Let’s start with the obvious misperception, that Utah is a dry state.
“We constantly have a chip on our shoulder because of our reputation as a dry state,” says Sean Neves, co-owner of Water Witch, a cocktail bar in Salt Lake City. “But it’s a great drinking scene, with some local products mixed in. It just took us a while to get here.”
The “Beehive State” is currently home to 17 distilleries, according to 2020 data released by the American Craft Spirits Association. Surrounded by ski resort towns, mountains and desert, many distilleries are located amid jaw-droppingly beautiful natural scenery.
A majority of Utah residents belong to the Church of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), which advises against consumption of alcohol for its members. The state has long had a complex relationship with alcohol, and laws still are more restrictive than in most other U.S. states.
Though Utah distilleries make a wide range of spirits, the state seems to identify most strongly with whiskey.
Consider, for example, a storied visit by Mark Twain. In 1861, the writer visited Utah, then known as Nevada Territory, and met LDS leader Brigham Young. In Roughing It, published in 1872, Twain wrote about “the exclusive Mormon refresher,” a pioneer whiskey called Valley Tan.
“Tradition says it is made of [imported] fire and brimstone,” Twain wrote. The original Valley Tan may have been a rough sorghum distillate closer to rum than whiskey, says Neves.
“We constantly have a chip on our shoulder because of our reputation as a dry state,” —Sean Neves, co-owner, Water Witch
It wasn’t until 2006 that High West Distillery obtained a distilling operations permit to become the first legal whiskey distillery in Utah since 1870. Among its lineup: a Utah wheat and oat whiskey named Valley Tan.
“We have a weird and cool booze history in Utah,” says Neves. “There’s no other way to say it.”
Here are 10 Utah distilleries worth seeking out for your next pour.
Alpine Distilling: This Park City spot focuses on cordials like Preserve Liqueur, flavored with black tea, raspberry and blood orange. The producer states the bottling was “inspired by a Swaner Nature Preserve sunset.” Another feature? The distillery has a Pie Bar that pairs cocktails with warm pastries.
Beehive Distilling: Gin is the spirit of choice here. Offerings include a barrel-aged version that’s aged in charred French oak barrels that once held white wine. The process imparts subtle hints of honey and smoke.
Dented Brick: Located in South Salt Lake City, this distillery’s whiskey line is named for Hugh Moon, Utah’s first distiller of record, who made whiskey for early Mormon settlers. Its Moon’s Best rye is a recent release. “We’re in a fun spot with whiskey, because a lot of it has been lying in barrels for a while,” says Neves.
Distillery 36: The distiller is known for Brigham Rum, named for LDS leader Brigham Young, and sugarcane-based vodka. The SRIL Art Vodka label was designed by Salt Lake City aerosol artist Shae “SRIL” Petersen.
High West Distillery: Though acquired by Constellation Brands in 2016, High West claims to have kicked off the wave of homegrown Utah distilleries. Its roster of excellent whiskies includes Campfire, a lightly smoky blend of rye, Bourbon and blended Scotch (the latter not made in Utah, obviously). Other annual releases include a Bourbon-rye blend called Bourye, and A Midwinter Night’s Dram, a blend of straight ryes.
Holystone Distilling: Noted for stunning Art Deco aesthetic in both its bottle design and facilities, this Salt Lake City producer makes absinthe verte and Utah’s first shochu, alongside vodka and gin.
New World Distillery: Located in Eden, Neves recommends the distillery for its Oomaw Gin, as well as proximity to Ogden Canyon. “It’s jaw-dropping gorgeous, and [its] facility is in the thick of it.” New World also makes agave spirits and Bourbon.
Ogden’s Own Distillery: Bottlings from this distillery, also near Ogden Canyon, include playfully named vodka, gin, whiskey and liqueur. Porter’s Fire, a spirit similar to Fireball, is the best known of these.
Sugar House Distillery: Located in Salt Lake City, Sugar House makes small-batch Bourbon, rye and an American Single Malt using local Utah grain. “[Its] whiskey is the closest thing we have to a truly terroir-driven whiskey,” says Neves.
Waterpocket Distillery: Another distillery in an idyllic location, it’s named for Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park. The focus is on botanical spirits with European heritage, like caraway-laced Snow Angel Kümmel and a lineup of Toadstool Amaros.