky is the older of the rodeo-themed beverages, a 10-year old whisky, aged in oak barrels in Canada, but also completed and bottled in Oregon with water from Mt. Hood. It has become the official spirit of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and now is the presenting sponsor of the All American ProRodeo Series, making it quite easy to find at just about any major PRCA rodeo. If you want to kick it up a notch, though, Pendleton® offers another spirit called the “Pendleton® 1910”. This limited-quantity drink is a 12-year-old rye that brings in rave reviews from the most sophisticated whisky snobs. It boasts a dark and complex flavor that is consistent with the strength of the lifestyle it represents, and its name reflects the first year the Round-Up was held.
Whisky isn’t exactly the preferred pre-rodeo beverage of professional contestants anymore, long since having given way to highly caffeinated energy drinks and supplements, but it is still a fairly consistent companion of spectators and tends to be in no short supply once the last bull has been penned and everyone settles in for the evening. The Snake River Stampede and Pendleton Round-Up are making sure those who partake can do so in style, and never sacrifice taste or quality in doing so. Each glass is a little bit of the classic west, and brings a bit of rodeo’s heritage in a unique way to those who take the time to sip and enjoy it.
If you should choose to experience these drinks, though, please do so responsibly. Bull riding is dangerous enough, and who knows what crazy new idea the combination of cowboys and whisky might spawn!