Owners Matt Aller and Chris Barlow run a buzzing Utah distillery with a penchant for making gins.
Appropriately enough, Beehive Distilling has a couple of beehives on its rooftop. “We don’t really use honey in any of our spirits,” says Aller, “but definitely use it a lot in the bar.”
The honey is used within the simple syrup which goes into, for instance, the Old Fashioned served at the distillery’s namesake Beehive Bar. Their Old Fashioned cocktail also incorporates the company’s Barrel Reserve Gin, aged for two years, sometimes in Chardonnay barrels sourced from Sonoma County. The distillery freshly chars the barrels before filling them.
Its best-selling, flagship release — its clear Jackrabbit Gin — is made using macerated juniper, coriander, orris roots, and grains of paradise, which get placed into a teabag-like holder and then submerged within a grain neutral spirit. The distillation holding those ingredients passes through a gin basket containing lemon peel, sage, and rose petals. “We found that those more delicate flavors were coming through much stronger in the vapor trail,” says Aller.
After the juniper notes within the taste of the gin, “There’s a nice little hint from the [French] fresh lemon zest that we use,” adds head distiller Barlow. “And it ends nicely herbal, with the sage and the coriander.” That distilling method and flavor profile got decided upon after about 30 initial trial batches.
The Jackrabbit Gin is used with the bar’s number one selling drink, its Gin and Tonic, as well the runner-up, the bar’s Gimlet, which incorporates lime juice, pear syrup, and sage.
There’s another beloved Gimlet at the location as well: the distillery’s cat, Gimlet, who takes in the buzzing nightlife scene. Aller quips, “She’s in the back, but she can look through the windows and likes to watch bar patrons, and everybody is always taking pictures” of the “most popular employee around here.” The bar can host 180 people in its 4,000 square feet of space, and has become another spoke within Salt Lake City’s expanding cocktail culture.
In addition to its gins — which has also included a barrel-aged variety for seven years, which sold out within a month of its release — the distillery also makes organic vodka and its Amaro (which Aller and Barlow describe as having a sweet and spicy Asian flavor). Beehive’s rye whiskey, aged in 20-year-old barrels which previously held Mexican sherry and made using Oaxacan green corn, awaits release. And the distillery’s bourbon remains at rest in brand-new oak barrels. “Our oldest bourbons, now, are getting close to three years,” notes Aller, “and they keep tasting better and better — but we’re still holding off for a ways before we release those.”
The distillery also manufactures Desolation Canned Cocktails within its 6,000 square feet of production space: its Moscow Mule, Gin Rickey, and Gin and Tonic. “We were the first Utah company to do that,” Aller says about the distillery canning its own cocktails.
And Beehive Distilling was the first distillery in Utah to focus primarily on gin for more than a century, as well as being the third distillery to arise within Utah’s modern craft era. The company’s original equipment purchase, an 80-gallon pot still, is dedicated exclusively to gin: “We didn’t want the flavor to change,” says Aller. The distillery’s newer 450-gallon still, with its whiskey and vodka column, is used to make their other offerings. Rye and malted barley are purchased locally from Solstice Malt, while, for instance, the juniper berries arrive all the way from Albania, the orris root and grains of paradise from Morocco, and the rose petals from Pakistan.
Business has increased substantially over the last five years, says Aller. That’s partly due, at the bar, to how the South Salt Lake area has become more residential. And it’s partly a result of the popularity of their canned cocktails. “We’ll do just about 17,809 liter cases this year. In 2017, we did 2,600,” says Barlow.
Aller recalls the distillery’s origin: “[Co-founders Erik Ostling] and Chris were both commercial photographers, and I owned a branding agency in Salt Lake, a graphic design firm. And so, we would spend a lot of time at each other’s studios. And whenever somebody would go out of town, they’d bring back an interesting bottle: you know, a nice Scotch or something. So, we are always trying stuff at each other’s places. And after seeing some of the success of [the state’s first licensed post-prohibition distillery] High West and trying their spirits, we thought, you know, that would be something that would be really fun and really interesting: to open a distillery. And so, that’s how the talk started.”
And that’s how it’s turned out: a beehive of activity — behind the bar and behind the scenes — over at the Beehive State’s aptly-named Beehive Distilling.
Challenges: “Supply chain issues” related to sourcing glass bottles, says Aller. “It was really challenging for a while there.”
Opportunities: “Growth locally, as well as trying to move into some other states with some of our products,” says Aller. Presently, the distillery has some distribution within Texas, Montana, Oregon, and Wyoming. “I think we have some really interesting new things on the horizon with our whiskeys,” adds Aller. “They’re really good.”
Needs: Space is still at a premium, even after outgrowing its original 1,500 square foot location and opening its roomier facility in 2018. “We’ve really filled it up with barrels and production and canning line and things like that,” says Aller. For instance, there are presently around 120 barrels holding spirits in various stages of aging.