Whatever your reason for visiting Wyoming, whether it’s to play out cowboy fantasies roping cattle, hike Grand Teton National Park or you’re Kanye West in town to record an album in secret, it’s pretty easy to get sloshed relatively quickly after you touch down at the Jackson Hole airport.
“You can ask any of my friends, winter or summer,” says David DeFazio, “there’s gonna be a sloshie in their cup holder when they land.” DeFazio, co-founder of Wyoming Whiskey, has been a permanent Jackson Hole resident since 1996. He first recalls seeing sloshies, essentially your standard-issue frozen Daiquiri, served in a variety of unnatural colors and flavors, at Creekside Market six summers ago.
A sloshie might just sound like a typical boozy frozen drink to somebody who lives in any of the other 49 states—and that’s not incorrect. What’s remarkable is the insane fervor with which Wyoming residents, especially those in Jackson Hole, have embraced it. Originally appearing strictly at liquor stores and food marts, they are now available pretty much everywhere, from rowdy après-ski joints like Mangy Moose to craft distilleries like Wyoming Whiskey and Jackson Hole Still Works to the luxury hotel Caldera House and Dornan’s Chuckwagon grill, an old-fashioned “cowboy” range buffet where you can pair them with your $35 prime rib dinner.
The statewide sloshie takeover happened rapidly. “No one really talked about them when they first appeared,” recalls Katie Carmichael, manager and resident sloshie-maker at Creekside Market in Jackson Hole. She started working a high school summer job there in 2008; the sloshie arrived in 2012 when the store acquired a liquor license. It didn’t take long for locals to claim the drink as theirs. Today, Creekside Market has two silver Grindmaster-Cecilware dispensers—$5,000 machines that can churn out seven gallons of slush per hour. One rotates a seasonal offering like Freaky Tiki or Tropic Thunder, while the other perpetually provides The Hound, a frozen Greyhound made with Nikolai Vodka and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. Carmichael claims that, thanks to the approximate 28 gallons of The Hound she makes per day, Creekside Market is the biggest buyer of grapefruit in the entire state.
As for the name? How the drink ended up being called a “sloshie” remains a subject of debate. Jessa Talermo, head of product development at The Liquor Store of Jackson Hole (known locally as TLS), believes it just sort of… happened. “What else are you gonna call them?” she asks. While many credit TLS as the drink’s inventor, owner Stephan Abrams claims a place formerly known as Liquor Down South was actually the first spot in Jackson Hole to sell them during the summer of 2012. But they didn’t come up with the moniker.
“I came up with the name,” claims local restaurateur Gavin Fine. “It was like a slushie, an alcoholic slushie, then it turned into sloshie.” Fine asserts that he popularized the term “sloshie” after first seeing them in New Orleans during JazzFest. Wanting to improve on what he calls “those horrible Margarita machines in cheesy bars,” he decided to offer sloshies at his restaurants, like Bodega, a “gourmet” gas station with an in-house sausage maker and fine wine selection where you can also fill up your tank. Since 2014, they’ve sold sloshies with names like Wu-Tang Cran and Lil Wayne’s Purple Drank.
TLS, meanwhile, has five machines offering sloshies with similarly punny names like Marg America Great Again and a Moscow Mule flavor called Putin on the Ritz. Prices go from $6.99 for a 16-ounce cup all the way up to $22.99 for a 64-ounce serve, dispensed by staff into sealed milk jugs. Other shops are more cavalier with what they’ll allow. In fact, most sloshie vendors in environmentally-conscious Jackson Hole let customers self-fill their own YETI insulated mug. The same is true in sloshie-slinging locales outside of town, like Poplar Wine and Spirits in Casper and Libations in Cody, the latter of which is noted for their Halloween season Drunken Punkin sloshie.
One explanation for the meteoric rise of the sloshie is that they’re easy to consume in public, and Wyoming has a history of being a drinking-and-driving Thunderdome of a state. Having a cold one in your car was actually legal until 2002, and passengers could legally drink until 2007. Even today, many locals don’t measure driving distance in minutes, but in the number of drinks they can consume on the way to a destination.
Since the typical way a sloshie is sold is in a clear plastic cup with a lid in which the checkout person has put “tamper-resistant” tape over the straw hole to make it a sealed container, it rarely draws the attention of local authorities. Still, at Creekside Market, push-pinned into the wall near a sign that reads “No Sampling,” is a small flyer advertising the services of the city’s top DUI attorney, Dick Stout (“Dick got me off”), just in case.
More likely, however, is that the sloshie became a sensation in Jackson Hole because it’s a place whose residents famously refuse to grow up—where trust fund kids put off law school to become ski bums and corporate executives cash out early to mountain climb. DeFazio, for one, agrees with that theory.
“Jackson Hole is the home of Peter Pan,” he says. “And sloshies hearken back to youth when you were allowed to drink slushies. They give you a reason to now drink them as an adult, [which] almost feels like cheating.”