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When Dave DeFazio graduated from law school in 1996, he planned on moving to San Francisco to start his legal career. Instead, he spent his summer working as a river guide in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. And he never made it to San Francisco, staying in Jackson Hole to work as a lawyer and ranch hand before starting up his own practice.
Now, twenty years into his legal career, DeFazio and his lawyer colleagues have started up the perfect side project: whiskey production.
The Road to Wyoming and Whiskey
DeFazio first came to Jackson Hole right before law school, according to a recent feature on the attorney in the Jackson Hole News&Guide. And he returned after graduating from the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.
As he studied for the California bar, he worked for two Wyoming attorneys and ranchers, Brad and Kate Mead. That summer gig included some legal work, alongside herding cattle and rounding up bulls, followed by his stint as a river guide.
Luckily for DeFazio, he failed the California bar exam. He spent the next few years doing legal and ranch work for the Meads, before starting his own firm. Many years later, the Meads called him back. DeFazio recounts the story for the News&Guide's Melissa Cassutt:
I was in this creaky room and Kate comes down the hall, closes the door, and it just goes quiet. And it was like, 'What? What did I do?' And Brad says, just deadpan, 'Kate and I have decided we want to make bourbon.' I laughed right in his face.
It was nothing I would have ever expected to come out of either Brad or Kate's mouth. But he was dead serious. So I asked how the hell do we make bourbon, and he said, 'That's for you to figure out.'
Learning the Whiskey Trade
And figure it out he did. DeFazio now splits his time between working for Wyoming Whiskey, he says. His partner now handles most of the firm's legal work, while DeFazio continues to advise a few clients.
Being a lawyer, he says, helped prepare him for his whiskey side gig:
I think being trained as a lawyer you learn to identify what the question is. Once you understand the question, then you can find the answer more readily. So figuring out how to make bourbon was like, 'OK, what's the first question?' And you take it from there.