What microbrewing did to step up the beer-lovers market, craft distillers are pushing the boundaries of small-batch booze. Even, or should we say especially, in Utah. Snugged away in a small industrial strip of warehouses on the west edge of the Sugarhood sits Sugar House Distilling, the third licensed, small-batch distillery in Utah. It’s a pretty unassuming enterprise from the storefront, but step inside and you’ll find some delicious alchemy going on. A true grain-to-glass distillery, open for tours from an adoring public and containing that magical twist on Utah liquor laws that we’ll gladly and COLLECTIVELY endorse: a licensed package store so you can buy your tasty libations just steps from where they were made and aged. We'll raise a glass or two to that.
It’s a not-very-well-kept secret in the liquor industry that many ‘distilleries’ bypass the expensive and time-consuming work of fermenting and distilling their own mash. They’ll purchase bulk spirits from other manufacturers, and then depending on the end product, may further distill, dilute to desired proof, flavor, infuse, barrel-age, or blend their spirits before bottling. Some of ‘em end up being pretty damn superb, some not. The guys at Sugar House Distilling have eschewed this method so that they can control the beverage from start to finish, bless their OCD hearts. Says lead distiller, Eric Robinson [formerly of High West], “you can change the flavor profile of spirits at so many points in the process; depending on the grains in your mash bill, the yeast strain you pick [for fermentation], and the type of still you use.” Along with owner/distiller James Fowler and assistant distiller/sales guy Jake Wood, Robinson has been making their first release, Sugar House Vodka, available in DABC stores and their package store. It’s a delightful sipping vodka that even this whiskey gal can appreciate: crisp, a little floral, with soft vanilla and mineral flavors that come through from the wheat-forward mash. Bangin’ straight from the freezer as the Russians do, or on point for making truly kick-ass Martinis or Moscow Mules. The distillers are justifiably proud of their vodka, but that’s just the beginning of their spirits line-up, which includes a barrel-aged malt whisky release this month, and rum available in 2015.
Whisky making is a precarious craft. Distillers must have the chemistry chops and methodological skills of a scientist, the palate of a chef, the artistic soul of a painter, and the brass swinging balls of a professional gambler. It’s a waiting game, and a very expensive one: long before you see that liquid amber gold filling a bottle with your label on it, you’ve invested a small fortune in time and money. A medium-sized commercial pot still alone costs upward of half a million dollars. Barrels—whether new or used—are as tough to lay hands on as a needle in a haystack in the current whiskey-crazy market. Whether making bourbon, rye whiskey, or malt whisky [that’d be what the Scots do with famous results], distillers basically plan on a future’s market: what they’re making today may not reach the store shelf for months or years. Each variable selected along the way—from the grain mash, to the yeast, to the size/type of barrel it ages in—makes for a singular, original end product.
In the case of Sugar House Malt Whisky, Fowler and Robinson chose a three-barley malt recipe—with Two Row Pale, Honey, and Vienna malts—for the mash, and after distilling aged it in small [10 and 15 gallon] barrels. The result? A bold sipping whisky, with subtle honey and toasted bread tones balancing the burly, smokey whisky bite reminiscent of peat fires and scruffy kilted wool. Grab a small snifter or Glencairn glass to get all that rough-and-ready malt goodness right up in your grill for optimal enjoyment. Lucky for we denizens of the greater Sugar House area, their Malt Whisky will be released this Friday, December 12th [available only at their package store with a two-bottle limit]. Yeah, there are only a few cases ready for release, and we’ll be fighting y’all for them. While you’re there buying whisky and vodka, check out their selection of bar glassware and goddam gorgeous hand-tooled leather goods, flasks, and other smugglers goods. Happy holidays, indeed.
Sugar House Distillery | 2212 South West Temple, #14 | 801.726.0403