Tours and tastings for boozy imbibers
With my formative drinking years having been spent navigating the famously arcane liquor laws of the Bible Belt, I felt well prepared for Utah’s quirky liquor legalities when I moved here a dozen years ago. The Beehive State’s labyrinthine restrictions didn’t seem that weird, really, in comparison to living in an entirely “dry” county in Kentucky, where alcohol of any sort wasn’t available in stores or restaurants. Back then, you might tour (for example) Maker’s Mark Distillery’s famous red barns filled to the rafters with bourbon barrels, but you couldn’t sample or purchase their products on site. But like the tourism-driven reformation of Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail injecting dollars and job growth along the rural routes of my homeland, the state’s growing cadre of distillers—though relatively new to the post-Prohibition booze-making scene—are shaking up Utah’s notoriety for tee-totaling alongside their beer brewing, cider-fermenting and wine-making peers, and have accrued national and international recognition and accolades for their efforts.
With delicious and unique spirits from local fruit brandies to American malt whisky (watch for this delicious trend to boom) to “valley tan” whiskey made using best guesses of historic pioneer-era recipes, there’s a huge and ever-growing spectrum of spirits to suit any palate.
Utah distilleries may now offer up to 2.5 combined ounces of samples on-site for a small fee in addition to tours of their facilities under educational permits granted by the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. And according Distiller’s Guild of Utah president Ethan Miller, the state’s booze brands “represent several different business models” that reflect national liquor production examples. These vary from artisan distillers who (bless their OCD hearts) control every aspect of the process from sourcing local grain for fermentation through tightly monitored distilling runs and various barrel-aging strategies, to independent bottlers who import their base spirits from manufacturing facilities out of state and adjust or “rectify” them on-site with filtering or adding artisan spring water to bottle at desired proof for sale. Some companies—like Utah’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition, High West—do a bit of both, combining a model of on-site distilling for some products and blending spirits brought in from elsewhere for other label runs with award-winning results. “There’s something for everyone,” Miller says, at every price point and product-sourcing prerogative. So wrangle a designated driver and take a few days (or a helter-skelter afternoon; we’re not judging) exploring all that Utah’s high-proof potables have to offer. Just check out their websites or give them a jingle to see if you need to register for a tour in advance and to confirm shop hours.
1: North Country Ramble: Layton-Ogden-Eden
The Hive Winery & Distillery’s brandy-making process uses Utah fruit, and Head Distiller Lori Yahne says, “I’m running the smallest commercial distilling operation” in the state. Her one-woman biochemistry show runs about 25 gallons of wine each day through her stock-pot still. This process creates just three to six gallons (depending on various conditions) of high-proof spirit, which is then used to make traditional fruit brandy—think blackberry, pear eau de vie and cherry—and liqueurs blended using only fresh-pressed fruit juice, a bit of sweetener and a lot of care. These spirits are a small and growing component of their already popular annual runs of fruit wine, Utah honey mead and hard ciders. Tours and tastings of their huge in number (yet small in volume) products are at the distillery and package store in Layton.
The Hive Winery
Wine, hard cider, mead, brandy, liqueurs
1220 W. Jack D Drive, No. 2, Layton
A perennial favorite of festivals, open-air markets (they’re a bloody mary favorite every summer Sunday at the Park Silly Market) and barstools all over Utah, Ogden’s Own Distillery has a stable of spirit offerings from vodka to herbal liqueur and a growing lineup of flavored whiskies. Most recently, Ogden’s Own released Madam Pattrini gin—named after Brigham Young’s 35th son who performed in drag—which keeps with their cheeky tradition of giving a solid goosing to the more staid aspects of Utah cultural history.
Ogden’s Own Distillery
vodka, herbal liqueur, gin, flavored whiskey
3075 Grant Ave., Ogden
In Eden, Utah, New World Distillery owners Chris and Ashley Cross take their love of liquors as diverse as Amsterdam gin and south-of-the-border agave spirits and adapt older-style recipes to modern techniques and flavor profiles. The Crosses make all their spirits in-house with an imported Dutch still and closed fermentation tanks in their state-of-the-art facility, which also hosts international craft distilling classes led by the still’s manufacturer. Look for small-run releases of specialized liqueurs and uniquely aged products (think gin rested in vermouth barrels—fantastic) that are sold only at the distillery’s package store in limited runs through their Bower Spirits Project.
New World Distillery
gin, agave spirits, vodka
4795 E. 2600 North, Eden
One Stop Shop
Try them all at Ogden hotspot Hearth on 25th. “We do a spirit-forward cocktail with bitters and the [New World Distillary’s] Eden gin,” chef/owner AJ Hubbard says. They also favor Hive Winery’s herbal and spice blends and their signature cocktail the Title 32b (a nod to Utah’s post-Prohibition legislative beverage control code) uses rye whiskey, vermouth and Ogden’s Own herbal liqueur, which Hubbard says “showcases how much fun you can have not taking shots of Underground and using it as a mixer instead.” Good times, all around.
Hearth on 25th
195 25th St., Ogden
2: Salty City Distillery Crawl
Although the largest number of Utah’s booze producers are concentrated within the I-215 beltway, SLC-based business model diversity embraces the entire gamut of booze geekery. True story: I’m a total sucker for watching a grain-to-glass distiller’s eyes light up when they talk about the farmer who grows their grain, nerding out over carefully cultivated yeast strains, the detailed nuances of the sometimes-temperamental stills and their preferred char level for barrels. It’s a glimpse into the mind of true artisans. Checking out the variety of stills in our city alongside commentary from the artisans who run them day in and day out is a lesson in craft and connoisseurship, without any snobbish overlay. They’re just really, really excited about their jobs and the delicious spirits they’re producing. And though they might not be producing spirits from the grain up doesn’t mean that non-distiller producers are any less proud of, or successful with, their spirits. The modern market supports a variety of price points, sourcing strategies and flavor preferences, along with a bit of Venn diagram overlap in between. Long story short, there’s a lot of local liquor love to go around.
In alphabetical order, check websites or call ahead to seen when/if tours and tastings are available:
Gin, barrel-aged gin, vodka
Dented Brick Distillery
Rum, gin, vodka
3100 S. Washington St.
Agricole-style cane rum
2374 S. Redwood Road
Kid Curry Spirits
Vodka, rum, whiskey
2080 W. 2200 South
Bourbon, white whiskey, rum
552 W. 8360 South, Midvale
Salt City Vodka
Sugar House Distillery
American malt whiskey, bourbon, rye, new-make white whiskey, vodka, rum
2212 S. West Temple No. 14
Liqueurs, herbal spirits, cocktail bitters, rum, gin, sourced whiskey
2084 W. 2200 South
3: Park City Panoramic: Booze and Views
“Sunday brunch is one of the most popular times to visit the distillery,” High West Distillary Brand Manager Jenny Goolsby says. “People come mid-morning for a relaxing meal. Then they find out they can stay for a distillery tour and will come back in to the bar for a tasting flight after. It makes for a great day.” That perfect itinerary is topped with beautiful scenery as well—every seat in the bar and dining room offers stunning views of the Wasatch Mountains. And, optimistically illustrating that there are growing opportunities for families to recreate and libate responsibly, the under-21 set is welcome on tours and in the dining room (with the exception of the immediate bar area). Since 2015, the beautifully designed Wanship distillery site offers scheduled tours, full whiskey-flight tastings and light restaurant fare for lunch and dinner, with local producers like Creminelli Fine Meats featured on the menu. High West’s Wanship facility tours cover the entire distilling process from grain fermentation to bottling. Distillery guides and the knowledgeable bartenders on staff enthusiastically discuss High West’s various distilling, sourcing and blending strategies, with a big boost from sources as wide-ranging as Kentucky bourbon to the Scottish Highlands along with historic Valley Tan oat-wheat whiskey distilled on site. View the active R&D laboratory, huge stills, fragrant barrel storage and a jostling bottling line. Scenic eye-candy and alcohol education combined in one gorgeous day spent in the Wasatch Mountains: win-win.
Rob Sergent might have arrived in Utah years ago as a decidedly modern Mountain West outdoors enthusiast. But his roots in Kentucky bourbon small-batch farm-based agricultural distilling are Sergent’s historical passion. These two geographical points reflect in the Alpine brand, which features the Utah sego lily as part of the company logo. Though no distilling for Alpine’s products is done in Utah, Sergent’s source materials offer insights into his flavor-forward philosophy and blending experience, which have already garnered awards and attention overseas. The Alpine Distilling showroom, just off the I-80 interchange between Wanship and Kimball Junction, showcases Sergent’s family history and his goal of “sourcing only the best and making it even better.”
Whiskey blends American malt, flavored and spiced liqueur, vodka
7132 N. Silver Creek Road, Park City
High West Saloon
Though Brigham Young might have declared “this is the right place” in Emigration Canyon back in 1847, a large chunk of my out-of-state visiting friends have decided that their ideal ski-vacation meet-ups must occur in Park City, mostly for access to great food and libations all concentrated within walking distance. High West Saloon, Utah’s first ski-in-ski-out gastro-distillery fits that bill in spades. It’s also the perfect Sunday après Park Silly Market stop or post-mountain-bike repast all summer long.
703 Park Ave., Park City
Utah DABC Liquor Stores
They’re not sexy, but they’ll get you what you need.
Park City actually has quite a few store locations per capita with great quality and selection, especially for whiskey and wine.